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Canon UVgel technology

Brian Sims looks at how Canon extensively researched the market before coming up with a solution to meet demand for increased productivity and better versatility of substrates—UVgel technology

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Canon has launched its Océ Colorado 1640 as the first printer built with UVgel technology

Canon solves industry issues with UVgel

Market expansion can be either matched with technology improvements or step changes in technology can actually push forward the market size and boundaries; either way printers should view this opportunity as a win-win situation. Whilst this is an upside opportunity for the printer, the hard work needs to be completed by a manufacturer as they either drive or react to the changes.

Either task—designing new equipment to match capacity requirements, or looking at a blank piece of paper and originating new technology to dovetail into the market ‘gap’—is not easy. Normally this ‘blank paper’ option is the domain of the larger companies as any new technology development takes extensive funding and commitment.

To coincide with FESPA 2017, Canon has released its Océ Colorado 1640, which is a large-format roll-to-roll inkjet printer. It is, however, no ordinary printer as it has at its heart a new technology called UVgel. This new product is the result of considerable investment in both time and money by Canon, having first gone back to the market to understand the current issues faced by their current and prospective clients.

This new product is the result of considerable investment in both time and money by Canon


The answers they found from this research showed Canon the ‘blank paper’ route was required to overcome the limitations the printer is currently facing. Before discussing the answer, it is worth taking a little time to understand the outcome of Canon’s research.

The research showed there were three key areas that required focus and solutions. In order, these were levels of productivity, print quality at commensurate speed, and the versatility of various media substrates.

With regards to productivity, Canon found that production speed was the primary limitation on productivity with reel-to-reel wide-format inkjet printers. There are a lot of latex and eco-solvent printers currently available in the market and they fill the sector very adequately. However, they are limited on speed due to the nature of the process, not design, and as such do have various limitations on production speed.

The issue of speed impacts on the second of the limitations identified by Canon in as much as production speed has a direct impact on quality. This has always been the case on any process, but should a printer using latex or eco-solvents want to increase production speed, then quality will need to be matched accordingly and generally higher speeds leads to a reduction in quality.

The final limitation Canon captured was that of the scope of media that can be used by the printer to meet the demands of their customers. The current choice of process can have a limiting effect on the media or substrate used as they generally need to apply heat to evaporate water or solvent.

The solution

So, the big question is what was on the sheet of paper once Canon had completed their brainstorming? The answer they came up with to close the technology gap they found is UVgel technology.

Canon developed UVgel technology to create a comprehensive printing process to attend to increased productivity needs, a wide spectrum of applications (both indoor and outdoor), and to provide the maximum possible use of a number of media substrates.

The process comprises of a series of patented elements that, once combined, provide the answer to the market gap Canon identified. At the heart of the new process is a UV curable ink that at room temperature is a gel. When heated, it transforms to a liquid and is then applied to the media substrate. In the final part of the process, the ink is cured by UV light; in the case of the Océ Colorado 1640 by a LED UV light source.


The Océ Colorado 1640 has a LED-based UV system that cures without adding any damaging heat to the media



The ink is applied through a piezo-electric print head, which heats the ink and turns it from a gel to liquid as previously explained. The individual droplets are then applied to the media, which has been passing over a heated platen, heated to 28°C. Once the ink hits the media, it immediately returns to a gel and is ‘pinned’ to the media in a partial pre-cure. Finally, the gel is fully cured under a LED curing head, which gives the printed image a smooth, robust, and high abrasion resistant product.


The device benefits from an impressive heritage and is of well-engineered construction



Canon state their new process addresses the limitations concluded from their market research in a number of ways. As the ink turns directly back to a gel on application, the integrity of the dot is held to extremely tight limits and avoids merging with neighbouring dots. Due to the control of dot gain, significantly more ink can be applied in a controlled manner allowing for vibrant and deep colour output.
     
The UV drying required for Canon’s UVgel technology means the product is dry immediately with the added bonus of only small amounts of heat build-up in the substrate due to LED drying. This has the benefit of productivity levels being significantly increased without the loss of print quality and importantly, the media retains its physical properties being unaffected due to the lack of heat.

The UV drying required for Canon’s UVgel technology means the product is dry immediately


Clearly significant amounts of time and effort have gone into not only the new UV gel, but a huge investment has also gone into the application of it. Each of the individual inkjet heads are monitored and controlled on the fly by the use of Canon’s patented Piezo Acoustic Integrated Nozzle Technology (PAINT).

PAINT continuously monitors the condition of the head by passing a sound wave into the nozzle and listens for the response. Should a nozzle not behave as expected, it is automatically shut down and the neighbouring nozzles step up and fill the gap left by the unresponsive jet.

Canon state that the uniqueness of UVgel technology and the ability to ‘pin’ each individual dot to the pre-heated media means in combination with PAINT, the dot quality can be controlled to very tight constraints. This control means waste ink can be reduced, print quality improved, and the available colour gamut greatly increased.

So, in what device has Canon wrapped all these new technologies in; the answer is the aforementioned Océ Colorado 1640. This new roll-to-roll 64? wide-format printer can produce a host of products at speeds of up to 159sq m/h and even the highest quality output being produced at 40sq m/h.

The printer makes significant inroads into non-productive time by the use of automated dual-roll technology to allow operators to switch between different media on the fly without operator intervention.

Any changes in media thickness can be programmed into the printer and when the device switches between media, the printer automatically adjusts accordingly. To ensure media is controlled in and out of the printer correctly, Océ use an optical device called Media Step, which ensures the correct placement of the media throughout the printing process.

As you would expect with any Canon product, the device benefits from an impressive heritage and is of sturdy and well-engineered construction, leaving it clear to even the most casual observer that the Océ Colorado 1640 and Canon’s UVgel technology is bound to make a major impact.



Brian Sims, principal consultant, Metis Print Consultancy, www.metis-uk.eu


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