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.

Darren has worked in the printing industry for 30 years and spent more than 12 years at two of the nation's leading high-end commercial printers: Bradley Printing in Des Plaines, IL, and Williamson Printing Corp. in Dallas, TX. During that time, he operated conventional and UV 40˝ sheetfed presses and also successfully managed a $15-million pressroom equipment transition. Darren also was Lead Press Instructor for Heidelberg, where he directed specialty equipment startups and was involved in all aspects of the printing process by teaching both instructor and pressroom employees.

In addition, he served as a troubleshooter for various printing companies in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. As operations manager for a start-up specialty folding carton company, he played a key role in achieving more than $6 million in sales within two years. Currently Darren is president of D.G. Print Solutions, a consulting firm that supports printing companies of all sizes. He specializes in growth development planning, pressroom color management and pressroom training through specialty print applications.

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  • http://DennisByrd Dennis Byrd

    I’ve heard a lot about LED with regards to digital printing but haven’t heard that anyone is really close in the offset world. What are your thoughts on the future of LED in each of these markets? Will it ever make it to market in the offset world?<br />

  • http://ScottBrown Scott Brown

    I agree with your summary of LED UV technology. I first saw a sheetfed application at DRUPA on the Ryobi press on display. I spent time asking questions and then promptly asked the legacy UV manufacturers WHEN they would be introducing their versions of the equipment. While all of them pointed out the current concerns with the technology, they all admitted to their own R&D efforts.<br />
    <br />
    I have been involved in several (standard) UV installations over the past several years with both commercial and packaging printers. Without exception, they have all been successful technically and as a financial/marketing decision for the printing companies. Current (standard) UV lamps/equipment remains very solid and reliable technology and many of the issues (heat and printability) are much more manageable than in years past, but I still warn prospective customers that UV is not for the faint of heart. It is not as simple as just turning on some lights.<br />
    <br />
    LED UV promises to remove some of the difficult variables to the process. In doing this, my hope would be that as the process becomes more manageable and cost effective that more printers will adopt the technology.<br />
    <br />
    Ryobi is pushing forward with bringing LED to the marketplace by doing the necessary testing and research. Most of the UV manufacturers are working on their solutions. This is something to watch closely and every UV printer should be requesting information.

  • http://DarrenGapen Darren Gapen

    Dennis,<br />
    There’s a large number of companies within our industry that have invested a great deal of knowledge, time and money towards the LED UV concept. I know they would not have made this investment if the idea was not feasible.<br />
    <br />
    It’s just a question to when were going to see it and who will be the first?