After many years working with some very unique direct to object / direct to shape inkjet projects, this new technology being introduced to the USA at Printing United 2019 is certainly the BIGGEST and most unique that I have had the pleasure of working with!
A unique, purpose built, digital painting (printing) system to directly image full color graphic decoration onto large vertical surfaces, such as trucks, trailers, buses, vans, RVs, etc. Called Vehicle Art Robo, the system is essentially, an XYZ vertically mounted industrial inkjet system that jets custom "paint" through industrial print heads directly to flat, curved and uneven surfaces at a distance up to 200mm. (Typical inkjet being 1-2mm jetting distance for comparison.)
To ensure the quality, the system uses a unique curved surface tracing system, referred to as "CST" to enable the Z Axis print head consistency on complicated surface geometry such as corrugated containers or lapped siding. The largest model can achieve fully automated imaging up to 13 meters wide (42 feet) by 3.25 meters high (10.6 feet), and larger using stitching. To ensure the accuracy of the image stitching for printing and repairs, it comes with Joint Picture Management software as part of the digital front end. Full color decoration using custom formulated chemistry, CMYK, plus white, and a clear coat.
Intended as a cost, time, and ecologically more efficient alternative to printing and installing PVC wraps, the finished image is as outdoor durable as typical PVC, but can still be chemically removed and re-imaged or repaired, with no PVC waste to dispose of.
As with most new digital technology, there are differences in the supply chain. The current typical process for large vehicle wraps today involves many steps for production once the graphic design is complete. The image typically gets broken down into sections for inkjet printing onto self adhesive vinyl. The vinyl is then shipped or transported to the location of where the professional wrap installers will apply it to the vehicle. The cost is often broken out as the printing/ink/PVC production cost, separately from the wrap installation labor costs. Although sometimes bundled together. When it is time to change out the wrap, the labor effort, time, and resulting surface quality is greatly dependent on the quality of the PVC used and the exposure time on the vehicle. PVC cost and professional labor services cost being the key factors, but PVC waste and the vehicle surface after removal are often other concerns.
This new Vehicle Art Robo technology eliminates the need for PVC as once the vehicle is positioned into place with a small amount of prep, it is quite automated for the system to perform the direct painting onto the surface. The operator can typically be multi-tasking during the print process. Repairs and re-imaging are much easier than the PVC removal process, as the paint can be chemically removed to make the surface ready to be imaged again. Which also makes it significantly easier to change out graphics more frequently.
Bottom line being; The current traditional PVC/wrap decoration process is relatively low in capital equipment cost, and can be completed in a series of steps with labor going to the vehicle to complete the process. This new direct imaging technology reduces a lot of the variable cost in the PVC and the labor, but with the trade-off of higher capital equipment cost than a typical roll to roll solvent inkjet printer. All in all, if the job volume is there, then this new approach will be far more cost effective and definately more environmentally sustainable.
As part of the parent Ricoh Company in Japan, the newly formed industrial division called Ricoh Digital Painting Company, Ltd., has already had considerable commercial success in Japan with this new Vehicle Art Robo technology as well as an inkjet tire printer they sell. They are sharing booth space with the other products sold by Ricoh USA. In addition to the introduction, there are plans to have a USA demonstration center up and running by year end.
Feel free to contact me about this new technology. Craig Reid M:302-545-2851 firstname.lastname@example.org