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Applying cutting edge digital printing technology on an industrial scale

NTS focuses on large high-tech OEMs active in markets with high levels of product diversity, low volumes and high complexity, such as the semiconductor, life sciences & analytical and digital printing markets. One of NTS’ technological focus areas is Digital Printing. It concerns digital graphic, functional and 3D printing technology. Technologies with a huge global market potential. Digital printing technologies are more and more often applied in production processes as it can bring great benefits such as adding flexibility in production processes, reducing materials and costs or creating entirely new applications. NTS actively applies these technologies for high complexity, low volume, high mix markets. The digital printing projects at NTS are in different phases, from a first idea to the actual production of machines and modules.

Graphical, functional and 3D Printing

Digital Printing is a printing process in which there is no contact between the printing system and substrate in order to deposit ink or a material. By using advanced inkjet technology, verysimilar to the technology in the inkjet printer at home, Digital Printing not only matches traditional printing in efficiency, it allows for an amazing range of exciting possibilities for both production and customization. NTS has been working at the cutting edge of Digital Printing for 25 years and is now working with clients and partners on applying this technology at an industrial scale. In this it distinguishes: graphical printing, functional printing and 3D/ Additive Manufacturing:

Graphical Printing
By digitally printing on packaging, textiles or any other shape or medium it is possible to create variation and allow for personalisation that was unfathomable only decades ago.

Functional Printing
Printing a material that has a functional property directly onto a substrate that allows for new functionality and even completely new products such as a phone’s touch screen or foldable TV-screens. Examples range from touch screens and integrated RFID chips to heartrate measuring T-shirts and lenses with integrated displays. By printing functional properties directly to a substrate, it is possible to create entirely new products.

3D/Additive Manufacturing
Creating a physical object from a digital design by adding one thin layer at a time. This allows for unique shapes and one of a kind production of products of any kind of material most commonly metals or plastics.



Only at the beginning of a digital printing revolution

Functional Printing Expert, Shahzad Khan has been working at NTS for four years now. He works on developing functional printing software and equipment that greatly improves the yield of industrial scale production processes. One example of such a project is the JetFab. By applying his own as well as NTS’ experience and technological expertise to the interplay of ink, printhead and substrate positioning he is improving both the speed and accuracy of specific digital printing processes. Printing to Shahzad is an extremely challenging field: "we are only at the beginning of a digital printing revolution."

Bringing functional printing costs down

“The challenge is often not to think of new products,” Shahzad says. “It’s whether you are able to manufacture those products at scale, so that people can actually afford them. And ink generally determines cost, especially with printed electronics where inks are very expensive. The amazing thing about inkjet printing technology is that you control every single droplet of it using DoD (Drop on Demand) print heads.”

Digital Printing Quality

“So, now that we can largely eliminate the waste of ink, what else can we do to improve efficiency? Well, by increasing speed while maintaining accuracy or quality. Currently, for me, the A-level in printed electronics is 200,000 square meters a year, with nanometre thickness and micrometre inter-product overlay. That means it’s commercially viable and we already have several manufacturing processes running at that level.”

Only at the beginning of a digital revolution

"Digital printing is an enormously interesting and challenging field. If you are talking about digital printing in the high-tech industry, it is justified to talk about a development that is still in its infancy. The printing of esthetic and functional layers offers a wide variety of application possibilities for various sectors. The same applies to all kinds of 3D printing applications. In practice however, you'll see these kind of new and promising applications still sparsely find their way to the market. In this respect, we are only at the beginning of the digital printing revolution."

Societal impact

Making production processes more sustainable

Digital printing can be seen as a game-changing technology that will contribute greatly to more sustainable production processes and more efficient logistics. It is going to turn entire high-tech value chains upside down, in the semicon, apparel industry, food, consumer electronics, et cetera. The possibility of applying materials very accurately and with great flexibility, also in small production runs, leads to the replacement of traditional processes in various industries. You can color textiles with a printer instead of a paint bath. The semicon can use printing to deposit functional layers such as conductors or insulation. Printing an optical structure that is placed on TV screens makes it possible to switch between a 2D and 3D viewing experience. It is conceivable to replace cabling in cars with printed circuits on the bodywork. And the low-cost printing of dental prostheses not only gives a better result than the current casting process, but also enables decentralizing production.

Moving towards a printed world

The formability of 3D printing means there are fewer design constraints. This makes it easier to produce small series. It also brings along new possibilities to combine new materials and combinations of materials. Moreover, production can take place closer to the end-consumers or OEM. This will eventually lead to efficiency in logistics. In short: from the world of printing we are gradually moving towards a printed world. Additive manufacturing is a game-changing technology in all fields that will have an enormous impact on future industry.

Brainport factor

Collaboration between OEMs and high tech suppliers on creating futureproof industry

Brainport Eindhoven is globally known for its smart industry and the region’s unique ability to develop and produce high-mix, low-volume, high-complexity products and components for markets such as health, mobility and energy. OEMs and suppliers work closely together in Brainport. No wonder that the continuous development of advanced manufacturing technologies such as digital printing is high on the Brainport agenda. In this way OEMs and high-tech suppliers contribute to making the manufacturing industry even more future-proof.