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Mutoh Zephyr TS traffic sign printer Print E-mail

The Mutoh Zephyr existed for about two years, and did not sell well since it used pinch rollers and grit rollers which are not ideal for thick heavy boards. So someone cleverly conjured up the idea to transform the Mutoh Zephyr into a Mutoh Zephyr TS traffic sign printer. So Mutoh worked out a relationship to feature Nippon Carbide Nikkalite retroreflective sheeting for traffic signs.

Downside is that Mutoh America never exhibits any UV-curing printer in their booth and last week at VISCOM Frankfurt there was no Mutoh Zephyr of any designation either, and one at Reklama Moscow the week before.

There is also no FLAAR Report on any of the Mutoh Zephyr UV printers since this printer was not yet finished when I was last at the Mutoh Europe factory in Oostende.

In the meantime, Durst Rho 161 TS and Durst Rho 162 hold most of the market share. Plus, Grapo is now coming out with a traffic sign printer.

Mutoh Zephyr TS traffic sign printer
This is the Mutoh Zephyr TS at the Summa booth. FESPA Munich trade show, 2010.

Grapo Oralite UV traffic Sign Printer

This product would consist of a modified Grapo Octopus II UV-cured printer named the Oralite UV traffic Sign Printer. The substrates would be very special, printing on a completely new material, Oralite 5900 microprismatic reflective film. 3M controls the world market and here is an opportunity for Orafol to provide an alternative.

Oralite 5061 transparent film laminate and Oralite 5095 anti-graffiti film would complete the recipe. All seven colors would all be spot colors.

Snag is getting the films certified by all the government agencies. 3M and Nippon Carbide Nikkalite retroreflective sheeting are already certified. I would guess that Avery-Dennison is also certified. But new sheeting requires lots of time to get certified.

Durst Rho 161 TS and Durst Rho 162 TS

The Durst Rho 161 TS is an adaptation of the venerable Durst Rho 160R platform. This was one of the first commercially viable high-end UV-cured printers ever conceived. I can still remember seeing the prototype at DRUPA 2000 and Photokina 2000.

The Durst Rho 162 TS is a smaller version than the Durst Rho 161 TS.

Reportedly more than 40 Durst Rho traffic sign printers have been sold, mainly in Europe.

Durst Rho 160R, traffic sign printer
Dr. Richard Piock, Managing Director of Durst, holds a sample of the unique application of printing on reflective traffic sign material with a Durst Rho 160R with 3M flexible UV ink.

Reflective sheeting that has certification for traffic signs

Presently 3M is the largest supplier of traffic sign materials in the world. 3M provides 3M High Intensity Prismatic Reflective Sheeting Series 3930 is a non-metalized micro-prismatic lens reflective sheeting designed for the production of durable traffic control signs, work zone devices and delineators, that are exposed vertically in service.

Manufacturers are constantly trying to develop new materials that can be better seen at night. A newer traffic sign material is 3M™ Diamond Grade™ DG³ 4090 Reflective Sheeting.

Nippon Carbide is the other major international producer

Nippon Carbide in Japan offers their Nikkalite retro-reflective sheeting for traffic signs, as competition against the 3M reflective sheeting.

Although Avery-Dennison is well known for vehicle wrap and other inkjet materials, I don't hear much about Avery-Dennison for traffic sign retro-reflective material. Possibly because 3M has all the market share, and Nippon Carbide Nikkalite has the rest of the retroreflective sheeting market.

Avery-Dennison has aligned with Matan: DTS-12, DTS-36

Matan is a capable printer manufacturer in Israel. I can remember seeing their thermal transfer printers at DRUPA 2000 and other shows in that past era.

Unfortunately the owner of one thermal transfer printers of that era (in Florida) stated that this kind of “ink” and printer required too much wastage (if you did not use it all day and night). If you simply did short occasional production runs, then the result was that the cost was prohibitive.

Thus the constant mention of cost savings, lower cost, etc in the Avery Dennison advertisement claims comes as a surprise (again, perhaps the year 2010 system is less wasteful and/or ribbon prices are dramatically lower cost than in the past, or you can use more of the ribbon than in past production manner). I always look forward to learning that a machine today has overcome things that end-users were upset with in past years.

But if there is a newer thermal transfer system, that is neither as wasteful of the colorant ribbons nor otherwise too costly, I would enjoy the opportunity to evaluate it. But I have not seen any Matan thermal transfer printer at any major FESPA or VISCOM trade show in six years. I really like thermal transfer technology, and I felt it was unfortunate that in some print shop situations it was not cost effective.

What does Oracal offer for traffic sign material?

Presently Oracal is best known for inkjet media, PVC film, cast PVC and calendered PVC, again, film (not technical textiles; for that Obeikan and others are better known)

But Oracal does offer reflective film, but presently only in 5 year and 7 year grades, its Oralite films, such as Oralite 5860 High Intensity Construction Grade, but it is for medium-term” traffic control (it is helpful that Oracol is honest about this aspect).

However parent company Orafol in Europe is working on finishing a factory for microprismatic reflecting film system by the end of this year.

Other products?

Considering how many traffic signs must be printed around the world each year, it is notable that one company (3M) has such high market share.

Avery-Dennison is a third producer, in addition to Nippon Carbide and 3M that can produce Type IV. Kiwalite, ATSM, and LG Chem produce only less than Type IV. Another reflective materials producer is BMC Craft. Their R-1200 acrylic type has a 10 year durability. I thank a colleague in the industry for providing me this tip.

Neither Kiwalite nor BMC nor ATSM nor LG Chem have printer partners at present.

Traffic sign materials must meet European norms

It is tough for Chinese manufacturers to provide material that is consistent from one container load to another. This situation will improve, but for the last decade, what a factory ships one month is not the same material as the same factory ships the next month. So it is a challenge for any Chinese reflective material manufacturers to convince distributors that they meet international standards.

The other hurdle is that there are dozens of standards, depending on what part of the world you are in.

EU standards, such as EN-12899-1:2007; ASTM D4956-01 and then all the different types, such as ASTM Type XI sheeting, ASTM standards for Type III, IV and IX sheetings. Then you have to deal with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), ADOT regulatory standards, and that does not even count what you face throughout Africa, Middle East, and Latin America.

Examples of traffic signs that can be printed with UV-cured inks

Speed limit, stop signs, yield, traffic regulations

Railroad crossing, school crossing zone, pedestrian crossing signs, street names

No Parking Anytime, handicap parking, disabled parking

Wrong way, one way street, regulatory, warning, highway guide

Construction, work, Do Not Enter signs

Neighborhood watch & child safety signs, slow-down-for school zone signs

Leash laws, seat belt reminders,

Litter cleanup, adopt a highway signs route marking

Iinformational signs about parks, landmarks, etc.


First posted November 8, 2010.



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