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Title:
APPARATUS FOR DECORATING AN ARTICLE WITH A NEW SYSTEM FOR DISPENSING A CERAMIC TONER OR PIGMENT ON A VIRTUAL IMAGE PRINTED BY AN INKJET TYPE PRINTING UNIT ON THE ARTICLE TO BE DECORATED
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2018/015978
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
An apparatus (310) for decorating a ceramic article, comprising: decoration groups (311), each of which includes: an inkjet type printing unit (312) for ejecting a glue or a liquid adhesive substance (S1) so as to form on the article (MF) to be decorated a virtual image (IV) corresponding to the final decoration (D); a dispensing unit (313) including a oscillating hopper (313') adapted to be filled with a ceramic toner; and a removal unit (314) including an aspirator (314'), wherein which the hopper of each decoration group, oscillating (f2) in the normal direction to the feed direction of the article coming from the inkjet printer unit included in the decoration group, dispenses and disperses on the article the ceramic toner so as to form by adhesion on the surface of the article a decoration (D) of ceramic toner corresponding to the virtual image previously printed with the inkjet type printing unit, and the ceramic toner that does not adhere to the article (MF) but remains on its surface is then completely aspirated by the removal unit of the decoration group, and wherein the decoration of ceramic toner thus formed is finally stably fixed in a furnace (14) so as to obtain the final decorated article. Advantageously, the decorating apparatus allows both a controlled dispensing of the ceramic toner on the article, bearing the virtual image exhibiting adhesive properties, coming from the inkjet printing unit, and a complete removal of the ceramic toner that has not adhered to that virtual image, to the benefit of the quality of the final decorated article.

Inventors:
CARBONE, Vincenzo (Piazza Derna, 207, Torino, I-10154, IT)
MARTA, Maurizio (Via Circonvallazione 6, Banchette, I-10100, IT)
Application Number:
IT2017/000143
Publication Date:
January 25, 2018
Filing Date:
July 14, 2017
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
BALTEA D.C. SRL (Strada Volpiano 51, Leini, I-10040, IT)
CARBONE, Vincenzo (Piazza Derna, 207, Torino, I-10154, IT)
MARTA, Maurizio (Via Circonvallazione 6, Banchette, I-10100, IT)
International Classes:
B28B11/04; B05C19/04; B05C19/06
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
GALLO, Mario (Via Roma 34, Mongrando, I-13888, IT)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. Decorating apparatus (310) for decorating an article (MP, A), in particular but not exclusively of a ceramic or glass material, comprising:

at least one decoration group (311-1 , 311-2, 311-3, 311-4) which in turn comprises: - at least one printing unit (312-1 , 312-2, 312-3, 312-4) of the inkjet type;

at least one dispensing unit (313-1 , 313-2, 313-3, 313-4) including an oscillating hopper (313-1', 313-2', 313-3', 313-4') suitable to be filled with a ceramic toner (C, M, Y, K) or pigment; and

a removal unit (314-1 , 314-2, 314-3, 314-4); and

- a baking furnace (314),

wherein said printing unit (312-1 , 312-2, 312-3, 312-4) of said at least one decoration group (311-1 , 311-2, 311-3, 311-4) is adapted to print on said article (MF), by ejecting on a respective surface according to a predetermined sequence a plurality of drops of a liquid substance (S1) or glue that exhibits special adhesive properties capable of capturing by adhesion a ceramic toner (C, M, Y, K) or pigment, a virtual image (IV) of the decoration to be formed on the article to be decorated;

wherein said oscillating hopper (313-1', 313-2', 313-3', 313-4') of the dispensing unit (313-1 , 313-2, 313-3, 313-4) of said at least one decoration group (311-1 , 311-2, 311-3, 311- 4) is adapted to receive the article (MF), coming from the inkjet type printing unit (312-1 , 312-2, 312 -3, 312-4), included in the decoration group (311-1 , 311-2, 311-3, 311-4), and thereby exhibiting said virtual image (IV), and to dispense and disperse (f3) on the surface of the same article (MF), with the hopper oscillating (f2) in a direction normal to the advancing direction (f1) of the article (MF) in the decorating apparatus (310), the ceramic toner (C, M, Y, K) or pigment;

whereby at least a part of the ceramic toner (C, M, Y, K) or pigment that is dispensed and dispersed by the oscillating hopper (313-1', 313-2', 313-3', 313-4') is captured and adheres to the surface of the article (MF), forming on it a decoration (D) corresponding to said virtual image (IV) printed with sad inkjet type printing unit (312-1 , 312-2, 312-3, 312-4),

wherein said removal unit (314-1 , 314-2, 314-3, 314-4) is adapted to remove the ceramic toner (C, M, Y, K) or pigment that has not adhered to the article (MF) so as to clean it completely, and

wherein said baking furnace (14) is adapted to receive the article (MF) bearing the decoration (D), thus formed, so as to stably fix it on the surface of the article (MF) and therefore obtain the final decorated article (A).

