While 3D printing has often heralded its place at the top of the customised products food chain, Xerox’s 2D technology might be ready to take the accolade with its ability to print on plastics, metals, ceramics, glass and other substrates.
Xerox Direct to Object printing utilises inkjet technology with nozzles half the width of a human hair to print photos, images and text directly onto a 3D object in minutes for label-less, on-demand digital personalisation and packaging.
“This innovation opens up a path for creating customised products instantly at a time when the consumer’s appetite is all about personalisation,” said Brendan Casey, VP of Xerox Engineering Services. “Imagine a sports fan coming home from a game with a helmet or ball that was personalised right at the stadium, or a retailer offering on-demand personalisation on hundreds of different store items.”
Xerox uses enhanced image-quality algorithms to direct the nozzles contained within a printhead, accurately spraying ink at distances of one-quarter inch.
The printer is able to print on smooth, rough, slightly curved or stepped surfaces at print resolutions ranging from 300 to 1,200 dpi. The printer can handle up to 30 objects per hour, with the ability to scale for production.
“The real innovation here is that we can now print on items, such as steel water bottles with multiple curves, without the setup time and costs that analog printing such as flexography or screen printing require,” said Wayne Buchar, chief engineer, Xerox Engineering Services.
The ink jets are compatible with virtually any type of ink chemistry including solvent, aqueous and UV inks and can be operated at temperatures as high as 140°C, enabling jetting of specialised inks that meet demanding requirements.
The technology is targeted at direct retail environments – in store printing for walk-up customers – which in theory would allow for the quick customisation of mass produced goods.
Alternatively, for packagers and manufacturers, the technology would eliminate the cost and headache of labels and be able to customise packaging on the fly, with Xerox announcing a flexible architecture that can support conveyors if necessary.
The Xerox Direct to Object Printer is a customised solution built to order, although Xerox states that pricing starts at $145,000 and varies according to configuration and options.