Star product: Heidelberg Jetmaster Dimension 250
Monday, February 8, 2016
The ‘4D printing’ device is now available in four colours.
What does it do?
This is a new departure for Heidelberg: a robotic ‘direct-to-shape’ UV inkjet system, intended to print personalised full-colour images directly onto solid objects of sizes up to 250mm diameter. It is a self-contained system with a lot of automation, suited to use by commercial, industrial or even in-store retail users.
When was it launched and what market is it aimed at?
The original Jetmaster Dimension 250 printer, announced in 2014, was black-only. Last November at the InPrint exhibition, the firm announced a four-colour version. The first went into operation in December at MyMuesli, a retail store in the city of Heidelberg. This is used to personalise pre-packed and partially pre-printed cardboard tubes of muesli.
According to Jason Oliver, Heidelberg’s senior vice-president for digital print solutions: “It is targeted at any industry with any kind of product that needs printing. It’s an object printer. We call it 4D printing, because we take any 3D object and add a fourth dimension, decoration.
“We think the market for some of the largest consumer goods manufacturers and suppliers is huge, and we believe they will want a large company like Heidelberg to partner with.”
How does it work?
Jetmaster Dimension 250 is relatively compact, with all functions contained in the main cabinet apart from a PC controller.
The core of the system is a four-axis robotic holder that accepts 3D objects and rotates them under a four-colour array of inkjet printheads, keeping the throw distance as constant as possible. The heads are Xaar 1002 with variable drop sizes.
Holders are customised to each object type (such as balls and cylinders) and can be swapped in a matter of seconds, Oliver says. Future holders will be able to accept a range of shapes.
An object to be printed is manually placed in the holder and the cabinet doors shut. A laser scanner measures the object very accurately. The 3D RIP uses the measurements to map the image precisely to the object and generates instructions for four-axis rotation as well as printing. A plasma pre-treatment process is used to make some surfaces more receptive to the ink.
The object is then moved and rotated under the inkjet array in four axes. One colour is printed at a time and given a partial UV cure to pin the ink before the next colour. At the end a full UV cure is performed. The object is manually removed from the printer.
Digital artwork is generated in 2D design programs. Heidelberg expects that product designers will use CAD programs to fit images to shapes.
Heidelberg isn’t saying much about its 3D RIP, except it was developed in partnership with an unnamed outside specialist. There’s no direct link as yet to its Prinect commercial print workflows or colour management systems.
How does it differ from previous versions?
The latest four-colour machine has additional printheads plus control electronics and software modifications.
Later this year Heidelberg will release the Dimension 1000, which will take larger objects up 1,000mm length (and 500mm diameter). This will have six axes of rotation, to print on more complex shapes.
The smaller 250 will gain white ink later in 2016, with a clear protective coating to follow, Oliver says. A six-axis 250 is planned in future.
What is the throughput?
Any object can be loaded, printed and unloaded in 60 to 90 seconds. Variations in image coverage do not have a big impact on speed.
What’s the USP?
It’s a direct-to-shape full-colour personalisation printer. It’s complex yet highly automated and very easy to use, Oliver says.
What support is on offer?
Heidelberg will offer its usual levels of service and support, as well as training.
About €300,000 (£225,600) for the four-colour system. There will also be a click charge to cover consumables, service and support. “We’re finding a whole range of companies that aren’t blinking an eye at that price,” says Oliver.
How many installations have there been and what are the sales targets?
“We have three units installed right now, and our target for the next year, starting in April, is around 20,” says Oliver. “If we have more interest than that we’ll still limit it to about 20. There are no UK announcements yet, but we definitely expect to have one in the next year. At least one!”
Object diameter Approximately 5-250mm
Pretreatment Choice of physical pre-treatment methods and primer
Inks Up to four, UV-LED cured
Printheads Xaar 1002 single-pass grayscale
Object holder Modular system, adapted to the object geometry
Object movement Four-axis robotics
Price Approximately €300,000 (£226,000) with 3D RIP
Contact Heidelberg UK 020 8490 3500 www.uk.heidelberg.com
There is no direct equivalent of the Jetmaster Dimension in commercial production yet, though robotic manipulator prototypes have been demonstrated by a few companies in recent years.
There are now several flatbed UV inkjets available that can print directly to objects. These range in price from about £15,000 to £40,000. However the printed surfaces have to be relatively flat, or if curved only a small portion can be printed. Mimaki’s UJF family is notable because it already offers primer and white inks as well as CMYK.
Some flatbeds can be fitted with rotators so cylinders such as bottles can be printed over their complete circumference.
Pad printing The closest analogue equivalent to the Dimension is pad printing (aka tampo printing), where ink is spread onto a flat printing plate and picked up by a deformable silicon rubber pad. This is then positioned over the object and pressed down, with the pad deforming to the shape and transferring the ink. Pad printing is mainly used for industrial printing of items such as switches, instrument panels, and also some ceramics and glassware.
Screen printing Flat and rotary screen printing is widely used for direct-to-shape printing. However, like flatbed inkjets, its use is confined to fairly flat surfaces, or objects that are essentially cylindrical.