Digital Inkjet Thermoforming: Taking Innovation to a New Level
Over the decades, screen printers have been known for devising unique solutions that turn seemingly impossible decorating challenges into production realities. And few companies have demonstrated this quality more clearly than Joliet Pattern Inc., a display and promotional-graphic company located just outside Chicago in Joliet, IL. Owner Andy Wood has let a dedicated production staff re-engineer equipment and reinvent the production workflow to satisfy a diverse group of clients that includes leading fast-food companies and giants of industry. Along the way, Joliet Pattern has built an impressive arsenal of capabilities. This culture of innovation, creativity and invested employees led to the most recent addition of the EFI (Booth 1501) H1625-SD printer and EFI SuperDraw UV inks.
The Imaging of Things
Over the years, the bulk of Joliet Pattern’s clients have been companies that, in turn, sell to highly recognizable names in the fast food and retail world, along with a handful of valued accounts they deal with directly such as Dairy Queen and Rawlings Sporting Goods. To keep these demanding print buyers satisfied, Joliet Pattern has made it a priority to stay on top of new technologies and production techniques. “We don’t want to be followers,” Wood says. “If you follow or stand still these days, you run the risk of falling behind and never catching up.”
Wood and his team were pioneers in screen printed/vacuum formed processes 25 years ago. They learned to distort art to fit molds with approximately three to four moves — which required three to four sets of screens and often weeks of time.
What Joliet Pattern was looking for was a digital ink that would stretch to deep draws required for molded POP displays that were screen printed in the past. Having this would give the company the ability to distort art faster, for longer runs, as well as actually produce shorter runs directly off digital presses.
Joilet Pattern’s staff took advantage of EFI’s color profiling process, which facilitates accurate color matching between digital and screen presses. This gave them the ability to service short-run jobs on the digital equipment, as well as print sample pieces that will go to full production on the company’s screen presses. The company’s talent for innovation is now put to good use with the company’s EFI H1625-SD printer, and Joliet Pattern will now be able to eliminate several production steps from short-run backlit signage orders.
Joliet Pattern is using its EFI printer to create test prints on semi-rigid materials for vacuum forming, a process that produces complex depressions, elongations and detailed forms on printed substrates. Changes to artwork can now be made and quickly reprinted and formed without one single screen set up.
Configuring distortion art for conventional screen printing can take as long as a week. Now, Joliet Pattern’s designers can evaluate the grid that is printed along with the image on each prototype to determine how the art will move during distortion. Once they map the art’s movement, the design itself is distorted and the cycle is repeated until elements align properly.
Recently Joliet Pattern did five artwork changes in four hours, followed by a customer sign off in the same day. This would have never been possible with screen printing. Not to mention the cost of 20 screens that would have to be re-worked.
Taking chances on new technologies and reinventing old ones may seem a risky way to improve product quality, efficiency and customer satisfaction. But it’s a formula that has proven successful at Joliet Pattern.