Case study: Tonejet Embraces Additive Manufacturing


Tonejet Limited develops digital printing solutions and equipment for the packaging market, utilising its own patented electrostatic non-contact drop-on-demand printhead technology.

The Tonejet business was established in 1994 to create a powerful digital printing technology using electrostatic deposition technology to print in high-quality on virtually any type of substrate at high speed. It is part of the Cambridge-based TTP Group, Europe’s leading technology development and licensing company.

In order to maintain its position as a leading driver of evolutionary change in package printing, Tonejet’s strategy is to use the latest manufacturing techniques and materials in its products.

A step change in manufacturing technology

Nigel Brooks, Snr Design Engineer and Ian Ingham Mechanical Design Manager are both involved in technical design and development at Tonejet. Nigel joined Tonejet in 2013 with over 15 years’ experience of using all forms of additive manufacture in previous roles, while Ian Ingham has been with Tonejet since 1998, coming from a background in inkjet printing technology and development.

Both Nigel and Ian have been using SLS and SLA for rapid prototyping, and recognise that additive manufacturing using 3D printing technology opens up significant possibilities.

SLS in particular offered opportunities for the manufacture of end use components within Tonejet equipment, particularly those of low volume requirements or with complex shapes and geometries that could not easily be machined.

Nigel and Ian both realised that as SLS is adopted more widely within the organisation for manufacturing, it will open up a range of new efficient and low cost production opportunities.

With this in mind, they set about introducing Tonejet’s executive management to the versatile and practical benefits that SLS could offer in additive manufacturing as well as the more usual prototyping.

The Opportunities Offered by Additive Manufacturing

Over some 15 years, the Tonejet team had developed a strong relationship with local prototyping and additive manufacturing specialist Prototype Projects.

The most commonly used services provided by Prototype Projects to Tonejet’s design engineers were rapid prototyping using SLA and vacuum casting along with CNC milling and machining of other parts.

SLA had already been used to an extent in producing print head components, but neither SLA nor SLS had been routinely used in the production process at Tonejet for additive manufacturing of component parts.

The constant development of Tonejet technologies requires regular prototyping and production of important and technically complex components, often with challenging shapes and geometries such as the Tonejet printers’ fluid control unit

The complexities these components present meant they were both difficult and costly to machine for manufacture, and occasionally involved a delivery time lag which affected the overall efficiency of the process.

Embracing Additive Manufacture for Production Parts

With Tonejet’s executive management team now open to the use of additive manufacturing in the standard production process because of the cost and time efficiencies it could bring, Nigel and Ian opened discussions with Prototype Projects about the supply of production parts.

Timing would be critical, as Tonejet had recently experienced difficulties with another supplier responsible for delivering machined elements for critical positional sensing that were integral to the printer unit.

As a long term and trusted partner, it was felt that Prototype Projects was the logical supplier to turn to for a 3D printing service to deliver production parts.

To start with, Prototype Projects was asked to produce a range of component parts and mounting brackets using SLS for incorporation into its range of printer technologies. The parts had previously been available only through a machining process, and the cost savings and efficiencies of SLS became quickly apparent.

Nigel Brooks, Senior Design Engineer at Tonejet said:

“We knew of the benefits of using additive manufacturing for production parts, so all we needed was a reliable partner to help us realise those benefits. From the outset of the process until we received our first SLS components, Prototype Projects have proven to be a truly consultative and flexible partner.

“Utilising their services has enabled us to develop economical end use component parts made via the additive processes and brings further benefits in reducing the design phase overhead costs of development, thus increasing our design efficiency.”

Ian Ingham added:

“The key to success in using additive manufacturing is to have complete control by bringing it in-house, or to use a reliable outsourcing partner such as Prototype Projects. Key benefits of working with them are their willingness to help problem-solve and their vast experience of 3D printing for both additive manufacture and prototyping”.

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