2. Decorating apparatus (310) according to claim 1 , wherein said removal unit (314-1 , 314-2, 314-3, 314-4) is of the type including an aspirator (314-1 ', 314-2', 314-3", 314-4') adapted to create an air flow (f4) capable of removing the ceramic toner (C, M, Y, K) or pigment, as dispensed by the oscillating hopper (313-1', 313-2', 313-3', 313-4'), which, after the passage of the article to be decorated (MF) through the oscillating hopper zone, has not adhered to the article and therefore remains on its surface.

3. Decorating apparatus (310) according to claim 1 or 2 for decorating an article (MP, A) with a colored decoration (D) defined by a plurality of basic colors (C, M, Y, K), comprising a plurality of decoration groups (311-1 , 311-2, 311-3, 311-4) arranged in succession along a transfer line (20) adapted to transfer the article (MF) to be decorated from one to the other of the decoration groups (311-1 , 311-2, 311-3, 311-4) included in the decorating apparatus (310),

wherein each of said decoration groups (311-1 , 311-2, 311-3, 311-4) corresponds to a determined basic color (C, M, Y, K), of said basic colors, defining, by composition with the other basic colors, said colored decoration (D), and is adapted to provide, by means of the respective inkjet type printing unit (312-1 , 312-2, 312-3, 312-4) and of the respective dispensing unit (313-1 , 313-2, 313-3, 313-4), with the oscillating hopper, containing a colored ceramic toner (C, M, Y, K) or pigment corresponding to said determined basic color, a colored portion of ceramic toner or pigment, exhibiting said determined basic color, of the colored decoration (D) to be formed on the final decorated article (A),

wherein said decoration groups (311-1 , 311-2, 311-3, 311-4), included in the decorating apparatus (310), are adapted to overlap in succession the colored portions of the ceramic toner or pigment toner, thus formed, corresponding to said basic colors (C, M, Y, K), so as to form the colored decoration (D), defined by more basic colors, on the article (MF) to be decorated, and

wherein said baking furnace (14) is adapted is to receive the article (MF) bearing the colored decoration (D) of ceramic toner or pigment, thus formed, so as to stably fix it on the surface of the article (MF) and thereby obtain the final decorated article (A).

4. Decorating apparatus (310) according to claim 3, comprising four decoration groups (311-1 , 311-2, 311-3, 311-4) respectively corresponding to the basic colors cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y), black (K), for the composition and formation, conforming to the classical model of the four-color process or quadrichromy, of the colored final image (D) which decorates the article (A), or comprising three decoration groups respectively corresponding to the basic colors cyan (C), magenta (M), yellow (Y), for the composition and formation, conforming to the classical model of the three-color of the tri-color process or trichromy, the colored final image (D) which decorates the article (A).

5. Decorating apparatus (310) according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein said oscillating hopper (313-1', 313-2', 313-3', 313-4') included in the dispensing unit (313-1 , 313-

2, 313-3, 313-4) of each decoration group (311-1 , 311-2, 311-3, 311-4) of the decorating apparatus exhibits in section a funnel shape defined by two walls (313a, 313b), of which one wall (313b) is associated with a cloth suitable to promote the dispensing and dispersion of the ceramic toner (C, M, Y, K) or pigment, contained in the oscillating hopper (313-1', 313-2', 313-3', 313-4'), on the article (MF) to be decorated.

6. Decorating apparatus (3 0) according to any one of the preceding claims,

wherein the oscillating hopper (313-1', 313-2', 313-3', 313-4'), included in each decorating group (311-1 , 311-2, 311-3, 311-4) of the decorating apparatus (310), is associated with a perforated grid (42), on which the article (MF) to be decorated advances (f1) in the oscillating hopper zone, and with an evacuation system (40) adapted to evacuate at least a part of the ceramic toner (C, M, Y, K) or pigment that has not adhered to the virtual image (IV) printed on the article (MF), and

wherein said evacuation system (40) comprises a belt (41) which extends below said perforated grid (42) and is suitable to receive through the holes of the latter and evacuate the ceramic toner (C, M, Y, K) or pigment that has not adhered to the virtual image and is therefore caused to fall into the holes of the perforated grid (42) by the action of the oscillating hopper.

7. Decorating apparatus (310) according to any one of the preceding claims, further comprising a heating and drying system arranged between the dispensing unit (313-1 , 313- 2, 313-3, 313-4) and the removal unit (314-1 , 314-2, 314-3, 314-4) of each decoration group (311-1 , 311-2, 311-3, 311-4) included in the decorating apparatus (310),

wherein said heating and drying system is adapted to generate heat in order to dry at least partially the article (MF) after it has received the ceramic toner (C, M, Y, K) or pigment from the oscillating hopper (313-1', 313-2', 313-3', 313-4'), in order to improve the effectiveness of the next removing phase, performed by the removal unit, directed to completely clean the article (MF) from the ceramic toner or pigment that has not adhered to the virtual image printed on the article (MF) by the inkjet type printing unit (312-1 , 312-2, 312-3, 312-4).

