I spoke with Thomas Wittman and Markus Ritzi at Ritzi Automotive about the new Heidelberg Omnifire 1000 that they are putting to use within the automotive sector. The automotive brands that are now using Omnifire are one of the largest names in the automotive industry and the possibilities the technology is enabling is exciting. Ahead of InPrint, we talked with them about the deployment of the technology, what kind of things the giant car maker is using it for and why this trend is set for exciting growth in the future.
Who is Ritzi automotive? How long has the company been in existence?
Ritzi is 100 years old and a private company and in the digital printing side we are a company with three companies. One is cars, second is advertising for printing, and the biggest one is the painting companies for industrial components for the automotive industry with a focus on interiors.
You met with Heidelberg during InPrint 2015 in Munich, how have things developed since then?
That is correct, we saw Heidelberg and were excited to see the Omnifire 250, but we needed a larger version to be able to do the things we do with automotive, but we like to be the first and we decided to work with Heidelberg and wait for the 1000 version to be ready to really enable flexible production of interiors using digital inkjet.
For digital printing, we go onto another step and a totally new one and often we are the first player in this field who is printing automobile interior parts with digital printing. We are the first company who has reached the automotive qualification with the quality of the printing and we are happy as the demand from the automotive industry is certainly there.
How long has this been in development?
We have been working on a digital solution for 3-4 years and before we took the Heidelberg option we worked with other technologies to see if it was possible but they were not quite good enough. I have the mini-project and have 3 or 4 years of experience before other companies can reach the level we are at the moment.
What is your view of the Heidelberg Omnifire?
Digital printing with Heidelberg opens up new dimensions for 3-dimensional parts. The 1000 industrial version offers more capacity and better quality and now we can really start the digital business. Now, this digital technology is competitive against other industrial processes like injection molding and foam molding. You have fewer tool costs and you can make a short run with 100 units with this design without extra cost and this is particularly attractive for the automotive industry.
How did it start?
The mini was the first project. The ‘mini ring’ that features in the inside the John Cooper. Only the John Cooper Works and the mini 7 has this feature. Altogether 22,000 volume per year for production so a really good introduction with an iconic car.
On the serial ring, they wanted this design outside of the ring. They tried tampon, screen, and sticker printing and none worked well enough. Then someone called Ritzi and asked us knowing we were good at solving problems, and we tried it out by visiting Munich to the plant and saw it was three dimensions. You can feel the print on the part – in a three dimensional way and this was the thing that really got Mini interested as they saw the high standard using this new technology and the design looks retro.
You seem to be leading this innovation with Heidelberg, why is this?
Our success is partly due to our experience. We already printed the parts before Omnifire 1000 on other machines but it just proved it could work. Then the Omnifire 1000 came along and took things onto an industrial level. We had worked for 2.5 years with other machines but they weren’t good enough for an industrial level. Then the launch of Omnifire changed things for us and by then we had the right people and expertise with inkjet to really help us to make it happen.
How did the Omnifire make a difference?
The previous machines worked but the production was slow. Typically, it would normally take 20 mins production and then the Omnifire came along and cut production time by over 50% to 9 minutes. This would increase production speed dramatically so the financial basis was much more compelling and the quality was also better. The Omnifire 1000 enables you to print onto larger objects and we wanted to include the machine into our existing process. We can now change parts and this enables mass customisation and can print to a high volume and then customise for automotive and we get closer to the end customer for cars.
With the robotic system, we can change the format to print onto different shapes. It takes time to learn and you can learn you can change colours, change designs and this is really interesting – I can take out 100,000 from my production line to just print and trace which parts I want to print. Now it is flexible on printing different parts from our production line. This enables us to be flexible and adaptable which is what a manufacturer needs these days.
What kind of new ideas has this enabled?
Over time we are getting lots of new ideas and some of the best ones are coming from our customers. For example, we have a customer who manufactures wheels and they have approached us for printing directly onto wheels and this is exciting. Only the Omnifire 1000 can print a large 19” wheel and they want to use this technology to be able to individualise the wheels. We are in the process now of developing this project.
And another interesting project is to print onto wood for interior trim. The Omnifire system will print black stripes in between grain. It works because you scan an expensive wood and you can print it onto a cheaper wood and it looks exactly the same. So it enables you to create a really nice finish that feels and looks like an expensive wood, yet it has reduced cost and increased value inside.
Do you think that you are still at an early stage with the technology?
Yes. With the John Cooper project along with Smart we think that at the moment digital production equates to 5% of total volume but we see this volume up to 25% in the next two years and it could happen very quickly if you have a contract with an A or B class, then you have 300,000 parts per year, and that is a big volume. This can happen very suddenly. Consumers really see that they want to have their own personality.
So would you agree that personalisation is a key driver?
Yes on the one hand it is but not the only value. An equally important driver is to be able to produce products that suit the local taste of a market.
For example, every European city could have a product that is unique to the colours of that City. But they may want to print it so you have the map of the City on the Radio panel for example. This possibility to bring personalisation and localisation to the car finish and the creative possibilities are really only at the start.
What other benefits does this enable production?
Of course, the personalisation and customisation element is exciting but digitisation also increases flexibility in production that can give cost savings and efficiency enhancements. For example, painting of cars is quite wasteful. So inkjet can enable partial painting as 40% of paint is usually wasted with the existing process.
The inkjet technology enables partial painting. We don’t have to paint all of it we could print onto a black part, we could do this with print instead of paint as this removes the need for a machine to spray on the paint, as it could be printed. 40% of a piece is painted and we have to throw things away and this technology means we that we can reduce waste which of course is far more ecological.
Thomas and Markus will be presenting at InPrint 2017 on 10 am on 15th November.