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Inkjet PrintingMay 17, 2019

Which Digital Print Bed Is Right for You? Conveyor VS Flatbed

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So, you’ve decided it’s time to buy a digital printer. You’ve researched all sorts of specs regarding print quality, color, size, speed. Yet, you’ve overlooked one important feature that may impact your operation: the print bed.

When it comes to digital UV printing, also known as UV inkjet printing, the print bed is a critical component of the machine to consider. The difference in print beds can result in increased production efficiency throughout the printing process.

What Is A Digital Print Bed?

The print bed is the mechanism of a digital printer in which parts are loaded, transported into the machine, and printed. Once parts are loaded, it is critical they remain stationary. Any slight shift in position will result in a misprint. Part fixturing plays an important role in securing and aligning apart while printing.

What to Consider While Choosing A Print Bed?

The most important factor in choosing a print bed is volume. How many parts are to be printed daily/weekly/monthly? How often is a part changing over? Or, do you intend to print the same part with different artwork each time? Do you operate in a large manufacturing facility or a small promotional shop? All these answers will ultimately determine the volume of parts which will then assist in choosing the more efficient print bed operation.

Additional factors to consider are size, shape, and height of parts. Is automation currently incorporated into the printing process or intended to be soon?

What is a flatbed?

The most common of print bed styles, the flatbed. A flatbed print bed holds the parts on a single table. Often, the table has a vacuum option to better secure the parts. A flatbed utilizes a traveling fixture to assist in the housing of parts. Parts are loaded onto a fixture on the flatbed and moved into the machine once printing begins. The print head only moves left-to-right as the bed slowly moves further into the machine. Once printing is completed the flatbed travels back to the operator to be unloaded. Manual loading and unloading are necessary. To see an example, visit the X5 UV flatbed printer page.

What is a conveyor print bed?

The conveyor system can offer the same great print quality and speed of a flatbed with increased efficiency of faster loading and unloading times. A conveyor system uses a conveyor belt to transport the parts into the machine for printing. The parts are loaded into a rising fixture where the parts are placed, the fixture rises as the parts remain on the conveyor and are fed into the machine. To see an example, visit the XJET UV LED printer page.

The fixture-less parts remain in the pre-defined array based upon the rising fixture’s specifications. The print system of the conveyor bed moves both side to side as well as front to back over the part, allowing the conveyor to remain stationary while printing. The operator can load the next fixture with parts on the conveyor while the other parts print. Once printing has completed, the conveyor will feed the parts through the machine and out the back where one of two things can happen: The parts are dropped off the machine into a box or the parts are picked off the machine by a human or robot.

Flatbed VS Conveyor:

Print speed:

Print speed is largely determined by the print head and not the print bed. Often, both a flatbed and conveyor system will use the same print head, therefore print speed is the same.

Flatbed: No benefit over the other.

Conveyor: No benefit over the other.

Print quality:

Print quality is also determined by the print head and not the print bed. Therefore, print quality will also remain relatively the same.

Flatbed: No benefit over the other.

Conveyor: No benefit over the other.

Volume:

A flatbed is a perfect machine to use for the promotional product or personalization industries. A flatbed isn’t necessarily designed for long production runs of the same product with the same artwork.

A conveyor machine is the best choice for high-volume printing. The conveyor bed doesn’t necessarily increase the print speed, but it will significantly reduce the time it takes to load/unload the parts. Alternatively, a conveyor system can be utilized as a flatbed machine as well to print smaller production runs if warranted.

Flatbed: Great for small production runs or sampling. Perfect for the promotional market.

Conveyor: Built for long production runs of continuous printing. Best suited for industrial markets.

Cost:

A flatbed machine generally costs less than a conveyor. There are fewer components to a flatbed machine resulting in a lower cost overall.

Fixture costs, however, are different. A flatbed traveling fixture costs more than a rising fixture because it requires more support, material to build, and time to manufacture. A rising fixture is a simple, yet efficient design that costs significantly less.

Flatbed: The cost of the machine is generally lower than a conveyor system that can offer the same print quality.

Conveyor: While it is more expensive than a flatbed, the cost offsets by the amount of time saved while printing and the lower fixture cost.

Automation:

The use of robots and/or co-bots are slowly, but surely taking over the manufacturing sector. While it is possible to use automation with a flatbed machine, the loading and unloading before and after printing would consume a lot of time. A time that could be dedicated to printing.

In conveyor situations, automation could eliminate the use of a fixture altogether. The robot can load while the machine is printing and unload on the other side at the same time. Therefore, a truly efficient printing operation, utilizing every second of the print cycle to prep the next wave of parts.

Flatbed: While automation can be incorporated, the use of a robot would not seem necessary due to the loading and unloading time constraints.

Conveyor: conveyor beds were built for automation. The automatic loading/unloading and continuous print operation offer an efficient industrial printing powerhouse.

Weather a flatbed or conveyor digital printer is used; it is a critical factor in choosing the right UV inkjet printer.

If you would like to learn more about digital printing, please visit our Ultimate Guide to UV Inkjet Printers.

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