8. Decorating apparatus (310) according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein said apparatus is provided for use, in addition to ceramic toners (C, M, Y, K) or pigments, also glazes or enamels in the form of dry powder to decorate an article.

9. Article decorated with a decorating apparatus according to any one of claims 1 to 8.

10. Decorated article according to claim 9, wherein said article is made of a material selected among ceramics, glass, metal, wood.

Description:
APPARATUS FOR DECORATING AN ARTICLE WITH A NEW SYSTEM FOR DISPENSING A CERAMIC TONER OR PIGMENT ON A VIRTUAL IMAGE PRINTED BY AN INKJET TYPE PRINTING UNIT ON THE ARTICLE TO BE DECORATED

Technical Field

The present invention generally relates to the decoration of articles, and more particularly it relates to an apparatus for decoration of an article, typically but not exclusively of ceramic material, with a colored image, that is formed by a composition of a plurality of colors, wherein the decorating apparatus advantageously comprises in combination one or more printing units, of the inkjet type, adapted to form a virtual image, with adhesive properties, on the article to be decorated, and one or more dispensing units adapted to dispense a ceramic toner or simply a pure pigment on such virtual image, in order to form the final colored image on the article.

Therefore, in this context, the apparatus of the invention advantageously associates the inkjet printing technology with the use of ceramic toners and pure pigments in order to produce high quality images and decorations on an article to be decorated.

Background art - Reference to previous patent applications, filed by the Applicants, in the technical field of the invention

It is noted that, in the field of the present invention, the Applicants of the present patent application have already filed an Italian patent application dated March 15, 2016, with the filing number No. 102016000015344, entitled " NEW SYSTEM FOR DECORATING AN ARTICLE WITH A COLORED DECORATION, COMBINING AN INK JET PRINTING UNIT WITH A DISPENSING UNIT OF CERAMIC TONER OR PURE CERAMIC PIGMENT, AND CORRESPONDING PROCESS AND ARTICLE THUS DECORATED ".

The present patent application appears to be capable to integrate, with the disclosure of further advantageous embodiments, the content of the aforementioned patent application, particularly in connection with essential and fundamental parts of the decoration apparatus of the invention.

It follows that to the above patent application it is possible to make direct reference for any further information that may be useful to integrate and clarify the content of the current patent application, in order to improve its intelligibility and to properly define the technical context in which the decorating apparatus described in this new patent application has to be placed.

In detail, the system, as described in patent application No. 102016000015344, for decorating an article of ceramic material, includes:

- one or more decoration groups, each of which in turn includes:

- an inkjet printing unit, capable of printing on the article to be decorated a virtual image, corresponding to the final decoration to be obtained on the article, consisting of a liquid adhesive substance able to capture by adhesion a ceramic toner; and - a dispensing unit, in particular similar to that used in digital laser toner printing, comprising a continuously rotating dispensing roller, designed to receive on its surface a thin layer of ceramic toner and cooperate with the article, bearing the virtual image, coming from the inkjet printing unit, so as to dispense and transfer, by adhesion, the ceramic toner from the surface of the dispensing roller to that of the article,

wherein the ceramic toner, which is transferred to the article, forms on the surface of the latter a decoration of ceramic toner corresponding to the virtual image printed with the inkjet printing unit, and the ceramic toner that is not transferred remains on the dispensing roller surface.

Then the decoration of ceramic toner thus formed is firmly fixed in a furnace so as to obtain the final decorated article.

However this decorating system and the corresponding decoration process, object of the patent application No. 102016000015344, though advantageously combining the inkjet printing technology with the materials that are typically used to decorate a glass or ceramic article such as ceramic toners and colored pigments, still appear to be susceptible of improvements, in particular in the direction of ensuring a better and optimal delivery and distribution of the ceramic toner or pigment on the article to be decorated, coming from the inkjet printing unit and hence bearing the virtual image made of the glue or adhesive substance ejected by the inkjet printing unit, as well as of obtaining a complete removal of the ceramic toner or pigment that has not adhered to that virtual image, so as to further improve the quality of the decorated ceramic article.

It is also mentioned, in the field of the production of ceramic articles such as tiles, patent document WO 2009/118611 A1 describing a device and a method for dispensing a solid loose powdered material onto a ceramic article by means of a container in the form of a hopper, similarly to the apparatus of the invention.

