• The technology digitally prints images on to fence panels.
• It could be used in a range of commercial and domestic applications.
• Joint venture partnerships are an area of interest for Timbermark.

The regeneration of Queens Quay in Clydebank, Scotland has given Timbermark ID Systems the opportunity to develop a new technology that could revolutionise the way we look at fence panels – literally.

Shipyard themed images were digitally printed directly onto fencing that has been installed along the quay’s former slipway, now a path from the riverbank to the newly built Clydebank College.

Conceived by Mike Harrison of Ian While Associates, the idea was to create fencing that portrayed the site’s former use as a shipyard, with images of the Queen Mary, QE2 and other famous vessels reproduced on the panels.

According to Colin Stewart, director of Timbermark, this has opened up the potential for other applications of the technology, both private and public.

“This project is the first of its kind,” said Mr Stewart, “and Timbermark plans to seek additional applications.

“Projects are most likely to be led by the creative industries, such as architects, but fencing industry operators could also use this technique to produce imaginative work, and retailers could trial standard designs for the gardening and DIY market.”

Application ideas

Ideas tabled by Mr Stewart include printing images of iconic smokers, such as James Dean and Humphrey Bogart, onto fencing used in pub smoking areas; creating external views, such as forests and mountains, for internal applications; reproducing ivy leaves or cityscapes for use in gardens; and producing fencing featuring planes, trains and automobiles for use around airports, railway stations and motorway service areas.

“Any image can be successfully reproduced, providing there is sufficient contrast in monochrome,” said Mr Stewart. Black and white photos are an ideal choice, although red, blue and green are other possible colours that can be used in the process.

The images were applied to rough-sawn fencing using waterproof and fade-proof ink. According to Timbermark, even rough timber is suitable for the high-resolution process, although planed timber would be even better. And while the Tanalith-treated slats will fade from green to grey, the images will retain their black colour.

A sample of the fencing used at Queens Quay was displayed on Timbermark’s stand at Interbuild, alongside the technology used to produce the panels.

The application and software were specially designed to enable the project to be completed efficiently, including installation on site by Lochwinnoch’s Alter Landscapes.

Each image was split into 70mm-wide strips and sequentially ordered to enable the Salisbury-based firm to create complete images across 33 fence panels and 2,000 individual boards.

The printers featured additional memory to handle the size of the images used in the production of the fencing, while special software enabled the next section of the image to be automatically loaded into the printer to speed up production. A unique identification number was also printed onto the edge of each panel in order to ensure that when bundles of slats reached the site, they would be assembled in the correct order to create the desired look.

New software

Originating one image can take up to four hours, according to Mr Stewart. He plans to develop a new “end-to-end” software package to streamline the operation. This, he said, would be what provided the main opportunities for developing the process further.

“Product standardisation and investment in software systems will be key drivers in making the printed fences more widely affordable,” said Mr Stewart.

“Timbermark would consider joint venture partnerships with timber and fencing operators to market and produce standard designs in volume.”