MEPCA finds out how Cyan Tec Systems is pioneering the use of inkjet print technology to replace spray systems in a wide variety of industrial applications.
The use of inkjet as an alternative to spray systems can eliminate masking, reduce fluid waste by up to 80% and offer the ability to create individualised patterns and images. Automation and robotics specialist, Cyan Tec, continues to sell spray systems where the application requires it; however, its customers are increasingly attracted by the advantages of inkjet over spray.
Spray technology has several significant disadvantages. It is impossible to spray selectively, and where the substrate contains holes, for example, waste occurs as the spray passes through the holes. Similarly, the technology requires overspray, where the deposition starts before it reaches the initial edge of the part and overruns as it reaches the trailing edge of the part. Cyan Tec has found that on an automotive dashboard part, for example, fluid loss through the holes and off the edges of the part, results in over 70% fluid waste. Naturally, in today’s world, such waste is not environmentally acceptable if it can be avoided by adopting alternative technologies.
Inkjet technology was pioneered in the UK and offers the advantages of direct to product deposition, print flexibility, minimised waste and production efficiency. Cyan Tec applies its knowledge of inkjet born in the graphics and promotional goods markets to also deploy the technology for industrial coatings. By marrying its inkjet print knowledge and vast experience in robotics and motion systems, the company offers systems that deposit decorative and functional fluids directly onto 3D objects eliminating wasteful overspray and costly masking processes. For example, Cyan Tec claims its inkjet systems used to coat automotive dashboards with piano black anti-scratch finishes use up to 70% less fluid than a spray process. Where the fluid deposited is solvent-based, harmful VOC emissions can also be reduced by up to 70%.
Cyan Tec inkjet systems use an array of around 1000 tiny nozzles to deposit fluid precisely where required onto the substrate. Each nozzle fires a number of picolitre drops accurately controlled using a piezo firing element. The array, which is between 50cm and 70cm wide, can create a spray swathe of that width. The piezo firing elements can be addressed individually via drive electronics and software. The selective nature of inkjet technology means features such as component holes can be avoided and fluid deposition curtailed at the edges of the product to eliminate overspray. The controllability and flexibility of inkjet technology mean patterns and images can be created without the need for masking resulting in process efficiencies.
Examples of coating applications in the automotive arena, include high gloss interiors and protective exterior coatings over illuminated surfaces. Cyan Tec continues to drive inkjet technology into new areas, and development work is taking place with more exotic functional fluids for electric vehicle electronics and aerospace applications. Like most technologies, inkjet deposition has its limitations – very high viscosities or large particle size fluids can be challenging to deposit; however, these limits are being constantly surmounted as printhead manufacturers develop new printheads to meet these challenges.
Cyan Tec markets several modular systems from entry-level, single conveyor printers to sophisticated robotic deposition systems, along with all the necessary automation needed to take care of loading, cleaning, pre-treatment, curing, vision inspection, unloading and so on. The company also sells flexible print modules, including printheads, fluid supply systems, electronics and software as a package that can be integrated into existing or third-party customer machines.