Summary of the Invention

Therefore, a primary and general object of the present invention is to propose and carry out a new apparatus for the decoration of articles, in particular of ceramics, with colored images, which combines advantageously the inkjet printing technology with the use of ceramic toners and pigments, wherein this new decoration apparatus offers significant innovative and improved performances with respect to the decoration system described in patent application No. 102016000015344, filed by the same Applicants of the current patent application, in particular as regards the dispersion phase of the ceramic toner or pigment on the virtual image printed by an inkjet printing unit on the article to be decorated and the subsequent removal of the ceramic toner or pigment that has not adhered to that virtual image, in order to further improve the quality of the final decorated article.

Another important object of the present invention is to provide an apparatus for serial and industrial production of articles decorated with a colored image formed by ceramic toner, which apparatus by combining inkjet printing technology with the use of materials such as colored ceramic toners and pigments, typically used in article decoration, allows high production levels at a cost-effective and great efficiency degree, so as to be competitive with the machines and equipments currently used in industrial production of ceramic articles decorated with a ceramic toner or pigment.

Finally, a further object of the present invention is to provide an industrial apparatus, for the decoration in series and in large numbers of articles of ceramic material, which is characterized by the excellent quality of the products, i.e. of the articles which are decorated with this apparatus.

The aforementioned objects can be considered as fully achieved by the apparatus for the decoration of articles, in particular but not exclusively of ceramics, having the features recited by the first independent claim 1.

Particular embodiments of the apparatus for the decoration of articles according to the present invention are defined by the dependent claims.

Brief description of the drawings

These and other purposes, characteristics and advantages of the present invention will be apparent from the following description of some preferred embodiments thereof, given only by way of example, with reference to the accompanying drawings, wherein:

Fig. 1 is a first scheme showing the essential parts and the way in which these parts work and cooperate with each other, of an apparatus, according to the present invention, for the decoration of an article of ceramic material with a colored image formed by a plurality of colored ceramic toners, wherein this decorating apparatus comprises a plurality of decoration groups each of which in turn includes an inkjet printing unit, an oscillating hopper dispensing unit of a ceramic toner; and an aspiration removal unit;

Fig. 2 is a second more detailed scheme which shows the oscillating hopper dispensing unit and the removal unit included in each decoration group of the decorating apparatus of Fig. 1 and in particular shows the modalities of capture, by adhesion, on the surface of the article coming from the inkjet type printing unit, of the ceramic toner dispensed by the oscillating hopper of the dispensing unit of the decoration group;

Fig. 3 is a further scheme illustrating a removal system, included in each single decoration group of the decorating apparatus of Fig. 1 , directed to remove at least a part of the ceramic toner in excess that has not adhered to the surface of the article to be decorated; Fig. 4 is a block operative diagram illustrating the operation of the decorating apparatus of the invention; and

Figs. 5A-5P are photographic images showing by a variety of observation points a prototype of the decorating apparatus of the invention, some detached parts of which the decoration apparatus is composed, and some examples of articles decorated with the apparatus of the invention.

Description of a preferred mode for carrying out the apparatus for decorating an article according to the invention

With reference to the drawings and in particular to the scheme of Fig. 1 , an apparatus or a system, according to the present invention, provided for decorating an article, in particular of ceramic material, indicated by MF, with a colored image or decoration D in order to obtain a final decorated ceramic article A, is indicated in the whole with 310.

As already pointed out, this patent application appears to be capable of integrating, by describing further embodiments and specifying more in detail some fundamental parts and devices of the decorating apparatus of the invention, the Italian patent application No. 102016000015344, filed on March 15, 2016, in the name of the same Applicants, entitled " NEW SYSTEM FOR DECORATING AN ARTICLE WITH A COLORED DECORATION, COMBINING AN INK JET PRINTING UNIT WITH A DISPENSING UNIT OF CERAMIC TONER OR PURE CERAMIC PIGMENT, AND CORRESPONDING PROCESS AND ARTICLE THUS DECORATED".

Therefore, for reasons of clarity and to allow an easy comparison between the various embodiments of the invention, the parts of the decorating apparatus 310, object of the present patent application, which are similar or correspond to those included in the embodiments described in the aforesaid previous patent application will be indicated, where possible, with the same numerical references or numeric references incremented by 100 or multiples of 100, in particular 300.

The scheme of Fig. 1 shows both the essential parts of which the decorating apparatus 310 is composed and the ways in which these essential parts operate and interface each other to decorate the article MF and thus obtain the final article A decorated with the decoration D.

