In the run-up to the InPrint USA Industrial Inkjet Conference, we talked to Bas Buser from Plasmatreat who is sponsoring and presenting at InPrint. In our discussion, I discovered more about the importance of pre-treatment for surfaces and how Plasmatreat is rewriting the rules for this element of the process and adding tremendous value as a result.
Tell me more about how you got involved with industrial inkjet and your background
My background I worked 18 years for the market leader who makes hotmelt adhesive dispensing equipment to supply adhesives in industrial processes. After 18 years I left the company due to restructuring. Then an ex-colleague told me about an interesting company called Plasmatreat and that they were looking for people with experience of bonding industrial processes. Mr Buske, the owner of Plasmatreat and I met and I discovered a company with innovative technology and he needed someone to help him grow his business into new areas, but with the necessary experience in industrial adhesive bonding processes and I joined them and have not looked back since.
Plasmatreat is treating surfaces to let them except another second material like adhesives, paint, lacquers and ink. For printing, this is incredibly important for obvious reasons! Mr Buske asked me to find new applications in new industries.
For the last 7 years, my focus has been on furniture, nonwovens and now printing industry. 80% of my time I now spent in the printing industry.
How well has the company grown in recent years?
Recent growth has been impressive. For example, 7 years ago we had 90 people and now we have 245. Plasmatreat has technology centers in Germany (Headquarters), the USA, Canada, China and Japan as well as subsidiaries and sales representatives in more than 30 countries.
How do you market yourselves?
Our focus is industrial printing. We don't go to FESPA which is more related to the sign industry and as a result, we don't focus on price. In established markets, people always ask the price. I don't like to discuss the price – I know Plasmatreat makes money for people. InPrint is the show for us to go to every year as this is superb at opening new markets for us.
Back in 2014, nobody seemed to need us, but now they are starting to come to us. Plasma is still unknown as they are still thinking in primers and pre-treatment or other materials or laminating, plasma is still new and this is something we have to teach the market about possibilities.
What is it Plasmatreat does?
Plasmatreat is the world market leader in atmospheric plasma-jet technology. Openair® plasma technology, from which derives the awarded nano-coating technology PlasmaPlus®, is protected internationally by patents and is employed today in almost all fields of industrial production. Materials such as plastic, metal, glass or ceramics are cleaned and simultaneously activated or functionally plasma coated inline within a matter of seconds. The dual effect of microfine cleaning and simultaneous strong activation far outweighs the effectiveness of conventional systems. Pretreatment with Openair® atmospheric plasma causes a targeted and exactly adjustable increase in the wettability and thus the adhesiveness of material surfaces.
So tell us about the process?
Materials such as plastic, metal, glass or textiles are efficiently and effectively cleaned and activated or coated with the aid of Plasmatreat's atmospheric-pressure plasma.
Most surfaces will need treatment in order to help the ink or fluid successfully bond onto the substrate to the necessary level in order to meet rigorous standards, and for the finish to endure, not leave any residue, to be safe and to the necessary image reproduction quality.
We think our process offers advantages that the traditional pre-treatment coating process does not.
What is the key advantage of the plasma process?
Compared with the traditional pre-treatment processes, Plasmatreat is a dry process. It is completely automated and gives you 100% process control. Now we have a new technology where we can get even better adhesion results than with the use of primers or other pre-treatment technologies. There are cases that our Openair® Plasma technology is helping the primer to adhere to the surface on for example UV Printing on polyamide. Only plasma or only primer did not work but in combination it did. We can help this process work so not replacing primer but adding a new performance characteristic.
We have a second technology that can apply a coating – a nano coating – 30- nanometer coating we can apply to almost any surface like glass, metal and plastics where only Openair® plasma doesn't work. This is new and will provide added value. UV digital printing onto the glass – we can get 100% adhesion onto glass.
What are the advantages of Plasmatreat?
We are not the only company with this technology but we are the market leader. We have 245 people all over the world who focus 100% on Openair® Plasma Technology. In our Technology Centers we are able to copy and reproduce industrial processes. At our headquarters, R&D and Application facility have all kind of material handling devices. To support the printing industry we bought a flatbed, 6 colour UV Led Printer.
