Digital aircraft printing
Peter Boeijink, CEO of XYREC is certain: “The demonstration marks the beginning of a new era in aircraft painting. Our partners have done a great job. This remarkable technology is the outcome of an international industrial collaboration of the best in class.” The unique solution for decorating aircraft uses inkjet technology for digital printing and ink instead of paint. The printer will be implemented in XYREC’s automated paint robot for aircraft, going to be the world`s largest robot. It is capable of handling an entire airplane, which until now has not been possible. XYREC developed this technology in cooperation with Southwest Research Institute, Airbus and Marabu. The development of this revolutionary printer addresses a growing demand from airline operators to paint more intricate designs on their aircrafts. The technology consists of an automated process that enables operators to decorate the full body of an aircraft in every design and all colors fast and efficiently in a fixed amount of time. Beneath the decoration a white base coat and primer ensure the corrosion protection in combination with a clear top-coat that also protects the printed decoration. Further developments will also allow printing on other colors than white. The printing itself is currently done at a speed of 15 m2/h which will be enhanced in the future to 40m2/h. The drying of the printed pictures only takes a couple of minutes.
Printing by robot means new creative possibilities
Adam Hamilton, CEO of Southwest Research Institute states: “I am pleased that our research efforts provided an elegant and innovative solution for applying high-fidelity graphics”.
Current painting techniques make use of manual masking and spray guns. The result are complicated and lengthy processes. Therefore, the development offers new degrees of freedom and invites creativity. As an example for the resulting time reduction Peter Boeijink describes: “Recently, a ANA aircraft was beautifully decorated with sea turtles in 16 days. With the new system this will be reduced by 10 days to only 6 days in total.”
The system is printing 200dpi with sharp edges for lettering and full gradients for color changes, hence the technology will offer new and fast opportunities for branding and advertising on airplanes. Currently six base colors are uses, covering in combination 95% of all available color shades.
The paint for the printing technology was developed in cooperation with Marabu, a supplier for inkjet inks, primers and liquid coatings. Mr. Boeder, CEO of Marabu emphasizes: “We are very pleased that our unique ink development led to this result. We are looking forward to see a bloom in beautifully decorated aircraft”.
In addition to the expected time savings overspray and energy consumption are reduced thereby making the process environmentally friendly. Boeijink explains: “We analyzed the difference in paint consumption and expect a 30% reduction in paint per aircraft. This subsequently reduces the weight of the aircraft which lowers fuel costs on a permanent basis. Furthermore, the ink drying does not need a higher temperature in the hangar as the drying of paints usually needs. Thus, the energy consumption will be lower as well as the resulting CO2 output. The technology will not only applicable for aircraft. In future, ships or trains could also benefit from direct printing. In times when weight reduction is one of the major topics, a decoration with a thickness of less than a micron is an important step.