In detail, the decorating apparatus 310 of the invention, reduced to its essential parts, comprises:

a series or plurality of decoration groups or stations, corresponding to the number of basic colors of which it is composed the colored image or decoration D to be formed on the article A;

a system or transfer line, generally designated with 20, and schematized in Fig. 1 with a conveyor belt 20a, stretched between two rollers 20b, which advances at a given velocity V and along which the decoration groups are arranged in succession, wherein this transfer line 20 has the function of transferring the article MF from a decoration group to the next, in order to decorate the article MF, as described in detail below; and a baking furnace 14 adapted to receive the article MF from the last of the decoration groups arranged along the transfer line 20 and to firmly fix on the surface of the same article MF the colored ceramic toner decoration formed by means of the decoration groups, so as to obtain the final decorated article A.

For example, the decoration groups arranged successively along the transfer line 20 can be four as shown in Fig. 1 , wherein these four decoration groups, designated respectively with 311-1 , 311-2, 311-3, 311- 4, correspond to the four basic colors, namely Cyan C, Magenta M, Yellow Y, Black K, at the base of the classic quadrochromic model CMYK, for subtractive synthesis of which a colored image can be obtained in all possible shades of colors.

In particular, with reference to the scheme of Fig. 1 , the first decoration group 311-1 , arranged at the entry of the decorating apparatus 310 and for instance corresponding to the cyan color C, comprises:

a respective printing unit, indicated by 312-1 , which in turn includes a respective printing head 312-1 ' of the inkjet type, of known characteristics and therefore not described in detail, suitable for ejecting, according to a programmed sequence, a plurality of drops consisting of a glue or adhesive substance, indicated by S1 , so as to print on the article MF, which advances at the speed V through the first decorating group 31 1-1 , a virtual image IV, consisting of such glue or adhesive substance S1 , defining the portion, justly of the cyan color C, of the final colored image or decoration D.

Similarly, the second decoration group 311-2, the third decoration group 31 1 -3, and the fourth decoration group 311-4, arranged after the first decoration group 31 1-1 and one following the other along the transfer line 20, each comprise a respective printing unit, indicated by 312-2, 312-3, 312-4, and in turn including an ink jet printing head, 312-2', 312- 3', 312-4', which prints a virtual image, consisting of the glue or adhesive substance S1 , defining the portion of the color magenta M, yellow Y and black K of the final colored image or decoration D.

According to a feature that significantly distinguishes the decorating apparatus 310, which is the object of this patent application, from the decorating system described in patent application No. 102016000015344, each decoration group 31 1 -1 , 31 1- 2, 31 1-3, 31 1-4, included in the decorating apparatus 310, includes, in addition to the inkjet type printing unit 312-1 , 312-2, 312-3, 312-4, a respective dispensing unit, with an oscillating hopper, indicated by 313-1 , 313-2, 313-3, 313-4 and a respective removal unit indicated by 314-1 , 314-2, 314-3, 314-4.

In particular, each dispensing unit 313-1 , 313-2, 313-3, 313-4, included in the corresponding decoration group 31 1-1 , 311-2, 31 1-3, 311-4 of the decorating apparatus 310, in turn comprises a respective oscillating hopper, indicated by 313-1', 313-2', 313-3', 313-4', extending in a normal direction with respect to the feed direction, indicated in the drawings by an arrow f1 , of the article MF through the decorating apparatus 310 of the invention, wherein this oscillating hoper is provided for being charged and filled with the colored ceramic toner, that is of color cyan C, magenta M, yellow Y, black K, corresponding to the decoration group of which the oscillating hopper 313-1', 313-2', 313-3 ', 313-4' is part.

Means of command of known characteristics and for this reason not described in detail are suitable to impart to the hopper 313-1', 313-2", 313-3 ', 313-4', included in each decoration group 31 1-1 , 311 -2, 31 1-3, 311-4, an alternating movement back and forth along the longitudinal axis of the hopper, i.e. in a normal direction to the feed direction through the apparatus 310, indicated by the arrow f1 , of the article MF to be decorated.

In this way, i.e. by swinging and oscillating backwards and forwards in the longitudinal extension, as shown in the drawings by a double arrow f2, the hopper 313-1', 313-2', 313-3 ', 313-4' of the dispensing unit 313-1 , 313-2, 313, 313-4 of each decoration group 31 1-1 , 311 - 2, 31 1-3, 31 1-4 favours a uniform and regular delivery and distribution of the colored ceramic toner C, M, Y, K, loaded in the same hopper, on the surface of the article MF that advances through the apparatus 310 and comes from the previous inkjet type printing unit included in the same decoration group 31 1-1 , 31 1-2, 31 1-3, 311 -4, as further described below.

The oscillating hopper 313-1', 313-2', 313-3', 313-4' which is included in each of the various decoration groups 31 1-1 , 31 1-2, 311-3, 31 1-4 is a fundamental part of the decorating apparatus 310 of the invention and will therefore be described in detail.

In particular, each of these hoppers 313-1', 313-2', 313-3', 313-4' has a bottom that allows to pass and drop down the ceramic toner that is loaded and fills the hopper, and presents in section a funnel shape exhibiting two inclined walls, indicated by 313a and 313b, converging from top to bottom, i.e. towards the bottom of the hopper itself.

