LED UV: Are we there yet?
LED UV was one of the new buzzwords in Chicago this year at PRINT 09. Many exhibitors were talking about it, but the true question is, "How far are we from actually using this new technology in the pressroom?"
All of the UV light manufacturers were either discussing the new LED systems or displaying their version of the lamps. The ink companies made it known how they are vigorously working on a solution for products and one press manufacturer took the huge leap and had it running on a machine at the show. And yes, the ink was dry when it hit the delivery. But again we ask, “How long before we see this process outside of the lab and in the real world?”
Many of the parties involved are hopeful that we will see machines equipped with this drying system some time in the future, but no one could reply with any certainty to how soon. There are still many reservations with this process. With more testing and modifications, LED curing is a possibility. Keep in mind this is no different than when UV first evolved in the early years.
As with all new products on the market, the current cost of LED equipment is approximately 1 to 2 times that of conventional UV systems. The inks are in the early stages and the printability and predictability is still in question. At the moment, LED coating is not an option for various reasons. And, no one is certain how the chemistry will react from the day-to-day exposure in their surroundings with drying characteristics to cure at almost a 100nm difference in the light spectrum.
The advantages touted by the equipment manufacturers are that the lamp life will be 20 times longer than the standard mercury bulbs. The power requirements are almost half of conventional UV. And, most importantly. . .No More Heat! Just think what we can do with all of those temperature sensitive plastics.
However, the undisputed comment made by everyone is that you will see the digital world using LED before others in the industry. The speed of the equipment, stability and close proximity to the printed substrate, thinner ink film and lower costs to produce will all be key factors in this decision.
LED UV is something to keep an eye on in the future.