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UV Web Printing -- Rays of Opportunity

November 2003
By Caroline Miller

Associate Editor

UV drying technology is continuing to make major in-roads into the web offset printing market as printers are forced to deal with heightened EPA restrictions, a sour economy and the need to further diversify their product offerings.

"This year, we've really seen a trend of printers seeking us out. In the past, we've gone to them, but now they are coming to us," reports Elinor Midlik, president of Prime UV Systems.

"We've seen a growing interest in UV systems regionally. We're hearing from many companies located in California, Maryland, Ohio and Massachusetts that are under strict EPA restrictions and cannot install any kind of heatset dryer on their presses. They are coming to us to get a UV system because they need to eliminate their VOCs and emissions," she says.

About Hot Air

Currently, conventional web offset ink technologies rely on exposure to heated air movement as a primary way to dry the ink film. The heated air is generally provided from an oven that is fired by natural gas. The exhaust produced from these ovens is laden with evaporated solvents or diluents from inks and coatings. With the exception of water-based technology, the exhaust is made up of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). The use of afterburners and solvent reclamation can limit some emissions, but not all.

Energy-curable inks, on the other hand, pass through a curing unit that uses high-energy electrical power, thus making them emission-free.

Additionally, ovens fired by natural gas are inefficient and can be costly to fuel and maintain, especially as natural gas prices continue to skyrocket, notes Jeff Koszuta, president of Rainbow Graphics in Des Plaines, IL. The $17 million mini-web printer currently runs an eight-unit Muller Martini A52. The company is planning to add another A52 later this year when it moves into a new, expanded location.

"We bought the A52 because we were looking for a press that provided additional speed and technology over what we currently had on our floor," Koszuta notes. The new generation of UV presses offers the same advancements that are reducing makereadies and increasing the speed of conventional heatset web configurations. In addition, UV presses are now easier to run and much more productive.

Because UV inks are sensitive to press-generated heat, temperature fluctuations cause them to break down, which affects printability. Today's presses feature full cooling of ink trains and the web itself—so everything is kept at the optimum temperature. Maintaining the temperature in the proper zone has also helped eliminate ink breakdown and all of the problems associated with it.

An additional benefit of a UV web press that many printers may not have considered is the reduced space that it takes up. UV allows for reduced floor-space requirements resulting from the compact size of UV equipment versus the large post-dryers and chill stands.

For Rainbow Graphics, purchasing a web press with UV capabilities was the only direction the company, which specializes in direct mail, could go, explains Koszuta.

In the direct mail market, post-processing is a critical component. UV inks dry instantly, allowing for immediate personalization via laser printers. UV also eliminates web shrinkage caused by the intense heat found in the typical heatset drying process, the result of which can affect the fit between the printed material and the personalized message. Finally, because the UV process does not remove any of the web's moisture, cracking in an off-line folding process becomes much less of an issue than with heatset work.

While UV does offer enormous benefits, the higher cost of UV inks is often cited as a major drawback to running UV. However, Koszuta points out that while ink prices are higher, the overall benefits of UV make up for the cost.

"You don't have the chemical, pollution or natural gas prices to contend with when you run UV," he says. "Currently, I don't think that heatset printers are passing that additional cost along to their customers. But as the costs associated with heatset continue to rise, they are going to have to start passing those costs along at some point."

Midlik agrees. "UV is much more attractive in terms of capital costs," she says. "The capital cost of UV is one quarter the cost of heatset. And the utilities costs of UV are 50 percent of the costs of heatset. While the inks are more expensive, printers are now in a situation where the increased costs of just the utilities more than offsets the added cost of the inks."

For Keith Zub, director of sales and marketing of Beldar Print Communications, in Mahwah, NJ, his interest in purchasing two RDP Marathon SR-200 presses was based solely on the added value he could now offer his clients.

The $8 million business forms printer was looking to diversify his product offerings, and he also wanted to expand his capabilities. "The forms business has become more of a commodity," explains Zub. "We were looking to add some of the special applications that add value to our printed products."

UV enables Beldar to achieve the heavy color saturation that its clients are now requiring in their projects. Zub was also interested in adding metallic inks and diecutting to his list of capabilities, while continuing to run at profitable speeds.

The RDP presses incorporate the Smart-Set 2000 press control system, allowing complete make-readies without web movement on-press. The system reduces downtime and waste, and repeat jobs are completed easily. A customer file can also be retrieved from the computerized front-end console.

"We're able to process in-line, which is huge in terms of savings and downtime," Zub adds. In his line of work, where repeat orders are common, the ability to save a job on-press is a huge advantage.

Zub states that the new presses help Beldar maintain existing clients' needs while providing the opportunities to gain new business. "The SR-200s have brought us into new and profitable markets, namely direct mail and 50˝ jumbo rolls for statements and invoices," he says. "Our position in the industry has changed from a business forms manufacturer to a print communications provider."

UV technology is also catching the eye of niche printers, especially security printers and package printers. In the post-9/11 environment, security printing is garnering even more attention, notes Midlik. "We're seeing a growing interest in thermochromatic inks and the added level of confidentiality and security they can bring to documents," she says.

UV has also garnered the eye of printers looking to move into the ever-growing realm of packaging. "Packaging has been a growing market for us, because of the increased eye appeal that UV coatings can bring to a product," Midlik claims.

And it's not just traditional heatset printers that are moving into UV. There is a growing interest among coldest printers. Prime UV is working with a number of coldest printers, mainly newspaper printers, who are retrofitting their presses with UV capabilities in order to bring a more heatset look to their product, particularly with inserts.

Another supplier of dryers, William Fuchs, president of F.D.V. Wm. Fuchs-Jac. De Vries, reports that he is also seeing a growing number of non-heatset printers use UV drying systems to eliminate marking and tracking problems. Non-heatset printers are also interested in UV's ability to run better grades of paper stock, thus producing better print quality, according to Fuchs.

Responding to the demand for UV technology, paper manufacturers are creating more and more substrates that can be run on UV presses. Some substrates can now only be run on a UV press.

Another emerging trend is that of hybrid-UV technology, notes Fuchs. Hybrid combines the properties of UV and conventional inks. "They enable the printer to run jobs on-press without special rollers or long cleanups between conventional and UV jobs," he adds.

Ultimately whether it is pure UV technology or hybrid, the future of the UV web printing market continues to expand. The future is indeed bright.
 

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