One of the two walls of the hopper 313-1 ', 313-2', 313-3 ', 313-4', and in particular the one, indicated in the drawings with 313a, arranged on the side of the access of the article MF to be decorated to the hopper area, has a grid or a similar element, wherein this grid essentially serves to favour, together with the hopper oscillation motion, the mixing of the ceramic toner that is loaded into the hopper and its exit and drain downward, through the bottom of the hopper.

Instead, the other wall 313b of each hopper 313-1 ', 313-2', 313-3', 313-4', arranged on the side of the output of the article MF from the hopper area, has a cloth which has a relevant role both in the delivery and distribution of the ceramic toner on the surface of the article MF to be decorated coming from the inkjet printing unit, which precedes the hopper along the feeding path of the article through the decorating apparatus 310, and in the removal of the ceramic toner that does not adhere to this surface.

In fact, without wishing to enter into theories and scientific explanations of the phenomenon, it has been observed from numerous and accurate experimental tests carried out on a prototype of the decorating apparatus of the invention that this cloth, in particular consisting of a felt, appears capable, as effect of the rubbing of the ceramic toner particles caused by the oscillating motion of the hopper, of generating an electrostatic charge system inside the same ceramic toner, which plays a positive role in favouring both a correct and uniform distribution of the ceramic toner on the surface of the article MF coming from the previous inkjet printing unit and thus bearing the virtual image, consisting of an adhesive substance, printed with the same inkjet type printing unit, and a regular and optimal evacuation from the article surface of the ceramic toner that has not been captured, and therefore has not adhered to the virtual image, formed by the adhesive substance, printed on the article MF.

A cover 313c can be associated with each hopper 313-1', 313-2', 313-3', 313-4".

Each removal unit 314-1 , 314-2, 314-3, 314-4, included in the corresponding decoration group 31 1-1 , 311-2, 311-3, 31 1-4 of the decorating apparatus 310, has the function, as further described below, of completely cleaning the article MF, i.e. totally removing the ceramic toner that has not adhered to the virtual image printed on the article MF and which remains on its surface even after the article MF, in its advancement through the decorating apparatus 310, has passed the zone of the oscillating hopper 313-1', 313-2', 313-3', 313-4'.

This removal unit 314-1 , 314-2, 314-3, 314-4 can for example be carried out in the form of an aspiration or suction blade associated with an aspirator indicated respectively by 314- 1 ', 314-2', 314-3', 314-4', wherein this aspiration blade covers the width of the path along which the article MF advances through the decorating apparatus 310 and has an opening 314a which is licked by the article MF, during its advancement, so as to create an air flow, indicated by an arrow f4, suitable for removing from the article MF the particles of ceramic toner or pigment that have not adhered to the virtual image printed with the printing unit of the inkjet type.

For greater clarity, the scheme of Fig. 2 shows in more detail than Fig. 1 one of the decoration groups, for example the decoration group 3 -1 corresponding to the color cyan C, included in the decorating apparatus 310, and in particular the respective dispensing unit 313-1 including the oscillating hopper 313-1', and the respective removal unit 314-1 in the form of an aspiration blade including the aspirator 314-1 '. In particular, Fig. 2 shows with an arrow f3 how the ceramic toner C is dispensed and dispersed from the bottom of the oscillating hopper 313-1 ' on the virtual image IV, consisting of the adhesive substance S , printed on the article MF by the printing unit, of the inkjet type, which precedes the dispensing unit 313-1 along the advancement path of the article MF in the decorating apparatus 310, and also with arrows f4 how the ceramic toner C in excess, which did not adhere to the virtual image but remains on the surface of the article MF, is completely removed from the removal unit 3 4-1 which is arranged after the dispensing unit 313-1 along the path of advancement of the article MF in the decorating apparatus 310.

As shown in Fig. 3, each of the oscillating hoppers 313-1 ", 313-2', 313-3', 313-4', included in the decoration groups 311-1 , 311-2, 312-3, 312- 4, is preferably associated with an evacuation system, indicated generally with 40, which is used to evacuate most of the ceramic toner that, during the passage of the article MF below the oscillating hopper 313-1 ', 313-2' , 313-3', 313-4' to receive the ceramic toner delivered from the hopper itself in its oscillation movement, did not adhere to the virtual image, with adhesive features, printed on the article MF.

In detail, this evacuation system 40 can be, for example, carried out in the form of a closed loop belt 41 , animated with a velocity V1 , which is arranged and extends longitudinally below a perforated support grid 42, on which the article MF advances in its passage through the area of the oscillating hopper 313-1 ', 313-2', 313-3', 313-4' to receive the ceramic toner.

