GMN has extensive experience in technical and functional printing for applications across numerous industries. As we have acquired and developed these expertise over the years, we have also amassed a range of processes, technologies, and know-how through which we can produce these products. As a result, GMN is capable of handling virtually any screen-printed technical printing project with volumes and complexities ranging from low to high.
If you are unfamiliar, technical printing is an overarching term that is used to describe functional printing projects that ask for requirements above and beyond the industry standard. Often seen in highly regulated industries, technically printed parts call for exceptionally tight tolerances and acute product specifications. To gain a deeper understanding of technical printing, learn more here.
When it comes to high-volume technical printing jobs in particular, there are a few aspects that you should be aware of before beginning development. The first major decision to be made is which printing process to utilize. Technically printed parts can be achieved using a variety of printing technologies on the market, including gravure, lithographic, cylinder screen, screen printing, and more. However, at GMN, we have specifically chosen to work with standard screen printing processes such as sheet-fed and roll-to-roll (web) printing as our primary processes.
Therefore, we decided to release a blog series that reviews some of the key facts and considerations for gearing up for high-volume technical printing at GMN. In this first blog, we will be examining the distinct screen printing processes available at GMN for technical printing projects, and how they fit into high-volume production.
Comparison of GMN’s screen printing processes for technical printing
With any new technical printing program, the decision of which printing process to utilize is based on the quantity, size, complexity, and functional requirements of the part. At GMN, there are two screen printing methods that can be applied: sheet-fed or roll-to-roll. These methods differ in their ability to handle the core elements listed above, but overall, the central difference is in how the materials are handled. For high-volume technical printing in general, roll-to-roll is the undisputed best screen printing method for production for several reasons, including run speed, material usage, registration, inline inspection, and printing multiple colors per pass. Although, sheet-fed printing plays an important role in this process at GMN as well.
Sheet-fed printing is usually employed on low- to medium-volume technical printing jobs. The sheet-fed process requires an operator to load individual sheets into a press and then remove them after each pass, which adds additional time to the overall job. This, combined with its size and run rate limitations (which we will discuss further in the next blog), is why sheet-fed printing has proven to be an inefficient and more costly method for high-volume technical printing.
However, regardless of which printing method is used for production, the sheet-fed process is always used during the development phase for technical printing projects. This is because the development phase calls for speed and agility when creating several revisions of parts at extremely low volumes and in short intervals.
Roll-to-roll printing is the printing method used for high-volume jobs that often contain a high level of complexity as well, which is archetypical for technical printing projects. During roll-to-roll printing, the material is administered in rolls (or webs) and is secured and continually fed through the press by a system of rollers.
High-volume roll-to-roll technical printing has a large presence in the medical industry with applications such as disposables and electrodes as well as in the appliance industry for capacitive touch applications.
While the sheet-fed process can print essentially the same parts, roll-to-roll printing is better equipped for high-volume technical printing because it can print at much higher speeds, tighter tolerances, and heightened quality levels, which can lead to less material waste and cost savings at these larger volumes. This process is significantly faster than the sheet-fed process because parts are being printed continuously since the material never requires handling. Roll-to-roll can also achieve much tighter tolerances and stack-ups, especially since optical registration can be used.
Other factors that add to roll-to-roll’s superior efficiency include the ability to perform roll-to-roll fabrication and in-process testing in addition to printing. Roll-to-roll is also preferable for through-hole (or via) printing and offers the possibility of printing multiple colors at once. Again, these are elements that we will dive deeper into during our next blog.
GMN’s advantage with high-volume technical printing
On top of the variety of equipment we possess for each printing process, GMN provides a particular advantage during the development and full-scale production stages of high-volume technical printing projects.
Typically, most high-volume technical printing projects are brought to GMN at the front-end of the customer’s development process. The customer may have their first round of artwork, be generally satisfied with the design, or have started looking into inks, but they need support to prepare and finalize the part design and manufacturing process for high-volume production. That’s where GMN comes in.
GMN’s quick-turn prototyping services help to develop high-volume technical printing projects with unparalleled efficiency and performance. Since we offer both sheet-fed and roll-to-roll printing, our experienced and knowledgeable R&D team can approach customer’s projects with a quicker learning curve. We work with our customers to create multiple iterations of their design with quick turnarounds, allowing the customer to fine-tune their artwork to their specifications while we make sure it’s primed for manufacturing and will produce high yields. What makes GMN distinct is that during this development phase, we build these parts at low volumes with the mindset that they will eventually be used for high-volume printing. This notion drives us to ensure that we not only simulate the exact inks, squeegee types, print directions, and screen meshes, but also replicate the specific drying and curing parameters. Therefore, by the end of development, the artwork is already optimized, which allows for a more streamlined transition to high-volume production.
In general, both printing processes can be used to make technically printed parts, but the project requirements, such as volume, tolerance, and circuit complexity, can determine which method is better for your specific application. However, the performance or availability of many of the characteristics (e.g. run rate, tolerance level, etc.) and capabilities mentioned throughout this blog for each printing process is also dependent on the type of equipment used. This is the topic we will explore in our next blog in this series, so stay tuned.