The four-colour KBA Rapida 105 at Blackmore in Shaftesbury was the first in the UK with an AMS LED UV unit when installed two years ago. It came with a host of expectations, all of which have been fulfilled along with some that were not anticipated at the time. These have added an extra dimension to the technical benefits.
When it was installed sales director David Bland proclaimed that the press would be able to print on any of the papers featured in the then newly released GF Smith sample book. While it has still to print on all of them, it has printed on a good many of those, and with great success.
“I still consider the press to be probably the best technical innovation since CTP,” says Bland. “The benefits we have gained from it have been massive.” At first the wisdom of CTP was questioned before it became as universal as it is now. But as with the early days of that technology where there were many approaches in terms of plate handling and the plates themselves, UV remains new for commercial printers.
It has meant that Blackmore continues to trial different inks, founts and blankets. “We have been testing all types of ink for the last 12 months,” says operations director Nigel Hunt. “They have improved dramatically over the last 12 months and now all the ink suppliers have solutions that will work efficiently.
“Blankets too have come on massively. When we started there were just two or three suitable blankets available. Now there is a wide selection and there are a lot more options with regard to founts.” It expects to be testing a new Kodak plate in the coming months.
Blackmore runs with zero IPA, something it has been successful with in conventional printing. Despite advice to add just a few percent concentration of IPA to the fount, the company has stuck to its environmental guns and runs successfully without IPA. It has settled on a Vega LED fount and on a Westland roller compound, says Hunt.
He remains open to other ideas and will operate as an open house for consumables suppliers wishing to trial products “so long as there is something in it for us”.
These trials have included a low migration ink that would be suitable for secondary packaging. With a swelling number of artisan food and drink producers in Dorset needing packaging, but in volumes that are too low to interest major carton converters, there is an opportunity for the business, says Bland.
The KBA Rapida itself has settled in well. It runs at the 16,000cph advertised with inline colour control and automated plate change to minimise makeready. “It has been running at this speed on 100gsm silk this morning,” says Hunt. “Yesterday it was running on 100gsm offset.”
Both have been completely dry in the delivery ready for the guillotine or folders. The absence of spray powder has had an impact on the performance of this equipment as it has on the press itself. “In two years, we have only had to clean the delivery once,” Hunt says.
Maintenance and cleanliness are important. There is a narrower operating window for UV printing, cut further by running IPA-free. “You do need to keep the rollers clean,” he adds. The lens on the LED unit will also need watching to avoid a build up of dust or debris.
Early expectations about reduced energy consumption have been borne out. The press is consuming as much power as the five-colour coating B2 press it replaced, but with double the number of sheets and twice the number of pages per sheet compared to the old machine. “It amounts to 55% less energy per sheet,” says Hunt.
The printed sheets sit in a very flat stack with none of the bowing that can happen with powder. As the sheet can be returned to the press immediately on work and turn jobs, there is a considerable saving. Previously an operator would need to wait before turning the stack or else lift the plates and run a separate job because the sheet was too wet to handle.
There is no need to hold jobs on pallets waiting for further processing because they are not dry. This cuts the number of stacks around the floor, but in reality, Blackmore has been able to take on more jobs so anything saved with one hand is lost on the other.
This feature of the technology has had knock on effects that Blackmore had not fully appreciated before installation. Firstly scheduling work is much easier. If before priority had to be given to jobs on uncoated papers to enable the longest possible drying time, this is no longer necessary. Instead, says Blackmore, production can be scheduled to run the same types of paper or formats in sequence to gain extra efficiencies. And because Blackmore has confidence that jobs will be dry and that the press will run at 16,000cph, it can take on a greater number of short run “needed yesterday” jobs.
“The impact on scheduling was something that we had not factored in,” says Hunt. “We can now plan jobs in the most efficient way for production. Uncoated has become just another job for us. We are a lot more flexible because of this.”
In turn this has opened up greater capacity on its conventional Komori. It no longer needs to print efficiency sapping short runs as these are better suited to the LED press.
The facility continues to attract work from local printers where the job is too demanding for their abilities, says Bland, explaining how it had recently used LED UV to print on a black substrate for a London based printer. “We can print an opaque white and then print four colours on top,” he explains. “Other printers are still coming to us.
“Clients have been really impressed by what we can do and some customers are specifying that we have to run the jobs on this machine because of the quality we achieve. This has attracted a significant amount of work. The variety of materials we can print is much broader than with a conventional press. We are printing lots of Polyart, grease-proof papers and weird Fedrigoni stuff.”
He is part way through planning and designing what will be a sample book for Blackmore's sales team. It will come out this year, showing how the same images appear on when printed on different materials and on either press.
“This is going to be a fantastic tool for the sales guys,” he adds. “When they are in conversations with prospects and are talking about LED UV, they will be able to show them samples on different materials for comparison.”
Says Hunt: “We are getting the performance from the machine. It is doing everything we hoped it would do.”
But it has also had a huge impact on how the company schedules work. It no longer needs to print the uncoated work first to allow extra drying time and work in progress is no longer dotted around the factory.