Not Slough College, but Wallace Knight or Primarc, a pair of pioneering developers of UV lamps way back when the main technology was mercury vapour and the heavy-duty electronics were made by hand.
Earlier this summer we looked at GEW (EC) in Crawley, whose founder once worked for Wallace Knight. This time we’re a bit closer to Slough, in High Wycombe, home to Benford UV. Marc Boden, who founded Benford in 1987, had earlier worked at Wallace Knight at the same time as Malcolm Rae, who went on to found GEW together with his wife Gillian. “Everyone in UV tends to have come from either Primarc or Wallace Knight,” says Boden. Today, both Wallace Knight and Primarc are part of the Baldwin UV empire, which still has a factory in in Slough.
“Benford UV designs, produces and installs the entire curing system, made up of cooling, electrical and control systems which need to be integrated and thereafter safe and easy to operate and maintain,” says Boden. “They interface with the press to varying degrees depending on the interface available.”
These systems use curing lamps ranging from mercury arc, Eco UV, LED-UV and infrared. “We manufacture our own traditional UV bulbs to any customer specification, not just for our systems,” Boden adds.
“Economics around costs and time saving definitely means a trend towards LED UV curing, but there is still a large demand for traditional UV where variety and cost of inks and coatings are better – this is especially true for coatings.”
He says that the company serves “commercial printers of all types and sizes with differing types of presses and products. We have sold systems to some of the largest print and packaging companies in the world, through to the many family-owned print companies that are so prevalent in our industry. We have engineered products with what we think is a good British engineering heritage of simplicity, quality, good value and doing the job well.”
Benford was originally set up in the early 1990s in Holmer Green, a few kilometres outside High Wycombe. In 2017 it moved to its current site, a small modern factory unit in High Wycombe itself. “The facilities incorporate all functions including manufacturing of the full systems, manufacture of UV lamps, integration and testing, sales and admin,” says Boden.
Turnover is modest at compared with larger rivals – Boden doesn’t want to reveal it, but says it’s going in the right direction. He says that by the end of September, turnover during this year was already 65% up on the previous year. “We will almost quadruple our business over the years where Covid had such an impact on all businesses,” he explains.
The company currently employs 15 people. “We recruit all of our staff in the UK, but we do have eight different nationalities in our team, where we encourage an outward-looking and adventurous culture for our many global customers. Training and staff development is in-house. Generally we do not have any high levels of automation – there is a lot of personal attention to detail and manual effort and care in producing quality products.”
Benford does very well in export markets, Boden says. “Over 95% of our customers are outside the UK with close to 80% in North America, but we pride ourselves in meeting challenges in any part of the world. We have partners and agents across all major geographies.
“In the past year we have had projects in three countries we have not operated in before, including El Salvador and South Africa. We exhibit at trade shows globally and have been able to meet up with customers on three continents in the last six weeks, in Brussels, Cape Town and Atlanta.”
The main customer sector is professional printing, but the company also sells products for metal decoration, including foils, and plastics including credit cards and bank notes. Boden reports “quite a bit of recent interest in industrial coatings”.
During the covid pandemic the company’s R&D teams developed hand-held and larger movable UVC germicidal cleaners.
However, he says: “The majority of our business is fitting curing systems to offset litho presses from all of the major manufacturers. These can be traditional UV, LED UV, Eco UV and IR/hot air and we can include all combinations of these technologies, according to customers’ desired results.
“We retrofit to existing presses but increasingly we are working directly with press manufacturers and their customers on new presses. We also produce curing systems for web presses for both printing and industrial operations. We source our product almost entirely in the UK and a lot from local suppliers and industries. Some components are sourced from abroad.”
Mac2 is Benford’s latest design for conventional mercury arc and Eco UV lamps. It incorporates extra heat barrier protection for sensitive substrates. Benford makes its own glass tube lamps for these. Conventional UV lamps put out a lot of curing energy (as well as heat) and are suited to a wide range of inks on the market, including those certified as ‘low migration’ for food packaging.
The Eco lamps have the lowest cost and consume 50%-60% less energy than conventional UV. These use mercury arc but with an LED type frequency, so can be used with inks designed for LEDs. They have low heat emissions and are suited to super high gloss clear coatings (LEDs still struggle a bit with clear, at least at sensible prices).
“Komori H-UV has a lot of installations,” says Boden. “This only needs one lamp, not three in our system. This is still an option and uses less electricity than conventional arc. Eco UV is ozone free, thanks to the glass filter.”
The Dual UV system allows different lamp types to be swapped in or out of the same fitting, as needed. Thanks to quick release connections it only takes about two minutes to swap between conventional and Eco UV lamps, with the lamps sliding in or out of the on-press mounting.
Benford’s LED UV lamps are supplied in 365nm, 385nm, 395nm or 405nm wavelengths, or a combination of these depending on the material to be cured.
As Printweek explored in the December/January issue, UV-LED is going through a surge of interest as printers battle to lower their electricity costs (and as a happy side-effect, lower their CO2 footprint).
That’s not the only benefit of the LED technology, though it’s a big one. LED lamps also run cold (though their power supplied can heat up) and so thinner media, especially plastics, can be used because there’s less distortion risk. This has a spin-off benefit of lower costs and because the weight for a given roll length is less, then there are savings on transport and fuel emissions. Lower heat also means there’s less impact on paper moisture levels, so chill rollers and rehumidifiers aren’t generally needed either.
LED lamp housings are more compact than mercury equivalents and don’t require glass filters (to prevent ozone generation). Smaller LED units for narrow-web can be air-cooled, though water cooling is still needed for larger units. Because they can be switched on and off instantly, there’s no warm-up time and the energy output can easily be varied. Being able to switch on and off as needed saves power and also boosts the already lengthy LED lamp life. Benford uses LED UV lamps with long-life diodes rated to 10,000-15,000 hours.
Swapping and changing
Boden says that conversions from mercury lamps to LEDs are popular for all these reasons, citing “Aztec Label in Kidderminster which has had two presses converted to LED, and energy savings were a feature of this decision – it also has solar panels”.
However, LEDs aren’t suited to all applications, so some customers mix the two, he says. “Dual UV is most popular on sheetfed presses with coaters, either new or as a retrofit. LED coating is still very expensive and not as good, not as thick, because the LED frequency doesn’t penetrate as far.”
Boden also says the energy savings aren’t a big factor in moving out of infrared. “We have been doing IR to UV retrofits for a long time, normally for a specific type of work rather than for energy reasons. There are added ink costs, installation costs, etc. We have no experience of customers changing IR/hot air to UV purely for energy reasons.”
Boden says: “There are no real standouts; most of our sales are UV on sheetfed presses, most notably RMGT, Komori, Heidelberg and KBA presses. This is anything from new presses or as retrofits to presses that have been in place for decades. When it comes to web presses there are a lot of different manufacturers’ presses that we have fitted to in many countries. We are increasingly working with printing press manufacturers directly, but we sell independently and through our agent network as well.”