Achieving the ‘Impossible’: Printing on Complex Metal Fabricated Powder Coated Parts

“If it’s not flat, it can’t be printed on.” That’s the prevailing thought when it comes to printing directly on fabricated powder-coated parts. Yet, printing in some form, whether directly or indirectly, is required for marking, instructions, and of course, branding. While it is typically challenging to print directly for several reasons, we can tell you that it’s certainly not impossible!

 

Why Do People Say it’s ‘Impossible’?

So, why is it so difficult to print directly on complex powder-coated parts? It’s pretty simple, printing processes by their very nature are designed to lay down ink on flat surfaces. Complex parts have unusual geometries that don’t lend themselves to being printed on easily. So instead, manufacturers will often resort to labels. While this may be a good solution in certain situations, it’s a compromise that comes with drawbacks including:

  • Labels have a tendency to peel off over time. This may be due to environmental conditions such as heat or other climate-related factors, or thanks to people being unable to resist the urge to peel of a label, particularly for items in public.
  • To achieve proper adhesion, powder-coated metal requires an engineered adhesive. This adds inevitable cost and complexity to an otherwise simple product.
  • Labels complicate inventory management. In addition to managing the product, labels need to be inventoried as well. They take up space too, a precious commodity.
  • They increase procurement costs well. They require a purchase order. They need to be made. Received. Billed. Paid for. They also come with minimums. For short runs, manufacturers are essentially forced to buy more than they need, thus wasting money.

 

How Can Printing on Metal Powder Coated Be Done?

With a bit of ingenuity and determination, printing on complex powder coated components can be achieved, with impressive results. While we won’t give away the secret sauce, we can tell you that it involves creative approaches to workholding, and “outside the box” thinking when it comes to overall process. In fact, no two jobs utilize the same exact method. There is always some variation required to accommodate the part and the customer’s needs. Let’s look at some things that were thought to be impossible, but were able to be done.

  • A fabricator that makes side panels for welding equipment had big dreams: they wanted to brand them. The challenge is that the panels have vent flanges. We came up with a process that allowed us to screen print on the panels after they are powder coated. The result? A beautifully branded product, with type and graphics that will stand the test of time.
  • A west coast transit system uses brochure holders to disseminate information to the public. A sticker certainly won’t last for this application. In fact, digital printing wouldn’t hold up either, due to wear from public use. Our solution allows us to hold these components in such a way that we can screen print directly on them. In the end, logos and descriptions printed on them will withstand the beating they will take.
  • A manufacturer of instrument panels came to us with a challenge. They needed help putting markings on the front control panel. But the presence of thumb screws, and other components made it difficult. We developed a process allowing us to screen print in small areas with precision. Stickers or vinyl might have been an easier way to achieve this, but there’s no way they would last in this high touch, high use environment.

These are just a few of the many success stories we like to share. Regardless of the industry or use, they all have the same theme in common: printing on powder coated components is not impossible. We do it all the time. As a result, our customers get a polished printed product, without the hassles associated with labels. The printing is durable, attractive and stands the test of time.

 

If you have an “impossible” printing challenge for powder coated parts, let us know about it. We’d love to help engineer a solution tailored to your needs.

 

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