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UV Printing Enables Custom Prototyping and Short-Run Production

A case study on industrial and commercial printing at Upbuild Fabrication.




IT’S NO EXAGGERATION to say that Kenneth Fritz can build nearly anything. As an avionics expert for the Air Force, he taught himself the additional skills needed to run a CO2 laser and found ways to help the military cut expenses by creating custom-designed tool layouts for their many hundreds of maintenance tool drawers.

These days, Ken remains in the USAF Reserve while running his company, Upbuild Fabrication, in El Cajon, CA. There, Ken has assembled all the tools he needs to efficiently design and produce custom solutions for his clients, including CNC equipment, CO2 lasers, a vacuum former, and a Roland DG VersaUV LEF2-300D benchtop UV flatbed printer.

UV Printing Enables Custom Prototyping and Short-Run Production

A UV flatbed printer directly prints on many different substrates, including brass, acrylic, wood, and glass.

We talked with Ken about how he developed his know-how and arsenal of design tools, why he chose to incorporate UV printing into his business, and what projects he’s working on lately.

How did you transition from avionics to industrial and commercial prototyping?

I’ve always been interested in 3D modeling and design. I was able to learn more about these processes in the Air Force and developed several useful designs while there. When I retired in 2021, I started Upbuild Fabrication to continue working in this form of creative problem solving with prototyping and short-run production.

We now occupy a 5,300-square-foot industrial space near the bus depot for the San Diego metro area. I have one full-time employee and one part-time employee, and my sister (who is a part owner of the business) manages the website and back-end aspects. It’s the perfect set up for the work we do.

How did you decide what equipment to own vs. outsourcing?

When I started, I had 3D printers and some large-scale production equipment, including a vacuum former and big CNC machine, and we were taking delivery on a CO2 laser. We are careful about only adding equipment that we’re really going to use.

We didn’t acquire a UV printer until I was trying to do a project for my sister’s other business, Fritzy’s Roller Skate Shop. She wanted to develop products and merchandising pieces and asked me if we could print on skate wheels. Skate wheels are made from CE phenolic, which is a high-strength composite essentially made of resin and linen. It’s incredibly tough. We tried laser engraving, which worked, but was difficult to see. Next, we tried sublimation which was costly, and screen printing, which didn’t print well on the wheels.

I called Coastal Sign Supply, and my account rep told me he hadn’t heard of the material, but the techs there would try to print on it. I have a background in graphics and felt comfortable setting up files for a printer. I told them if the ink will stick, I’ll take it. They did several test prints using the LEF2-300, and the results were outstanding.

How has having UV print production capability on-site helped your business?

Being able to print on a wide variety of surfaces really has made a big difference on the finish for the products I produce. Upbuild primarily is a prototyping company. When I show someone a prototype of a control panel, I don’t want to show it to them with the switch names written in Sharpie. The LEF2 prints crisp, detailed graphics in full color, complete with any needed warnings and yellow stripes.

UV Printing Enables Custom Prototyping and Short-Run Production

These keychains and jewelry items for display at Comic-Con were fabricated and printed using a UV flatbed printer.

What types of projects have you done with your UV printer?

I’ve been really excited about what we can do with this machine. Once we got it in-house, I decided I wanted to maximize its potential, so I started to experiment with new applications.

I discovered that I could print on the expended ammunition casings from the jet I worked on in the Air Force, the F-15, which shoots 20mm bullets. The casings are not ejected, so the military recycles them, but they can only do that a few times. I contacted the reclamation center where anyone can buy these used casings. After chucking them into the mill to cut a bottle opener, I used the UV printer to print the unit’s logo on them.

I also had a customer in Utah who runs a Renaissance Fair called Evermore Park. He wanted to print full-color designs on birch wood swords. This machine was perfect for printing the designs directly on the swords. We used Roland DG’s V-BOND ink, which is child-safety rated, since the final product needed to pass regulatory testing.

What new markets have you entered with UV printing?

Having UV printing capability has enabled me to take on some smaller, one-off projects, including fabricating and printing promotional products, seasonal items, and awards and recognition pieces.

I’m a huge fan of puzzle games like Myst and its sequel, Riven. I happened to know one of the artists, so I and fabricated and printed some keychains and jewelry items for display at Comic-Con. We also started producing recognition awards and retirement plaques for our military clients. We now print many small acrylic QR code signs for shops, restaurants, and family entertainment businesses. We’ve even printed double-sided acrylic Christmas ornaments for a sign industry shop.

UV Printing Enables Custom Prototyping and Short-Run Production

UV flatbed printers are incredibly versatile. For local sports teams, you can even print on baseballs, small soccer balls, and golf balls as shown here.

What types of products are you printing on your UV flatbed printer?

I use it to direct print on many different substrates, including brass, acrylic, wood, and glass. I also print on anodized aluminum, stainless steel, laminated veneers, and leatherette. For local sports teams, I’ve even printed on baseballs, small soccer balls and golf balls. It’s an incredibly versatile machine.

One of my recent projects was creating specialized lighting for Sandy Vans based in Miramar, California. Part of that involved printing directly on the inside of a light diffuser acrylic panel to produce a stained-glass effect. I also UV-printed the control panels as well as the backlit Carling switches — in full color.

Why do you think your clients choose Upbuild Fabrication?

I think it’s because I have such a wide range of capabilities and can complete the entire project under one roof. We have a vast array of equipment and the skills to get the project done. Our customers have confidence that whatever they bring us, my team and I will figure it out.

UV Printing Enables Custom Prototyping and Short-Run Production

A UV printer allows a screen printer to print on just about anything, making finishing and customizing easier than ever. With its capabilities, it’s a device that really improves things for your screen-printing shop.

What lies ahead for your business?

These days, I am moving more into commercial projects, primarily fit-and-finish for customized vans. I’m also shipping assembly kits and DIY kits for customers. In addition to that, I am figuring out how to print custom graphics on interior wall panels for vans. Interestingly, the UV inks do very well with the 130-degree internal temperatures that these vehicles sometimes reach in the sun.

Because my UV printer allows me to print on just about anything, finishing and customizing is easier than ever. With its capabilities, it’s a device that really improves things for my business.




Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

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