We have unique plasma jet configurations. Single jets who can tread width up to 100mm. In fully automated production processes it is important that you can rely on your process. That is why our Systems offers many controls which guarantees the good, stable and repeatability performance of it.
On a yearly base, 12% of our turnover is invested in R&D and in 90% of our subsidiaries we have application lab facilities.
What do you think is key to growing Plasmatreat further?
For us, we want to develop partnerships with other key players in the printing world to create new possibilities. Manufacturers of printers are starting to know us now. For example, Mimaki is one of our key partner. During the recent 5 day ExpoPrint Show in Sao Paulo Brazil, we have 5 projects running with them – as our technology provides a key amount of value for them, but we think there are other people out there who don't yet know the advantages of plasma and that working with Plasmatreat can provide them with extra value and potential.
But also present customers from us like Heidelberg Germany, Bergstein Netherlands, Atlantic Zeiser Germany, Machine Dubuit France and many more notice an increase in sales and interest in there products and technology.
Do you still think people do not understand the advantages of digital printing?
Yes, we do as with some customers, they will still view cost as a factor. For instance, ABS plastic which does not need a pre-treatment before UV Digital Printing. You can make the same product out of less expensive polypropylene, but you don't get the adhesion – but if you use a plasma treatment you get excellent adhesion. PVC you don't get adhesion, but with Plasmatreat you can, so it can reduce costs significantly which people like.
Smaller batch sizes, mass customization, frequent artwork changes, better graphics and product differentiation are some of the market forces that are driving this technology. The lack of tooling like screens or plates allows you to change artwork easily. How else can you take a photo of yourself and immediately print it on a product? Or print 1,000 products all with different images?
In your recent blog with Heidelberg machine, there is a Plasmatreat system. I know the Ritzi Automotive story, this is a good customer for us and an exciting new market. They let you choose the interior of your new car and they are able to customize to your liking! This is proof of some of the exciting options for industrial inkjet printing.
Does Plasmatreat sell only to OEMs?
OEMs are important to us, but we also sell to end users. Our Engineering Department is able to design complete handling systems to help with the integration of our Plasma System into existing production processes. In single pass printing processes, we have a lot of systems in place. Every day our Openair® Plasma Systems are in operation for printing Smart Cards, Toy, Saw blades, ball-pens, etc. etc.
What in your opinion are the main challenges for industrial inkjet?
The industry, in general, is looking for smaller runs and quick changeover. That is why the industry is looking to and excited about digital printing. It is still mainly UV Curing Inks and they are not easy to adhere to a surface. In my network, I have OEM´s, ink suppliers, print-head suppliers but also End Users. The End User is always looking for a complete solution. A complete process. That is why the cooperation between companies who support this industry like Pre-treatment, OEM´s, Ink Suppliers, Post Treatment etc. is so important.
One of the challenges is that the customers have to find us. For me it is too hard to get the customer by outward mission – this is why we need InPrint. It is always a long process getting a new customer. We can help people but projects take time to come to fruition. What we need to do is inform, educate and inspire the market.
We want to inspire end-users so they know what it is they need to be aware of. A lot of people are looking into this industry from traditional printing industry there are still a lot of people who don't know about the possibilities.
We need to network! In order to get our message across so that people understand the true possibilities.
On that note, what will you be showing and presenting in Chicago at the InPrint USA Conference?
In Chicago, we will have a live demonstration Openair Plasma System on which we will demonstrate the effect of plasma treatment on plastics. We will show that we modify the surface from hydrophobic to hydrophilic by spraying water on it after the plasma treatment. We will bring printed samples with us which are partial treated. We then can show the adhesion effect of the ink to the substrate on the treated and non-treated areas. Other samples we will bring will show the improvement of resolution of the image when printing on an Openair® Plasma treated substrate.
Plasmatreat will be participating at the InPrint USA Industrial Inkjet Conference on 1-2 May in Chicago for more information click here