PAS Group Interview with Ralf Ehrlich

Ralf Ehrlich, Leiter Vorentwicklung | Manager Predevelopment, PAS Germany

Ralf Ehrlich, Leiter Vorentwicklung | Manager Predevelopment, PAS Germany

Established in 1992, PAS Group (Providing Appliance Solutions) is a leading developer and manufacturer of cable and panel systems for household appliances, it is a global business providing tailored system solutions for household appliance manufacturers with production in Germany, Poland, China, Turkey, the US and Mexico.

A business that services the white goods/home appliances sector, PAS also has a thriving functional decoration production line with customers such as B/S/H, Whirlpool, Miele and Electrolux. I spoke to Ralf Ehrlich who is responsible for new product development about the business and the introduction of their innovative inkjet production.

Tell us about PAS - what kind of print operation do you have?

“When the company began in the 1990’s we only used screen and pad printing and these were the core processes. In fact, these still are our main printing process with pad printing running about 80% of total print production as this is best for printing onto curved objects found in appliances. In addition we also have screen printing and hot stamping is also used but more for special printing of metallic which is more difficult for screen and for pad.”

Why did you choose to develop an inkjet printing solution?

“In terms of digital printing, inkjet offered us the best potential for being able to print curved objects. PAS now has a fully operating single pass inkjet operation and this is integrated into the production line. The quality of production is excellent, it may look a little different in finish to pad printing but the printing is done directly and quickly and is UV cured."

How did you develop the machine and integrate it into your production process?

“We worked together with an integrator to design a customised machine where we provide a solution to print onto curved panels and we move the heads up and down so we can follow the curvature of the part and we used this for our system. From a commercial perspective this machine provides a positive revenue development as it gives us a much higher yield and is much more profitable than pad printing.

But this didn’t simply happen overnight. The development took a couple of years – however we have now been fully operational and printing for 20 weeks and have produced 100,000 panels, working with two shifts every day. The product is always consistent yet we are able to regularly change the graphics. On average we change the graphics 6 times per shift and sometimes up to 12 times.”

So does this mean PAS is producing a lot of creative output for clients?

“Not as much as you might think. At the beginning we thought inkjet would be very attractive for our customers as it could be used in a very creative way including printing personalised text and graphics and even individualised photos onto white good panels. But during the development stage we discovered whilst this is certainly an option, our customers weren’t really looking for that.

What is driving inkjet adoption is flexibility, shorter turnaround time, lower cost of production and the ability to print the sheer number of variants.”

So flexibility and speed are the key drivers for customers?

“Yes customers really like the flexibility and speed as it offers something new and different. The time for changeover compared to pad printing is nearly nothing. And we don’t have to waste all of the pads, films and the inks which can be wasted. So it is more very efficient to work with. Due to this faster changeover and with a new graphic we can get it done within one hour so it is faster time to market where with pad printing you quite often need a few days.”

So white goods manufacturers are bringing products to market with a shorter turnaround time and a greater frequency so do you think inkjet within your business will continue to grow?

“Yes we think demand will continue to grow and we will most certainly need to build another machine and that is always the small issue as the product must be in a certain range for the 3D shape.

Do you see a future where the creative potential might grow? 

“Yes I know customers are talking about it but we don’t see it yet so we have not been asked to do it.”

Do you see a day where your production will be inkjet only? 

“No we don’t. For example inkjet doesn’t print silver graphic and also sometimes it doesn’t work on some substrates including some plastics.

But in the future we do see an opportunity for it to become more integrated with IT and to be fully automated as it is so different to the other mechanical printing processes which would struggle to be able to do this. However I believe for a very long time we will see inkjet working in tandem with traditional print methods despite the exciting potential that inkjet is already providing PAS.”

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