The European ceramic industry has a world-wide reputation, with Spain and Italy being the leaders in production and sales. In recent years, competition has intensified from emerging industrial countries, mainly from the Far East, which have implemented increases in production capacity. Improving European industrial competence must be based on improving product quality and process efficiency. The project concerns the adaptation of a new system based on fabricating printing screens by direct transfer, together with techniques developed for other high-definition printing screen applications. The process will offer an opportunity to automate the ceramic printing process. The proposed process is based on film-less digital representation of data with direct transfer from computer system through laser technology.
The overall aim of this project is an automatic system of elaborating printing screens from digitised graphic design, 'COMPUTER TO SCREEN', and the optimisation of the process, including previous and subsequent phases in the fabrication of the printing screens.
The different technical aspects considered in the project are:
- production of screens from digitised designs by means of directly exposing the screens, previously applied with a photosensitive emulsion, to a high-precision laser. Thus, eliminating the photographic process, as well as all intervening manipulations in between screen design and production
- study of raw materials (emulsions, fabrics, catalyst etc) and equipment (automatic emulsifying devices, dry-up train etc) used in the process.
- improvement in the printing systems: analysing the influence of the screen-printing machines on the quality of the graphic imprint
- setting up of more precise and effective quality controls of this process.
As part of the project, marketing and diffusion activities aim to create market acceptance for the new technology and products, and training will be provided by the technology providers (laser equipment producer, raw materials supplier and research centres) to the users (screen producers and ceramic manufacturers).
Some of the benefits of the project include:
- this new process will improve final product quality, shorten design to production times, and improve reliability and consistency
- the European ceramic industry has 50% of world production. This project would enhance and maintain its international competitiveness and stabilise jobs.
- the Spanish partners are located in an objective 1 region (Valencia). The results of this project would benefit the area and favour socio-economic cohesion
- the elimination of the photographic stage from the current screen printing production process results in the various benefits to people through improved working conditions. For example, it avoids use of the dark room, exposure of UV light and avoids contact with chemicals.
- environmental benefits would result since the use of chemical products will no longer be necessary for the photographic stage. Also drastic reduction of raw materials would result since adapting a specific emulsion that does not later need hardening will enable the printing screens to be retrieved and recycled.
- a quicker, more flexible and consistent working system would enable the designers/creators of new models to see the results of their work quicker than currently, encouraging creativity.
- new jobs creation given the need to incorporate highly qualified staff into the management of computer equipment, laser techniques etc. In addition, the assimilation of the technology would give greater professional development, the idea of work would be a complete process in itself and would indirectly enhance motivation.