Therefore, in this configuration, the closed loop belt 41 is adapted to receive and evacuate, for example, in a collection container 43, as indicated by an arrow f6, the ceramic toner or pigment that did not adhere to the virtual image printed on the article MF but falls, at the sides of the article MF, in the holes of the grid 42, between an article and the other, as indicated by arrows f5 in Fig. 3.

In the operation and use of the decorating apparatus 310 of the invention, as shown in Fig. 1 and illustrated in the block operative diagram of Fig. 4, an article MF, raw, i.e. not still decorated, of ceramic material, such as a tile or a similar article, is supplied by means of the transfer line 20 to the first decoration group or station 311-1 , corresponding to the cyan color C, where the article MF is received from the respective first printing unit 312-1 of the inkjet type, which prints on the MF article, by emitting through the printing head 312-1' a plurality of droplets of the liquid adhesive S1 , a virtual image IV defining and corresponding to the portion of cyan color C of the decoration to be formed on the final decorated article A, as indicated by a block 131 in Fig. 4.

Then, as shown by a block 132 in Fig. 4, the article MF is transferred by means of the transfer line 20 to the dispensing unit 313-1 included in the same decoration group 31 1-1 , where the article MF, while advancing continuously at the velocity V determined by the transfer line 20, receives the ceramic toner of color cyan C from the oscillating hopper 313-1 ' included in the dispensing unit 313-1.

It follows, as still indicated by the block 132 of Fig. 4, that the ceramic toner of cyan color C, which is supplied and dispensed by the oscillating hopper 313-1 ', is selectively captured, because of the adhesion action exerted by the adhesive substance S1 constituting the virtual image IV printed on the article MF by the inkjet type printing unit 312-1 , by the article MF, so as to form on the surface of the latter a layer of ceramic toner, of cyan color C, which corresponds exactly to that virtual image and defines the portion of ceramic toner of cyan color C, which, by composition with the other colored layers of ceramic toner, forms the decoration D to be obtained on the final decorated article.

Still as always indicated by block 132 of FIG. 4, at this stage, i.e. in the passage of the article MF across the area of the oscillating hopper 313-1', the most portion of the ceramic toner of cyan color C which has not adhered to the virtual image printed on the article MF is evacuated, in particular by dropping it, at the sides of the article MF, in the holes of perforated grid 42 on which the article MF advances, and then by removing the ceramic toner by means of the evacuation system 40.

Subsequently, as shown by a block 132' in Fig. 4, the article MF is transferred by means of the transfer line 20 to the removal unit 313-4 included in the same decoration group 31 1-1 , where the residual ceramic toner, of cyan color C, which has not attached to the virtual image and remains on the surface of the MF article even after the latter has passed the area of the hopper 313-1', is completely removed and aspirated by the removal unit 313- 4, so as to completely clean the article MF.

Later, as indicated by a block 133 in Fig. 4, the article MF is transferred, always by means of the transfer line 20, from the first decoration group 311-1 to the second decoration group 311-2, where the article MF is subjected to the same operations to which it was subjected in the first decoration group 31 1-1.

In this way, a further layer of ceramic toner of color magenta M is created on the surface of the article MF, which overlaps with that of color cyan C formed during the passage of the article MF through the first decoration group 311-1.

The same steps and operations described above with respect to the first group 311-1 and the second decoration group 31 1 -2 are repeated cyclically during the subsequent transfer and passage, determined by the transfer line 20, of the article MF through the third decoration group 31 1-3, corresponding to yellow color Y, and the fourth decoration group 31 1-4, corresponding to the black color K, included in the decorating apparatus 310, as indicated by block 34 of Fig. 4.

Therefore, at the end of all these phases and operations, performed cyclically by the decoration groups 31 1-1 , 31 1-2, 31 1-3, 31 1-4, the article MF presents on its surface a decoration D constituted by the overlapping of the various layers of ceramic toner, of cyan C, magenta M, yellow Y, black color K, formed during the passage of the same article MF through the various decoration groups 311-1 , 31 1-2, 31 1-3, 311-4 included In the decorating apparatus 310.

At this point, as shown by a block 135 in Fig. 4, the article MF, bearing on its surface the colored decoration D at the end of the various cycles to which it has been subjected through the decorating stations 311-1 , 311-2, 311-3, 311-4, is introduced into the baking furnace 14, so as to stabilize and firmly fix the decoration D on the surface of the article MF and thus obtain the final decorated article A.

It is therefore clear from the description that the present invention fully achieves its intended purpose and in particular proposes a new apparatus or equipment for the decoration of articles of ceramic material which combines and exploits synergistically the characteristics and performances of the inkjet printing technology and materials such as ceramic toners and pigments, typically used for decorating articles, so as to be advantageously implemented in the form of a line or plant for serial production and in large quantities of decorated articles of ceramic material.

