The automotive industry is a huge source of innovation that not only meets the needs of automakers and their customers but also serves to inspire many other industries. Competition and the need for increased functionality, user convenience and the inevitable drive to reduce costs are the key drivers for innovation.
As a substantial user of industrial screen printing technology, the automotive industry represents close to 50% of Natgraph’s annual sales across a wide range of applications. For this reason, the company is very diligent about staying as close as possible to its customers and the centres for this innovation.
A longstanding application for industrial screen printing involves the dials that display road and engine speed within the driver’s instrument display. Conventionally, these dials would require up to 15 or more print cycles, followed by forming and cropping before assembly into the instrument cluster for mounting within the vehicle. While these are functional and attractive products, they do not lend themselves to the increased connectivity and interactivity consumers demand. And they are expensive.
Consequently, these parts are progressively being replaced by LCD-based displays that can offer the consumer all the functionality, interactivity and customisation they have become used to with cell phones and tablets. At the same time, they deliver the innovation, differentiation and cost savings that the automakers require.
Happily, this innovation does not mean the end of industrial screen printing within the instrument cluster. These LCD displays require a cover glass component similar to those seen on mobile portable electronic devices and this needs decorative printing and anti-glare coatings, both of which need to be dried or cured.
UV ink systems
Highest throughput of automotive glass can only be achieved with UV ink systems that can be applied inline. Natgraph’s Electronic UV offers not only excellent levels of efficiency but can be linked to conventional or IR dryers that enable the complex ink laydowns necessary for these applications and for anticipated growth in this sector. Where hybrid (solvent and UV inks) decoration is needed, the ability to incorporate hot air zones, IR, UV or indeed LED curing systems in various combinations ensure ultimate flexibility.
The rigorous demands of the automotive industry dictate performance and longevity for a wide range of conditions. This includes operation between -30°C and 100°C. Such performance relates directly to the quality of the drying to which the inks and coatings are subjected. This is where Natgraph’s renowned precision and control is invaluable to ensure performance and high production yield. The Natgraph capability, described by its PEAK proposition, allied with a deep experience of industrial drying for the most demanding applications, means that it is very well placed to meet this need.
Additional considerations were to the fore where a recent project needed a high level of customisation to enable the dryer to be fully integrated into an automated line. This included special control features to support a pick-and-place arrangement and finite independent control of each infra-red lamp installed in the dryer. Other key considerations were guaranteed process repeatability for 10 years, temperature accuracy within +/-1°C and belt speed controlled to within 0.1m/min.
Happily the results of rigorous automotive testing exceeded expectations. Special mechanical, electrical and software needs are an increasingly critical consideration when designing industrial capital equipment and this is an area in which Natgraph excels.
With experience of cover glass printing for other products and the Drying Solutions Centre (DSC) at its disposal, Natgraph has been able to work in partnership with its customers to remove risk from investment decisions. The Drying Solutions Centre enables customers to specify, optimise, simulate and prove their process and so in turn, remove considerable investment risk.
The Drying Solution Centre is located at Natgraph’s Nottingham factory in the UK and is a resource available to end users, OEM partners and industry suppliers. It offers high performance equipment for process development and also the application knowledge and knowhow for which Natgraph is renowned. Serving the industry for over 40 years means the company has a wealth of experience and knowledge that routinely informs the solutions customers are seeking.
Last year was an all-round excellent time for Natgraph, one of the many highs being a notable increase in the number of dryers ordered for glass applications. In addition to the automotive projects discussed previously, glass solutions have been delivered around the world for appliance, architectural and device applications.
The Natgraph Drying Solutions Centre is probably the best equipped screen printing laboratory in Europe. Featuring production-ready cylinder and flat bed printing presses along with a high performance universal dryer, it enables users to fully define, specify, simulate and optimise the drying process. This results in delivered products that integrate seamlessly into new or existing processes and deliver substantial performance benefits.