Roland shows new industrial printers

Roland demonstrated two new industrial printers at the recent InPrint show in Munich, including one for printing to objects such as toys, plus a prototype for printing to membrane switches.

Roland’s SF200 runs an eco-solvent inkset to print to objects where there would be health and safery issues with UV inks.

Thus the SF200 has been adapted from the existing UV LEF2-300, that was introduced earlier this year. But Roland has taken out the LED curing lamps and converted the printer to run an eco-solvent inkset. Otherwise, it has the same print area as the LEF2 at 538 x 360 x 100mm, and the same 1440 dpi resolution. 

The key to this printer is that it can be used to print to items for personal use such as food containers, sports equipment, health and personal hygiene products, medical instruments, cosmetics packaging, electronics and children’s toys – basically anything that might come close to someone’s mouth, where there might be an issue with using UV inks. This idea is so good that Roland is now manufacturing these printers direct from its plants in Japan.

There are two heating cabinets underneath the printer; one on the left to preheat objects, and one on the right to dry the objects after printing. The exact amount of time needed for heating depends on the material and the size of the object so there’s a certain amount of trial and error involved. 

The eco-solvent inks come from Roland’s own Inka subsidiary, with five colours including CMYK plus white. They are said to meet the EN 71-3 standard for toy safety. Boris Buhl, sales manager for Roland in the DACH region, says that it can print to various substrates including , ABS, PVC, TPU, PET, PP and PPMA as well as wood, aluminium, glass and leather, and that it seems to work best with uncoated materials. 

The SF200, is available now and costs around €25,000 or £19,000. It’s perhaps worth noting that the system was originally developed to print to Lego figures, and Lego is starting to roll these printers out into its stores as the Lego Print Factory where customers can personalize some lego characters. Hopefully one will turn up in the London Lego store in time for Christmas. 

Roland Europe also showed off a prototype of a second printer, the VersaUV 300iS, which has been adapted from a VersaUV and is designed to print membrane switches. Stefan Hofs, Roland’s business development manager for industrial products in central Europe, says that there’s a large market in Europe and that there’s not many other alternatives. He explains: “The first thing every customer does is a press test and it has to score one million pushes. The problem with most of the UV ink is that they crack before the million hits.” He adds: “We can also print to several types of plastic but the membrane market requires a digital solution so that’s why we have focused on that market.”

Roland’s VS300iS can print to membrane switches such as this without cracking.

The printer uses a water-based resin ink. Essentially Roland has just fitted the print carriage from a standard VersaUV to a table that can be heated to around 50°C. Hofs adds: “And we have an IR lamp next to the print carriage because we also need heat from the top to dry the ink on the polycarbonate.” Hofs says that despite using an aqueous ink the black ink has a really good opacity, which the samples on the stand proved. It runs at a speed of 6sqm/hr.

Roland Europe is building up a useful portfolio of these niche industrial printers. Hofs says that flatbed printers are the most suitable type for industrial, adding: “It’s our philosophy for the industrial market to make customised products out of standard large format printers with small modifications to the hardware and the ink. It’s very stable because this is all proven technology.”

Buhl adds: “And if you want to serve the industrial market then there’s no standard solution. The industrial market needs us to be flexible enough to make a complete new solution.”

Roland Europe has developed a number of niche industrial printers recently, some of which I’ve already covered here. These mostly rely on developing specialized inksets but Hofs says that Roland has not had any problem finding ink suppliers to work with. He says that although the ink manufacturers normally want to develop for single pass machines where there are huge volumes and margins, they are still interested in working with companies such as Roland on low volume solutions because they see such projects as testing and development platforms that they will later be able to use for other applications. 

I think that Roland is really onto something here, developing solutions that fit specific industrial markets, but re-using existing printers to keep the costs down. This is a much more sensible approach than simply trying to satisfy everyone with a UV printer and it will be interesting to see what sort of success Roland has with this. 

The VersaUV 300iS should be available for beta testing by the end of the year. You can find further details on the SF200 at rolanddg.co.uk.

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