The future of litho printing, according to Blackmore in Dorset, does not have a vast touch screen on its side.
There are no flashing lights, indeed it is not even possible to see the blue glow from the LEDs that have turned the KBA Rapida 105 from a beautifully engineered B1 four-colour printing press into the something special that Blackmore feels it has.
Outwardly this is a KBA Rapida 105 and there is simply no visible indication that this is not a standard press. The control desk does have touch screens for the minder to adjust settings and run the press, and this is the first in the country to have the new system. But there is nothing to show that this is different. Until it prints.
The press begins printing with a standard coated paper. The operator takes a sheet, checks for register and accelerates the press to print 500 sheets on this paper. All are dry in the delivery. The stack is tabbed, the press stopped before the next sheet, a synthetic transparent material is sent through the press.
A further check and 500 more sheets arrive in the delivery. Each one is perfectly dry. Plates are changed, blankets washed using KBA’s automation, but there is no need to strip down Flint’s Xcura inks.
The next sheet through is a woodfree uncoated and the process repeated until a final mystery sheet is printed. This is a special making of a paper containing shredded £5 notes. The sheets are turned and printed on the reverse and dry sheets taken to the stitching line for finishing.
A 16pp brochure using four very different stocks has been printed finished and delivered inside an hour. That is why Blackmore thinks it has something special.
The company can print on any material with the confidence that the sheet will be dry immediately and that it can, therefore, hit client deadlines. To emphasise the point, director of sales and marketing David Bland picks up the hefty GF Smith Collection and declares: “We can print on any paper in here.
“This press opens up the opportunity to print on a massive range of materials. One of the big pressures we face is drying time needed for difficult papers. This press gives us the ability to print on unusual materials and then bind immediately.”
As an investment this was put to the test almost immediately on installation. Blackmore, which has carved out a reputation in the catering market, was asked to produce a catalogue and accompanying brochures amounting to 700,000 sheets for a European wide customer.
While not a particularly difficult paper, it was an uncoated which would have needed at least 24 hours’ standing time before attempting to bind. In a two-week schedule where two days had already been set aside for a trade finisher to cut index tabs, that time was not available.
“We would not have been able to meet that schedule if we did not have LED UV,” says Bland.
The investment was culmination of a number of factors coming together, not least the watching brief that operations director Nigel Hunt has had on LED developments almost since the introduction of the technology at a time when lack of power meant very limited applications.
That is no longer the case. Blackmore has an AMS system with three rows of UV generating diodes to guarantee enough power even at full press speed. Each diode is specified to last 20,000 hours before needing replacement.
Blackmore was reluctant to install a tuned mercury vapour system, such as Komori’s H-UV or Heidelberg’s LE-UV, which although delivering the same instant dry impact, also consumes more energy and is under a shadow because mercury is a component that is gradually being outlawed across all industries.
Improvements to LED technology will hasten the extinction of this technology, Bland predicts. Further, mercury vapour lamps would need replacing regularly and there were questions about ozone generation, although this is not considered a problem by printers using these technologies.
Its second path leading towards new generation UV printing has been about printing on uncoated papers. The company runs two Solna coldset presses, one a three-reel stand mono only machine, the other with the ability to print full colour. Demand for colour from this machine has fed across to give Blackmore a lead in printing sheetfed litho on uncoated papers.
It has used Alwan technology to optimise separations for the technology, keeping TAC to a minimum to keep shadows as open as possible and adjusting plate curves as a result.
Its reputation for printing on uncoated papers has brought in around £1.3 million of business including top quality magazines, catalogues and work for cosmetics company Lush which came to Blackmore because it prints on coldest webs, so is more environmentally friendly than using heatset for the same job.
“The trend for uncoated papers to become smoother increases the problems in drying,” says Bland, “and has increased the risks of marking.”
The move to LED has ended any marking problems because there is no chance for ink to penetrate fibres before it is locked in the polymer lattice created by the photoinitiators in the UV ink. It is the cost of these compounds, tuned to match the wavelength of the LEDs, that pushes the price of the ink up to three times the price of a standard ink set.
As the LEDs become more powerful, fewer photo initiators will be needed, helping to cut the cost of the ink. Blackmore is immediately using around 30% less ink than previously and on the short run jobs that the press is used for, the cost of ink is swallowed up by other savings.
These can include wash down times when switching from one ink to another. When running difficult non absorbent surfaces it had to run fast oxidising inks, removing these from the ink train to switch back to a standard set of inks. And these inks need to be stripped from the rollers each night. The UV inks in contrast can remain in the ducts over night and will be fresh in the morning.
Blackmore has fitted a set of LED lights above the press which produce no UV. Another approach would be a film to filter the unwanted UV from a standard lamp. Shielding film could also be applied to roof lights or windows, though Blackmore has been told this is not strictly necessary.
Other savings come from the elimination of coating, the coater and associated pumps and pipework (including maintenance); removal of spray powder, but mostly in energy costs. The cable which supported the dryer for the five-colour SM74 that the KBA has replaced is enough to power the entire press. “And it is three times more productive,” Bland adds.
The press itself is 1.5 metres shorter than the smaller format machine its has replaced, mostly down to the lack of extended delivery and coater. Other space savings have come from being able to reduce work in progress, especially when printing on synthetic papers which cannot be piled high.
“We found an unexpected benefit in proofing,” says Bland. “It has always been difficult to create an inkjet proof that looks like print on uncoated papers because you cannot replicate the effect of ink absorption on an Epson, but with UV curing, the ink is held on the surface and there is a much better match to the inkjet proof.”
Another unexpected bonus has been in folding. Ordinarily a thin layer of spray powder helps minimise feeding problems even if powder also tends to accumulate in the folder. Without the powder there were concerns about feeding, but it transpires that the folder can be operated at higher speeds.
KBA, Flint and AMS also earn points for support during and since installation.
“We were never left to our own devices,” he explains. “We were helped with inks, with chemistry, blankets and so on. That means that the confidence in the factory goes through the roof.”
This was the case even when after three weeks Blackmore decided to become the first KBA LED user to run without IPA in the fount. “The technology has opened up a completely new dimension for commercial printers,” says Richard Wilson, Flint’s global UV technical director for sheetfed inks.
The Xcura ink works under any of the lamp systems available, he says, and will cure on almost any material, cautioning that non absorbent materials are tested first. “This is going to be ideal for long perfectors – every commercial printer should be looking at this.”
It has not been an isolated investment. Blackmore has installed a Kodak Prinergy workflow with InSite and Rules Based Automation. It is driving a new platesetter producing a new version of the XD thermal plate. This is not a process free plate, but is one that will print for 75,000 impressions on newsprint on the Solnas, will print with the Flint UV ink and will run on the conventional B1 Komori.
The company is evaluating Kodak’s Colorflow colour management application. “It has some nice features that Alwan does not have,” says Hunt, “holding little more of the highlight details.”
The company will also integrate its Solprint MIS with both the production workflow and the Logotronic press management system to receive real time production data from the press. KBA is also helping Blackmore towards the certification under the Ukas accredited BPIF ISO 12647-2 standard.
Blackmore is aiming to cement a reputation for fine quality printing. It is recruiting a sales team to this end, aiming to boost sales by a further £1.5 million a year. This is net of paper costs says Bland, pointing to the GF Smith Collection where papers can be thousands of pounds a tonne.
The next investment for the group is to replace a CD102 at sister company Lamport Gilbert in Reading. LED is not the automatic choice as run lengths are longer and the numbers will need calculation as the cost of the ink becomes a more important factor on longer runs.
At the moment, however, it would seem that this investment will also be about the blue light.
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