Retro is the new fashion for faster, cleaner operations

Jon Severs
Monday, March 6, 2017

Updating your existing kit to UV curing could help you speed up turnarounds but the higher costs need to be weighed against the benefits

Jack Wilmott, brand manager at Route One Print, had a decision to make. The business was switching to focus on fast-turnaround work and he had spotted a bottleneck: the drying time for sheets coming off the press.

That left him with two options.

“Ultimately, to achieve what we wanted to, we had a choice between increased hardware costs or increased machine running costs,” he explains. “We could have installed another litho press with a coating unit but this would have meant two things. Firstly there is the substantial hardware cost of installing a new press complete with coating units and, secondly, we would have ended up with significant excess press capacity that we wouldn’t have immediately had the work to fill.”

So like an increasing band of printers, Route One Print opted for the other solution: it retrofitted one of the newer breeds of UV drying capability. 

“There has been strong interest in LED-UV and LE-UV, mainly from commercial printers, because of its ability to produce dry sheets off the end of the press, its enhanced quality results, ability to print on a wide range of substrates including metal and plastic and the reduced energy usage,” explains Chris Schofield, joint managing director of IST (UK), the company that handled Route One’s installation.

There are three types of UV drying used in the print process, explains Carsten Barlebo managing director for AMS Europe, which like IST supplies retrofit options. Conventional UV, which uses high-energy mercury-based lamps in conjunction with standard UV inks. LE/H/HR UV, lower-energy mercury-based lamps in conjunction with highly reactive inks; and LED UV, very low-energy mercury-free blue LED lights in conjunction with dedicated inks. 

Why are the new LED and LE (H/HR) options preferable to good old standard UV? Predominantly, it is about speed and the environment. 

“The main driver behind our LE-UV retrofit was that we would be able to eliminate drying time and improve the flow of work through the factory without the risk of bruising,” says Wilmott.

“Throughput to finishing is so much quicker,” agrees David Lamdin, director of Kelsey Press, which fitted HUV lamps on its five-colour B2 Komori Lithrone through Benson UV.

Barlebo explains that there are significant eco benefits of going for LED, too (and less so with LE over conventional UV). “AMS LED diodes give up to 60% energy saving over H/LE/HR UV lamps (more compared with conventional UV) and can operate at maximum press production speeds,” he states. “At 20,000 hours or more the lifespan of an AMS LED diode is as much as 50 times greater than mercury lamps.”

Finally, on uncoated stocks, there are also benefits. 

“By fitting LED UV curing we are opening up new opportunities that are directly relevant to our specialist offering – the performance on uncoated papers and ability to print non-absorbent substrates; the quality of the colour reproduction and precision of the dot; the tactile nature of the finishes – these were the primary drivers in our decision,” says Keith Lunt, managing director of Opal Print in Bath, which opted for an AMS system. “Factors like the environmental credentials of LED, better energy economy and elimination of spray powder are all bonuses.”

As great as this all sounds, all these benefits obviously do not come at no cost or upheaval. It may not be a full press purchase, but this is still an investment that requires thought and attention. 

“We’ll make no bones about this, it is a relatively major upgrade that cannot be understated,” says Wilmott. “We anticipated and planned around it meticulously to ensure that it went as smooth as possible and didn’t impact our customers while it took place. On top of the hardware install, we had to recalibrate the press entirely, which left us running at reduced capacity while that took place. A lot of work was undertaken over one weekend in late summer, which is our quiet period and the time of year that we usually plan new machine installs. 

“Ultimately it was short-term pain, long-term gain, though. We knew that the benefits of this retro fit would be long-term so we were prepared for that. You have to be able to see the big picture if you want to be successful in anything you do.”

Testing time

Jaymar Packaging was the first UK company to benefit from the IST (UK) UV retrofit service, adding a conventional UV system to a Roland 700 six-colour and coating press. The UV retrofit took just two weeks to complete (including commissioning the system and print trials/training).

David Pelling, technical consultant at Benson UV, says a typical install would be slightly quicker. “Installation time is dependent on the complexity of the system but most systems can be installed and commissioned in about a week,” he says.

The system being installed does not end the upheaval, though. Lamdin says that post-install can be eye-opening, too. “It was a steep learning curve. Challenging at times, but we always succeed,” he reveals.

Wilmott expands the point. “It has changed a lot about how we have to work. Firstly, there is more maintenance work involved compared to previously. We have also had to update all of our running procedures to account for new variables such as how long it takes for the lamps on each press to warm up. Another major change that we had to manage related to waste management because all of the waste from this press needs to be kept separate to that of our other litho presses. Overall, this required quite a bit of work.”

But as Wilmott said earlier, these early adaptations are to be expected and would be similar for any new install. Perhaps harder to adapt to is the increase in costs of running these machines, due to needing different consumables. 

“You have to switch to using a completely different set of consumables such as blankets, ink and fount,” says Wilmott. “These consumables all come at a greater cost than previous ones.”

Schofield admits that costs for running the press can increase with this retrofit. “Yes the inks are more expensive, requiring different types and mixes of photoinitiators depending on whether you run UV, LED-UV or LE-UV. In round figures LED-UV inks are approximately three times the cost of conventional inks and LE-UV inks two and a half times. UV is the lowest cost option.”

“However, when looking at ink costs bear in mind these points: increases in the volume as more people take up the technology will reduce ink prices; the various UV technologies reduce the volume of ink used (sometimes by 30%-40% in volume) as well as eliminating powder spray and reducing the energy bill (compared with other drying options); ink is not a major percentage of the total cost.”

Indeed, all the printers that had retrofitted UV options stressed that the benefits outweighed the added costs. Be that turnaround times, performance on uncoated stocks or, as Schofield points out, another big benefit spoken of is the fact the print is abrasion resistant. 

“Whether it is the quality or the service side that benefits, these are sellable advantages which can either add value to existing work or create new opportunities; either way it is about creating a bottom line benefit,” says Schofield. 

“It’s allowed us to continue to push our quick-turnaround offering, which has been central to our business since day one and puts us in a great position to compete in the future as service levels across all sectors from retailing to print speed up. We can now best serve a market in light of this trend,” confirms Wilmott.

It’s not the right solution for everyone, though, says Lamdin, you need to be surethis is the appropriate solution for the market and you have the throughput to make it worthwhile. That needs some careful analysis before taking this option. 

“Retrofit is often the way to go for the smaller printer, the one with a lot of small runs to print,” says Pelling. “Retrofitting to an existing press provides all the benefits of UV printing but at a lower cost than buying a new press.”

“Realistically, I would expect this to be limited to machines less than 10 years old,” adds Barlebo. “Very often they have a press that may be quite old but still has a relatively low impression count and which they know inside out – they realise they need to expand their service to their customers but cannot justify the investment in a new press, so upgrading their existing machine like this is a prudent option.”

Prudent is a good choice of word when these retrofit options are concerned. They do require a great deal of thought if they are to be successful, but with a careful eye on the future it is clearly an option that, for those that have taken the time to be sure it is the right choice before taking the leap, seems to work. 

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