Spotlight

The digital future of brick

13/04/2021

Projecta Engineering transfers its experience acquired in the tile industry to the heavy clay sector and revolutionizes the brick and roof tile decoration

Antonio De Carlo,
Projecta Engineering (Fiorano, Italy)

In the 20 years long development of the ceramic tile decoration with single pass inkjet printers, commonly referred to as "digital" printers, the ceramic floor and wall tile companies have transformed the way they organise and manage decoration within the production process. It is hardly surprising that a similar path can now be followed for the decoration of other clay products, such as bricks and roof tiles.

The main target of the new “digital” trend is to reproduce old style surfaces traditionally made by old bricks, woods and stones, giving an added value to the standard bricks and roof tiles.

For these products, which are sometimes also available in glazed versions, the following points must be considered:

  • unlike ceramic tiles, bricks and roof tiles are not flat and the surfaces that need to be decorated may extend significantly on three dimensional axes.
  • the production conditions are very different from those typical of floor and wall tiles,
  • the decorative parameters and designs are different from those of ceramic tiles.

An analysis of these differences gives us a better understanding of the work Projecta Engineering has carried out in recent years, the experience the company has acquired and the patents it has taken out to meet the needs of the brick sector.

Printing on orthogonal surfaces

Following installation as part of a wall, only one face of a brick is normally visible. However, walls also have corners where the bricks have two visible faces, one orthogonal to the other. This makes it necessary to print on at least two orthogonal sides of the brick.

To meet this need, Projecta Engineering offers the "TOP & EDGES" solution, in which two modules are installed one after the other: the first module performs printing on a "horizontal" side, the second module on one or two surfaces "perpendicular” to the previous one, so that the brick has two or three decorated faces.

The "TOP & EDGES" printer is the natural evolution of two of Projecta Engineering’s existing models: "EvoHybrid" printer for "horizontal" printing, and "EvoMoving" printer, where one or more printheads can be orientated from 0° to 90° according to the different orientation of the surfaces. “EvoMoving” is normally used in the decoration of the so-called “special ceramic pieces”, i.e. baseboards, strips, steps and ventilated facades (or “fassadenklinker”).

In the "TOP & EDGES" printer, the two modules are synchronized so that the image printed on the horizontal surface by the TOP module can extend naturally onto the perpendicular sides of the brick and roof tile by the EDGES module.

Production conditions

Unlike ceramic tile plants, bricks and roof tiles factories are not planned for the decoration of the pieces, so they rarely have suitable spaces for installing a printer. In addition, there are cases where the only available space is located immediately after the extruder and before the cutting stage, so the printers have to carry out decoration over continuous surfaces.

The printers produced by Projecta Engineering have a remarkable compactness, and they can be installed in limited or confined spaces. The management of the image to be printed is adjusted in order to create a continuous print flow, suitable for decorating the extruded product prior to cutting with a virtually seamless, continuous graphic design.

Roof tiles come in a wide variety of shapes, but they invariably have two surfaces that need decorating: the upper surface of the roof tile, which may be subplanar or curved, and the thin, visible front side. For these products, the solution proposed by Projecta Engineering takes advantage of the long experience in the sector of special ceramic floor and wall pieces. An "EvoMoving" printer, where each individual ink bar can be equipped with fixed printheads, in a horizontal position, connected with patented swiveling printheads, can decorate the upper part as well as the front side of each piece, and it is perfectly suited to decorate the roof tiles.

Decoration

Following the application of color inks, it is possible to apply some other special inks that create textural, material effects, resulting in an alternation of gloss/matt surfaces that closely resemble the patinas commonly formed on bricks and tiles over time or during the firing of the pieces.

Also, grit can be digitally applied and fixed to the upper surface of the roof tiles by means of an “EvoDryFix” dry printer, a “digital” machine patented by Projecta Engineering and widely used in the decoration of ceramic surfaces. This printer makes it possible to further enhance product aesthetics by adding a characteristic typical of handmade bricks and roof tiles, covered by grit and sand on the surface.

The automated factory

The evolution of industrial processes is driven by the need to increasingly automate the production chain and ensure an automatic flow of process management data.

In many countries, a number of brick and roof tile factories already have highly automated process management. Projecta Engineering printers can be integrated in an automated production cycle and the management software is able to interface with Industry 4.0 processes.

In anticipation of the industrial revolution of the third millennium, Projecta Engineering offers a range of printers and complementary services which are the result of high level of expertise and patents in the various sectors of the digital supply chain, as well as strong synergy with ink manufacturers, making it the ideal partner for transforming the production process from analogue to digital.

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