UV Curing Technology

The ultraviolet curing of inks and coatings has seen a steady, healthy growth in the narrow web segment of the packaging market. As converters make strides towards more eco-friendly practices, UV curing offers many benefits that other methods don’t, including the reduction or elimination of environmentally harmful chemicals, reduced cleanup times and high-gloss capabilities.

According to Dave Snyder, southern regional sales manager for American Ultraviolet Company, Lebanon, IL, USA, the UV curing market has grown considerably since 2009. “Global use of UV inks and coatings has increased annually at a rate of 8-10%, and all predictions are that it will continue to do so,” he says. “In addition to the benefits that UV can offer the printer, the tightening of environmental emissions, elimination of hazardous chemicals, and regulatory laws will continue to move companies towards UV printing. Companies used to move from state-to-state to avoid the regulatory restrictions, but there are less and less places now to move as the laws are being implemented most everywhere.”

Thanks in part to a rise in eco-friendly manufacturing processes, UV curing technology has steadily grown in popularity.

Benefits and challenges

Jim Brewer, president of Brewer UV Systems, Riverside, CA, USA, has been in this business a long time. “I’m one of a handful of people that helped start this industry 40 years ago, and one of two people – that I know of – who is still working in it since then,” he says. Brewer has stayed in the industry so long because, well, he believes in it. “There are serious cost advantages of UV coatings, because UV is ½ to 1/3 the cost of most mylar laminates,” he says. “UV inks and coatings can be used on lighter, lower-cost paperstocks, which means lower postal rates for customers. The paper remains stronger and is not dehydrated or blistered, with shrinkage eliminated.

The LED trend

Much like traditional UV curing methods, UV LED curing has seen tremendous growth. Stacy Volk, marketing and communication specialist at Phoseon Technology in Hillsboro, OR, USA, says, “The UV LED curing market has grown 50%+ per year since 2009, with the majority of the growth being in international markets.”

Bade, of Baldwin Technology, says that LED technology has not had the power required to cure UV materials – until recently. “As their power and efficiency have improved, we see them being used in more processes, such as digital flatbed applications,” he says. “In the world of graphic arts, LEDs are diverging into two segments: low-power, air-cooled systems and high-power, water-cooled systems.  The low-power systems are typically fitted to the inkjet scanning applications and the high-power systems are slowly finding their way into traditional high speed printing equipment. Apart from cost, current growth of LED use is constricted by the availability of materials that can be cured by the singular wavelengths produced by them.