The Lightouch Versiflex Medium Pressure Mercury Vapor UV curing system is manufactured in Arlington Heights, IL, USA and has more than 4,000 lamp systems in the field.
The conventional Lightouch Versiflex UV curing systems feature a programmable color touchscreen operator interface that allows for the adjustment of shutter timing, as well as an automatic five-stage UV intensity ramping proportional to press speed. A two-piece cassette style lamp head expedited routine maintenance and allows portability of the UV system between print stations or presses. Automatic fault protection and troubleshooting can be activated to stop the converting line in the unlikely event of a critical UV fault to minimize waste, and optional upgrades to 600 watts per inch for faster line speeds are available.
In the last five years, however, AAA Press has partnered with a leading UV LED manufacturer to integrate new LED technology into the Lightouch platform.
“UV LED ink and coating technologies have evolved in this timeframe, making this proven technology commercially available to those pioneers that are open to experiencing the outstanding benefits of UV LED curing,” explains Mark Hahn, VP of sales and marketing at AAA Press International. “Conventional UV systems are currently the primary UV curing source in the printing and converting industry, however UV LED curing systems are emerging in the marketplace due to the outstanding energy, waste and maintenance savings they offer.”
The Lightouch UV LED curing systems include a state-of-the-art compact LED Module with an optimized optics package and UV output up to 30 W/CM2. This provides maximum curing at the web. A digital “Instant-On” electronic controller with automatic UV intensity ramping proportional to press speed is also available, as is a closed loop water chilling system for optimum LED module temperature control to maximize module longevity.
“UV LED curing technology has seen dramatic improvements in output power going from 16W/CM2 to over 30W/CM2, as well as significant improvements in optics design allowing complete curing at higher line speeds,” says Hahn.
UV LED curing systems utilize an array of small light emitting diodes (LED) with custom designed optics that are typically doped with Gallium to produce intense UV Light (typically in the 390 Nanometer range) to cure inks, varnishes and adhesives. LED systems feature an air or water cooling system to maintain optimum LED module temperature, and they are typically powered by low voltage power supplies that can yield energy savings of approximately 60% compared to conventional UV curing systems.
According to Hahn, UV LED curing systems offer a longevity of 20,000 hours before they even start to show signs of degradation, but some may see as many as 40,000+ hours before the LED module needs to be replaced.
“We are seeing a great deal of converters investigating UV LED curing technology–and some even integrating into their machines–because very good ink, coating and adhesive chemistry are being offered by a number of suppliers,” explains Hahn. “There is some governmental pressure worldwide to limit the amount of mercury in new equipment wherever possible and legislation may be forthcoming to force change toward UV LED technology sometime after the year 2020 in the United States. We are seeing significant improvements in LED power and optics which should reduce the number of LED’s in the array of each lamp. As these developments continue, we may very well see slightly reduced system prices enough to move more converters in to this exciting new technology.”
The challenge regarding UV LED curing systems will continue to be pricing, although as Hahn notes, a greater prevalence of these units could lead to lower prices in the future. The cost benefits could pay out over time, though. “Typically, the capital equipment costs going from conventional to LED technology is more than double so many converters are reluctant to venture into LED,” says Hahn. “More converters are investigating LED technology due to the fact that they can justify payback with 60% energy savings, 85% maintenance savings, significant waste reduction and outstanding system longevity.”
For converters using AAA Press International’s conventional UV curing systems, this technology has also improved. There has been a shift from manual analog control technology to programmable digital control technology, which offers several benefits. Among them are reduced energy consumption, the ability to control shutter timing to open and close at the exact moment, which reduces heat at the web when running heat sensitive substrates, and reduced waste.
“Improvements in conventional reflector geometry have increased intensity at the web by capturing more UV energy and directing it in a true elliptical focus at the web, increasing curing power by 35% thus reducing energy consumption,” adds Hahn.