Empress Litho Impresses with UV LED
Empress Litho handles the print requirements of a number of highly demanding design agencies, and has a plethora of awards to show for its work. UV LED has played a part in this success by enabling the use of new substrates and a move into prestige packaging work.
David May, Managing Director at Empress Litho, is animated when explaining what he believes are the key reasons for the company’s ongoing success in a fiercely competitive market. “We’re more of a trusted partner than a supplier, advising and working closely with clients to realize their creative vision. Our position in this high-end market demands that we have to have the latest in tech to stay ahead of the field, remain competitive, and be able to meet ever-decreasing turnaround expectations.” May continues: “This is the key reason why we first looked at UV LED curing, back in 2017. We’re a B1 house and if we were going to introduce digital back then, it would had to have been B2, but we decided instead to install UV LED on our existing litho press. By doing this we are sweating an existing asset, and at the same time we solved our need for faster throughput of work, particularly on shorter to mid-length runs. We can now achieve better-than-digital quality but in digital turnaround times, and at the same time our production costs are lower than digital, so we are competitive and we get a better margin.”
Empress’s 6-color Heidelberg CD102 was retrofitted with a GEW LeoLED UV curing system. The entire process was completed within four days and careful pre-planning ensured that press downtime was minimized to only two of those days. The press was fitted with two 100cm-width LED lampheads which have a width-switching function down to 80cm, enabling energy to be saved when printing smaller sheet sizes. The UV LED system is complete with its own chiller unit, integrated power supply, and an HMI touchscreen which gives the press operator control over the UV curing process. (To find out more about retrofitting your press with GEW, click here.)
The UV LED system is remotely monitored by GEW, online. This enables encrypted system performance data to be sent live to GEW’s Service team, ensuring a fast service response should the need arise. The service history of every lamp can be reviewed, including all parameters, and a preventative maintenance program will recommend any necessary software or hardware updates. It will also highlight and correct out-of-tolerance parameters before any issue arises on site. The platform enables comprehensive monthly system performance reports to be sent to Empress, including such information as energy use and machine uptime, so that their press productivity can be monitored.
When researching the viability of UV LED for Empress, May became aware of the higher cost of LED inks versus conventional inks. “The cost of ink typically ranges from 3% to 6% of the cost of a job, when all things are taken into account. Even with this rising to around 9% in the case of LED inks, this is more than offset by the productivity benefits created by instant drying, not to mention the elimination of spray powder and machine sealer. As a result, our downtime for press cleaning is minimal. We have also eradicated the problems of set-off and dryback. Colors remain vibrant on uncoated stock, so when a customer has visited us for a press-pass they can be sure that what they have seen is exactly what they will get.”
A further consideration for May when reviewing LED, was that the technology seemed to be targeted at the four-color market, with the infrastructure for specials and Pantone inks still in its infancy. “Most of our ink suppliers only offer four colors,” says May. “Pantones, metallic, and fluorescents are still regarded as specialist and only a few support this. More importantly LED ink does not come in the usual Pantone base mix colors, so you need your ink-makers’ secret recipe to mix from their LED base colors. On the positive side, LED also supports opaque white ink which can then be overprinted, so you can print strong and vivid four-color images on non-white paper and that ability has led us into more specialist packaging work, where our ingrained ability to do the difficult and demanding projects has paid dividends.”
While May’s original reason for investing in the UV system retrofit was purely to speed up production and push more work through to the bindery, the investment has brought other, unexpected benefits. “With LED we can now print on a lot of difficult papers and substrates, which is key to our move into more high-end, high-quality work. While it was not necessarily part of the original plan, it has enabled us to capture so much prestige work that would otherwise be unattainable.”
As was the case with all commercial printers, Empress Litho’s business was severely reduced during the COVID pandemic. Traditional commercial work dried up almost overnight, but this was largely replaced by a rapidly increasing demand for packaging. “Our business plan was thrown into turmoil at first, but because we have Heidelberg CDs that can print on 1.2mm carton board, and we have the UV LED that can print food-safe low migration inks, we were increasingly approached by firms looking to fulfill their food packaging requirements more locally,” says May. “This got the business through COVID and I think if we did not have the LED capability, we might not have done that. What’s more, that new business stream is still with us, on top of the returning corporate printing work, so it’s a win-win.”
To find out more about retrofitting your press with GEW, click here.