Variants

It is also apparent that the decorating apparatus of ceramic articles according to the invention, as described herein, may be subject to modifications and/or variants and improvements without departing from the scope of the same invention.

For example, according to a first variant, the decoration groups can be arranged, along the transfer line 20 of the article from a decoration group to the successive, in a different way with respect to that described with reference to the embodiment 310 of the decorating apparatus of the invention.

Moreover, although the decorating apparatus, in the preferred embodiment 310 as described above, comprises a plurality and in particular four decoration groups corresponding to the conventional colors of quadrichromy C, M, Y, , it can include only one decoration group, which corresponds to a unique color of ceramic toner, and therefore also a single ink jet printing unit and a single dispensing unit associated with the inkjet printing unit and containing a ceramic toner of such unique color, whereby in this case the decorating apparatus is adapted to produce ceramic articles bearing a decoration exhibiting a unique and specific color.

Still the decorating apparatus of the invention can be configured with three decoration groups that operate according to the CMY trichromy model, namely based on cyan, magenta, and yellow colors.

In summary, the decorating apparatus of the invention may comprise and handle a number of stationary or decoration groups arranged in line one after the other, each comprising an inkjet printing unit and a oscillating hopper for dispensing a ceramic toner or pigment, which number is not limited to a particular model, as the quadrichromy, of color composition, but is virtually unlimited and can be any.

According to a further variant, the decorating apparatus of the invention may include, in each decoration group or station of which it is composed, a heating and drying system comprising an IR infrared lamp or UV ultraviolet lamp, wherein such lamp has the function of generating heat so as to partially dry the MF article immediately after it has received the ceramic toner C, M, Y, K from the oscillating hopper, and thereby improve the effectiveness of the next suction step directed to clean completely the article MF from the ceramic toner that did not adhere to the virtual image printed on the article MF by the inkjet printing unit.

This heating and drying system, designed to dry at least partially the ceramic toner deposited on the article MF, may also be of the hot air type and/or include heat-generating electrical heaters.

Also, alternatively or in combination with the cloth, associated with the oscillating hopper of each decoration group, the decorating apparatus of the invention may include a conventional crown system to create an electrostatic charge state in the ceramic toner for the purpose to facilitate its dispensing and dispersion from the oscillating hopper to the article to be decorated.

Again, according to another variant, the oscillating hopper, containing the ceramic toner or pigment, can advantageously be associated with one or more rotating dispensing rollers which have the function of cooperating with the same oscillating hopper in order to improve and regularize the dispensing and distribution of the ceramic toner or pigment on the virtual image printed on the article through the inkjet printing unit.

It is further underlined that the decorating apparatus of the invention has the remarkable advantage that it allows the use, to decorate articles, even of enamels in the form of dry powder, or in pure and undiluted powder form, both for ceramics and for glass, in the same way as a ceramic toner or pigment.

In this regard, it should be noted that today, according to prior art, the decoration and application of enamels for decoration purposes is usually made by a wet, by applying in particular silk-screened techniques, for example by using dyes mixed with oils and water, with the consequent problem of not negligible costs to produce these mixtures of dyes and enamels.

In addition, these mixtures of dyes and enamels, in addition to their high cost of production, pose serious disposal problems and also involve considerable maintenance costs for purifying the serigraphic equipments associated with the use of these liquid mixtures of dyes and enamels. Instead, advantageously, the decorating apparatus of the invention allows not only to use a ceramic toner or pigment but also a pure enamel, i.e. dry in the form of pure undiluted powder, thereby without having to mix the enamel with oils or other substances, or having to use serigraph vehicles and pastes.

Thus, the decorating apparatus of the invention implies considerable economic advantages and in particular allows industrial production of decorated articles without implying the costs and problems, mentioned above, of the prior art.

It is also clear that the decorating apparatus of the invention is not limited to the manufacture of decorated articles of ceramic material, but it can be advantageously applied, with excellent results, to decorate glass articles and the like, as well as sheet metal and wood articles.

Experimental tests

For sake of completeness, the photographic images of Figs. 5A-5M partially illustrate a prototype of the decorating apparatus 310 of the invention, and some of its relevant parts, in a separate form from the other, such as the respective oscillating hopper, which has been used to perform numerous and in-depth tests directed to decorate various types Of articles.

These tests have allowed to verify the advantageous and innovative performances of the decorating apparatus of the invention and how this apparatus is applicable in an industrial process for the cost-effective production of articles, in particular of ceramics, such as other tiles, of remarkable quality.

In particular, the photographic images of FIG. M, N show a generic printing unit 312-1 , 312-2, 312-3, 312-4, of inkjet type, which is included in a corresponding decoration group 311-1 , 311-2 , 312-3, 312-4 of the decorating apparatus 310 of the invention and is used to print the virtual image IV, constituted by the adhesive substance S1 , on the article MF to be decorated.