A Major Investment: Considerations When Purchasing a Digital Printer

By Jordan Scott

Adding a digital printer to a company’s operations can expand its capabilities and the types of projects for which it can provide glass. However, implementing a digital printer involves more than simply purchasing the machinery. Fabricators should keep several considerations in mind when deciding if and when they should purchase a digital printer.

The Right Time

Yariv Ninyo, head of business development for Dip-Tech, located in Kfar Saba, Israel, says that during the Great Recession, many glass fabricators purchased digital printers to diversify their offerings since many of their large orders were put on hold.

“Fabricators approached the market and searched for alternative technologies to cover for their missing incomes,” he says, adding that fabricators looking to offer new products should consider investing in digital printing. “When coming out of the current crisis many jobs will come back and the competition on every job will likely be higher. If a fabricator can offer a one-stop-shop to their customer it could help win more bids and make more money.”

According to Ninyo, having a digital printer can help a fabricator expand their portfolio. He says companies only offering screen printing could find it difficult to participate in bidding for projects requiring complex shapes, images or multiple colors.

“Fabricators that don’t have a printer do the other fabrication work and then [outsource] the printing,” he explains. “A digital printer can expand their portfolio, improve efficiencies and increase margins.”

Josh Foster, president of Woon-Tech in Whitinsville, Mass., says fabricators that produce a large amount of exterior insulating glass work and those involved in the shower door market should consider adding a digital printer to their facility.

“Shower doors are becoming a commodity item and the prices are reflecting that … Digital printing adds value and makes the shower door custom,” he says.

Gustavo Lázara Pérez, U.S. and Canada product area manager for Tecglass in Lalín, Spain, says it’s always the right time for any glass fabricator to bet on digital printing technology.

“These industry challenges and our commitment to provide increasingly better solutions are the engine that drives us and why the choice of digital printing technology is a must in the current times,” he says.

Equipment Needs

Fabricators considering the purchase of a digital printer should first ensure they are already operating with the necessary setup. For example, having a tempering furnace in place is a must, as the ceramic ink has to be baked into the glass. Digitally-printed glass also needs to be washed well, so Ninyo recommends investing in a good washer.

“We also recommend fabricators use the printer inside a clean room so that it’s in a dust-free environment,” he says.

Foster explains that fabricators especially need to prevent dust from contaminating high-end interior decorative projects where the glass is being viewed from only a foot away.

“If there’s a speck of dust it creates a pinhole and when someone looks through that image they’ll actually see daylight,” he says.

Dip-Tech can connect fabricators with industry partners that provide washers, but Ninyo says many find their own drying solutions. Tecglass has integrated the dryer with its printers.

“All our digital printing machines are equipped with our simultaneous dry technology which, by means of infrared drying lamps implemented in the printing carriage, allows printing and drying simultaneously without the need for an external dryer,” says Lázara Pérez.

Mastering Printing

Foster points out that digital printers are different from other types of glass fabrication equipment.

“Flat glass manufacturing is pretty basic when it comes to what you want the finished product to look like. You can notch it or polish it, there aren’t a lot of options,” says Foster. “This machine diversifies a fabricator’s options. It can create murals and imagery, meaning there’s more of the market a fabricator can sell the glass to. You have to teach the market what glass is and what you can do with the printer on glass to replace the current materials used in the market.”

Lázara Pérez says it’s important for fabricators to invest in resources to convert computer graphics into a design transferrable to glass.

“The only remarkable factor that a company should consider when investing in digital printing technology is to have qualified personnel in graphic design to carry out all the files and printing jobs that will be used later by the machine,” he says. “… it is important [for a fabricator] to have a graphic designer with basic skills in design programs such as Corel or Adobe Illustrator to develop its own projects and creative design ideas.”

Digital printer installations are often carried out by the machinery manufacturer’s engineers. Both Tecglass and Dip-Tech provide training for their customers after install.

“Our technical team is in charge of carrying out the complete installation and providing complete, specific training in the handling and maintenance of the digital printing line for the customer,” says Lázara Pérez.

Ninyo adds that digital printers are not machines that can be mastered using a plug-and-play method.

“You want the supplier to be with you to hold your hand, at least for the first three to four months,” he says. “We cannot throw all of the information at a new user in one day. We have to let them work for two to three months after the initial training and then give them the advanced tools to print independently.”

Foster says it’s important for fabricators to push the machine’s limits on their own.

“Think of ways to make different opacities or gradients, to mix colors, create drop shadows or layer printing,” he says. “…. The value of the machine won’t be there if you’re producing the same thing [over and over]. We’ve found great value in pushing the boundaries and creating new product lines that have never been seen before.

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