Ricoh offers ValveJet heads

Ricoh has highlighted its ValveJet printheads at the Fespa show, with the announcement that these are now being offered to OEM customers for a variety of industrial applications.

Graham Kennedy, Ricoh Europe’s director of industrial print solutions, explains the advantage of using ValveJet over piezo heads: “It’s about larger drops for fast area coverage. You have larger throw distances for where you are not limited to having to decorate on a flat surface. And then high viscosity ink so you could move to automotive painting where the inks are more than 100 cp.”

The principles behind the valvejet approach are fairly simple. There is a hole at one end of the fluid chamber, that is closed by a valve and Ricoh is using a piezo actuator to open and close this valve. The fluid is supplied from a pressurised tank, so that when the nozzle is opened the air pressure is enough to force the drop out. It’s not suitable for highly detailed work – typically having around 70 – 140 dpi, though Ricoh says this could be improved on.

Yoshihiro Moriya, head of Inkjet engineering at Ricoh UK’s Inkjet Technical Centre, explains that by controlling the length of time the nozzle is opened, it’s possible to determine the size of the drop. However, this also depends on the characteristics of the ink, the type of drying available and the requirements of the application. It may also be possible to multi-pulse the drops, for example, firing three small drops that could combine in flight to create a larger drop before reaching the substrate though Ricoh now says that it is still investigating this.

The ValveJet heads are available as either single nozzle NT units or as the Gelart printhead, which has eight nozzles combined. The advantage of the single nozzle units is that integrators are free to decide how many channels they need and how they want them arranged. They can then be configured on a block – effectively a printhead – with the electronics, as can be seen in the picture above, where the black module in the centre of the image is the printhead unit with the silver NT nozzles. Jason Remnant, strategic business development for Ricoh Europe, points out: “It’s easier for OEMs to integrate it as a printhead. A customer can create their own block and add their own value or they can buy a pre-made head with eight channels.”

To illustrate this, Ricoh has shown off a tyre printing application, which combines six single nozzle units together, one each for jetting CMYK, plus white and a primer. In this case, the ink is a water-based resin ink. Kennedy explains: “We put the primer down first and then heat up the tyre to about 120°C and this excites the surface and the ink is cured directly on the surface as the tyre cools.” For this application there are three different drop sizes, controlled by the amount of time the valve is opened, to create light, medium and heavy coverage.

Kennedy says that there is a lot of interest in this solution for sports such as Formula 1 as well as touring car racing, where the vehicles are wrapped with advertising and branding so the tyres are an extension of this. The same can also be used for customising vehicles for private use. Kennedy points out that the tyre printing offers another way of adding value and differentiation. The inks are water-based but can last for up to a year, which is likely to be the lifespan of the tyres themselves. 

I wrote about Ricoh’s ValveJet heads when they were first introduced two years ago. Since then Ricoh has been developing print systems with these heads for the last two years and has a number of solutions. This includes one for printing directly to gas cylinders, another for the sides of trucks as well as for shutters for retail units. As well as selling these solutions directly, Ricoh is also open to working with OEMs who want to create variations on these devices, but Ricoh is also hoping to talk to integrators that want to use the valvejet approach to create their own solutions.

Kennedy says: “This is the first time we have shown this for OEMs, just to gauge where the interest lies. We will develop the story ready for Drupa and will have more of an opportunity to engage with a wider range of OEMs at a much bigger event.”

In the meantime you can find further details from ricoh-digitalpainting.com.


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