Development of an Inkjet Printing System on a Flatbed Router
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Manufactured products, such as furniture, laminate flooring, and large signs, are very labour intensive, time-consuming, and costly to produce as they require multiple coating and cutting operations on a series of independent machines, which can each introduce manufacturing errors between the tools and the work piece. By combining the processes of printing and milling, printing integrated manufacturing has the potential to eliminate some of these steps, significantly reduce errors, and preserve resources. Inkjet printing is an ideal method for both image transfer and coating operations due to its non-contact method of directly depositing various types of fluid onto a substrate. With improved positioning accuracy and droplet miniaturisation, inkjet printing could even be used for future applications like the mass-production of MEMS devices, which are traditionally fabricated with a highly complex process involving photolithography. This thesis presents the integration of a Xaar 126 inkjet printing system with an existing industrial flatbed CNC router to develop a combined printing and cutting system. This integration required modification to the overall system through mechanical, electrical, and software means to the existing 3-axis CNC milling system. A secondary z-axis was installed onto the router gantry for positioning of the printheads relative to the substrate, which required development of a separate homing routine to consistently position the printheads to a specified location. Based on the identified frequency response of the machine, a loop-shaping controller was designed for improved y-axis positioning, which is one of the main contributions to droplet placement accuracy. This resulted in a continuous motion tracking accuracy within ±20.2 µm at 250 mm/sec along a print pass (measured by 1.22 nm resolution linear encoder), which is significantly better than the industrial benchmark of ±100 µm. Extensive image processing and calibration methods were utilised on various substrate preparations of paper, wood, and coatings, to demonstrate the capability of the printing system and quantify the quality of print resolution. Calibration results tested on high-gloss Hewlett-Packard paper showed that the swath angle could be aligned within ±1°. Also, bidirectional printing could be used to reduce print time by at least 15% in multi-colour printing with comparable droplet placement accuracy to unidirectional printing. The inkjet system was successfully used to print custom designs on paper and, to a certain extent, on medium density fibreboard at a feed rate of 250 mm/sec. It was difficult to achieve satisfactory image results on wood, as the wood or paint grain was visible through the ink. Thus, without a white pre-coat, the printed image would appear significantly darker than the original image, even after adjusting the image in a graphics editor. For better quality results, it is recommended that greyscale printheads be implemented for greater resolution and a UV system should be investigated for more versatility in printing on different substrates such as glass, metals, plastics, and ceramics.