Dedicated follower of fashion

27 March 2009

Combination press provides flexibility of old and new print methods to meet the ever-changing needs of the wallpaper industry

Historically, the wallpaper industry has been impeded by the very same trait that is vital to its survival - fashion. Indeed, machines designed to accommodate fashionable prints using printing methods of the day often become outdated unusually early within their life cycle due to changing trends within the consumer marketplace. It would not be untrue to say that the wallpaper industry contains a fair amount of old ‘mothballed’ equipment waiting for the fashion cycle to return for its awakening and relevance.

However, as in most converting applications, the problem with older types of machinery are well appreciated, these being typically high running costs, waste, high labour intensive operation and job change-over times.

It is with this background that UK press manufacturer Convertech Machinery was challenged with supplying equipment into a market that is always innovating and moving fashion forward. However, due to fashion changes, this market is traditionally careful with its capital investment, as returns are difficult to project on a long term basis. The challenge was to design and build a new type of machine with changing fashions in mind.

The Surface Print Co, in Clayton-Le-Moors, UK, asked Convertech to design and build a press that would produce a combination of printing techniques, initially 2-colour flexo in tight register with 2-colour surface print designs. This machine was then integrated into a converting line for the production of flocked wallpaper consisting of flock impregnators, a double-pass dry and curing oven, creep conveyors and a piece winder - with Convertech overseeing the integration of control to provide the finished wallpaper roll ready for retail sale.

The new combination press provided The Surface Print Co with the capability to print new, challenging flocked designs not previously attained on wallpaper – and at higher production levels than standard designs.

The press was also voted the HDRA (Home Decoration Retailers Association) Best Innovation for 2008, as part of The Surface Print Co’s Floxo flocking machine, which produces wallpaper for collections such as Nina Campbell, Osborne & Little, Lorca Manuel Canova, Larsen, Colefax & Fowler, Romo, Zoffany, Eijffinger, Designers Guild, York Wallcoverings and Anna French.

While the excellent reproduction that can be achieved with flexo printing is widely recognised, surface printing is a method less familiar. 

The oldest automated printing method for wallpaper, surface printing was originally pioneered in the UK over 150 years ago. It is still in use today, although less common, and some of the machines are well over 100 years old. The surface printing method uses a sieve made from a woven felt in place of the anilox roller to lay down very heavy amounts of ink. The ink ‘creeps’ when it hits the paper, so the images are not as crisp as flexo.  

The heavy lay-down of ink and the inexact image rendering gives surface printing a very distinct look. For the wallpaper manufacturer, the mixture of flexo for the hi-fidelity part of a printed image and surface print with the distinctive ‘creep and render’ makes the Combiflex Printer especially well suited for the multi-coloured floral patterns which are extremely popular in wallpaper designs, or for flexo and surface applied adhesive for flock. 

To ensure high efficiency, the standard features of the press include gearless servo control of impression, print and inking rollers; a touchscreen control for automatic setting of print impression and register positioning; and a recipe recall facility of existing printed designs that reduces set-up waste “dramatically”.

The Combiflex has given The Surface Print Co the flexibility of both old and new printing methods, with production efficiency through the most modern automation control for both techniques.

Convertech technical director Roy Melvin summarises: “To combat the change in fashions, the combination printer provides the end user with a versatile machine capable in the first instance of producing flocked wallpaper with flexo background designs at a steady 12 m/min. When the fashion produces a market change, the press will adapt to print either modern 4-colour flexo or 4-colour surface print designs, or any combination of the two methods within the same machine, with little change-over time - operating at 150 m/min and above.”

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