The European ceramic industry has achieved world class status as a result of Spain and Italy's leading role in the production and sales of ceramic floor and wall tiles (i.e. 30% of world production and 75% of the international market). However, over the last few years, increased competition from developing countries, mainly from the Far East has affected the market appreciably. The competitiveness of the European industry must be raised by enhancing European product quality.
In ceramic tile production, the use of screen-printing inks that dry immediately after application of ultraviolet radiation provides important benefits: elimination of common printing defects, increased productivity of decorative lines, strong reduction in space, greater decorative possibilities and enhanced quality of industrial hygiene. Of the 3000 million square metres of tile that are manufactured yearly in the world, approximately 80% are produced using this technology. Market research by project partners has highlighted the special relevance of screen printing with regard to final product quality.
The inks used at present lack the consistency to withstand numerous tile decorating applications without deterioration. For this reason a fixative is sprayed on after each application. However, this does not completely solve the problem, causing many additional complications, such as longer decorating lines, control difficulties, maintenance costs of rapidly deteriorating equipment close to the fixative application process. In the course of an Eureka project, a type of screen printing ink was developed that did not require the use of a fixative as the ink dries immediately after being applied. This became possible as a result of ink hardening by means of energy absorption.
The ultimate aim of this project was therefore the industrial implementation of the technology described above. This required formulating suitable inks, establishing the best decorating line arrangements and adapting current UV equipment to ceramic tile manufacturing needs.