Last updateTue, 15 Oct 2019 3pm

"There is potential to be exploited in the screen printing process"

Maschinenbau GEROLD GmbH & Co. KG has specialised in automated handling and printing on glass. Since the photovoltaic market - its strongest market in terms of sales -has collapsed, the Nettetal-based family-owned company is now in a phase of re-orientation. According to Managing Director Harald Firmenich, the know-how about automation and printing technology in a wider sense is in demand. He sees potential that waits to be exploited particularly in screen printing.

Mr. Firmenich, please briefly outline the development of your company since its establishment in 1968 for those readers who don't know GEROLD.
Harald Firmenich: Yes, with pleasure. Wolfgang Gerold started as a craftsman and quickly developed the company into a special engineering company for the glass industry. The first large customer that could be found was a well-known car glass manufacturer in the region nearby for whom GEROLD developed solutions for glass handling and later on for printing on glass, too. This also includes screen printing machines which, e.g., print the black border on car glass, as well as, for instance antennas and heating wires. Our machines are used on all continents – wherever cars are manufactured. This was and still is an essential cornerstone of our business.
Are there other cornerstones, too?
Firmenich: Of course. Most of our customers are strongly linked to the glass industry. We have used our screen printing and handling know-how as a basis for many more applications, including in photovoltaic systems where there was a demand for our flat glass handling and process integration. Since there is hardly any demand from this market now, our company, must – like many others, too – re-orientate itself.
How do you do that?
Firmenich: It's good that we kept the ball in the car glass and other sectors. To a certain extent, this gives us some security. We have analysed our competences and as a consequence increased our range of products for screen printing.
One of your competences is in printing technology. Where is GEROLD positioned there and what is your assessment of the potentials?
Firmenich: As far as screen printing on flat glass is concerned, we were for a long time restricted to the size of car glass windows. About two years ago, we took over the Fleischle brand which specialises in screen printing on structural glass of up to 6 x 3.3 m. So, we now also cover machines for printing on bathroom doors and architectural glass for facades. With such a broad range on offer, we are well prepared for a repositioning of the GEROLD brand. We are an automation specialist who knows very specific joining and automation technologies as well as printing applications in and out, be it on flat or hollow glass, on plastic materials, metals or ceramics.

Are you just set for screen printing?
Firmenich: No. Our development team, of course, also deals with other printing methods with a view to the respective markets, inter alia, with digital printing. Even though the latter is gaining in importance, screen printing still remains the more important one of these two methods. Our analyses and research show rather clearly that screen printing is the better choice in many applications, for instance, for architectural glass and several other sectors. The reason is that screen printing offers higher colour quality as well as better opacity, and especially in mass production it is simply more favourable. From our point of view, the advantages outweigh the disadvantage that multi-colour printing takes more time, because the different colour inks need to be applied in several steps.
What is your present position in screen printing?
Firmenich: As far as car glass printing is concerned, our machines produce a printed windscreen every 7 seconds. We attach great importance to high availability and high throughput, whether in the form of high-speed production or innovative machine setting systems. Such a 7-second cycle requires huge know-how. Handling, exact alignment of the glass and screen by means of laser technology, ink application and drying in several steps, including, e.g., the important subject of inline quality control.
Do you see potentials for screen printing?
Firmenich: The printing process itself has reached a high development stage. Some limits exist, inter alia, due to the viscosity of the inks. In screen printing it is, however, possible to apply not only decorative colour inks, but more and more functional layers, too. This opens new possibilities. Furthermore, there is a lot of potential for optimisations at the periphery. Especially the loading and unloading processes are often still too time-consuming. From my point of view, in addition cleaning, maintenance and screen replacement are often inadequately solved. It is unacceptable that the operator is required to climb on the machine and then comes down with smears. The printing industry is used to that. But that doesn't make it right.
What do you have in mind?
Firmenich: As a first step in this direction, we have the market launch of our solution for set-up time optimisation. Machine setting can be done by one person in just a few minutes. The aim is to achieve a fully automated screen printing machine which also includes cleaning. That's what we are working on. And there is still a lot of work to do – by our company and the entire industry.

At a glance
Wolfgang Gerold established the company, which is now an engineering company, initially as a craftsman's workshop in 1968. In the 1970s, based in Nettetal in the Lower Rhine area, he developed it into a special engineering company for the glass industry. GEROLD´s solutions for automated handling and printing on flat glass were in great demand particularly in the production of front and rear windscreens for cars. During the last decade, GEROLD successfully used the know-how acquired in this sector in the production of equipment for the photovoltaic industry. After the abrupt end of the solar energy boom, the family-owned company now systematically targets new markets. Assembly and adhesive dispensing robots of the Nettetal-based team now assemble refrigerator bodies and parts with highly sensitive surfaces, handle and pack glass panes with the FastMove system developed in-house. In combination with screen printing equipment, they are integrated into the production of car and architectural glass, operating panels, plastic or perfume flacons and bottles. Automated assembly and packaging machines are gaining in importance for the company. The medium-sized company currently employs 53 staff, about one sixth of them in design and construction.



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