Rapid Prototyping And Filling Commercial Pipeline
Methods and apparatus provide a means to rapidly develop and modify rapid prototype surface coverings for customer review and approval, and fill the commercial pipeline while more conventional production equipment is obtained, installed and tested. The present apparatus to rapid prototype and fill the commercial pipeline includes a digital printing system to print a film and a press for laminating and embossing the printed film to a substrate. The press uses an embossing plate or roll, which is made from ebonite or by three-dimensional printing equipment. These plates and rolls can be produced within two or three days or less.
A method of rapid prototyping and manufacture of surface coverings having a substrate, a print layer and a wear layer, the method comprising: a. producing aprototype surface covering using a digital printing system to print the print layer and a press to emboss the wear layer, wherein the press comprises an embossing tool selected from the group consisting of an embossing plate and an embossing roll, theembossing tool made by three-dimensional printing, and b. using the digital printing system and press to fill the commercial product pipeline.
Developing new designs for surface coverings, by producing a prototype to show a potential customer prior to making a mass produced product available, is expensive and typically takes three months or more. This is mainly due to the cost and timeto develop print cylinders and embossing cylinders.
Customers are demanding shorter and shorter development times and more input into the final design of the product. It would be advantageous to have a means to quickly (within a matter of days) modify a design, produce a prototype that willfaithfully imitate the final product, and be capable of producing commercial quantities of the final product at a rate to meet initial commercial demand.
Current methods of prototyping surface covering are expensive, because each change in design requires the rotogravure printing cylinder and the standard embossing roll to be re-etched or re-engraved. If the surface covering is chemicallyembossed, any change in the chemical embossing also requires re-etching or re-engraving of the print cylinder. The process of remaking the cylinders is expensive and time consuming.
The present invention overcomes this disadvantage by using digital printing to make rapid changes in the print pattern and chemical embossing pattern. The chemical embossing pattern is created by printing a blowing agent modifier, such as ablowing inhibitor or a blowing accelerator.
The present invention also uses mechanical embossing tools that can be produced within two or three days. The embossed plates used in a stacker press are cheaper and quicker to make than the traditional mechanical embossing rolls used in thetypical manufacture of tile and sheet goods. Ebonite embossing cylinders and embossing plates, and cylinders and plates made by three-dimensional printing equipment can also be made within two or three days. Therefore, the rapid prototyping of thesurface covering required by the present invention is achieved.
Further, time to market is significantly shortened by using the digital printing system, stacker press, ebonite mechanical embossing cylinders and plates, or mechanical embossing cylinders and plates made by three-dimensional printing equipmentto fill the commercial product pipeline. While the pipeline is being filled, the traditional rotogravure printing cylinders and mechanical embossing rolls can be made, and the less expensive to manufacture production line, which includes the rotogravureprinting cylinders and mechanical embossing rolls, can be set up. Once the rotogravure printing and mechanical embossing line is up and running, the digital printing system and stacker press, ebonite embossing rolls or three-dimensional printing rollsmay be used to develop another new tile or sheet goods.
In a preferred embodiment, the prototypes and commercial product which fills the commercial pipeline uses a digital printing system and an embossing system in which the embossing tool can be made within two or three days. The digital printingsystem permits rapid and flexible changing of the prototype design.
While the prototyping embossing systems that are envisioned produce tile at a slower rate than typical tile manufacturing lines and do not use an embossing tool having a long commercial production lifespan, the tools can be made within two orthree days and are durable enough to make enough commercial product to fill the commercial pipeline and permit time to manufacture and install the standard commercial embossing tools.
One purpose of this invention is to enable the user to rapid prototype and/or manufacture vinyl tiles T, either the standard residential type D.I.Y. vinyl tiles or luxury vinyl tiles; sheet goods S, including residential and commercialresilient flooring; and other surface coverings, particularly those that are printed and mechanically embossed. Currently, the manufacturing process utilized to develop and produce vinyl tile and sheet goods can take as long as 90 days. The presentinvention will significantly reduce the cycle-time to produce such vinyl tiles and sheet goods to as short as one week or less, thereby giving the user a significant marketplace advantage.
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