UV LED Curing Technologies are Poised for Growth

LED curing is one of the most intriguing areas in energy curing. In 2008, LED curable technologies debuted at drupa, with plenty of press and ink manufacturers showcasing the technology. LED curable technologies have made inroads in the inkjet field, with Sun Chemical and INX Digital among the most notable ink companies working in the field.

Tom Molamphy, vice president of sales and marketing for Phoseon Technology, said that drupa 2008 was the first major event where people started to take notice of UV LED technology, most notably in inkjet applications, where the technology has had its strongest success.

"There is a lot of innovation in inkjet in general, and the advantages of UV LED play well to inkjet’s needs."
Tom Molamphy, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Phoseon Technology

“There is a lot of enthusiasm, particularly in the digital world,” Mr. Molamphy said. “Our company has grown significantly in the past two years, even despite the downturn, and we expect that to continue over the next several years. Digital has become the strongest market. There is a lot of innovation in inkjet in general, and the advantages of UV LED play well to inkjet’s needs. Still, it will take time for LED to become the dominant player in inkjet.”

LED technology has been available for a while, but the ability of ink manufacturers to develop LED-compatible inks has been an important driver.

“The ink companies are primarily the drivers, and ink formulation is critical,” Mr. Molamphy said. “The early LED inks needed to be tweaked or completely reformulated to optimize for LED curing. The biggest issue today is the business case, but the interest in formulating inks that are UV LED specific is now there from the customers.”

Mr. Molamphy noted that there are a lot of advantages to UV LED. “UV LED tends to have stable outputs over long time periods, and 20,000 to 30,000 hours of useful life is certainly possible,” he said. “Electricity usage is lower, and is particularly noticeable for flexo and sheetfed applications where the UV systems are larger and use more power. A printer should expect approximately 50 percent savings in terms of power for each unit. It releases no ozone, as it operates in the UV-A spectrum. The units are physically smaller, and as solid-state devices, are easier to integrate and control as well as to provide maintenance.

Grant Shouldice, director, product management of energy curable inks, North American Inks, Sun Chemical noted that LED lamp technology is important because it can reduce the complexity of integrating UV curing lamps, can reduce the environmental and health and safety concerns in some applications, and can also allow use of UV curing technology on heat sensitive substrates.

Mr. Shouldice said that Sun Chemical has UV inks designed specifically for LED curing units in a variety of market industries, but the majority of LED lamps used today are in inkjet applications.

“SunJet, the inkjet ink division of Sun Chemical, is a leader in the development of UV curing inks and has supported the industry developments in LED UV lamp technology for several years,” Mr. Shouldice said. “It was one of the first ink companies to recognize the potential benefits to customers of inks which have the ability to part cure or ‘pin’ with UV LED lamp exposure in scanning head systems.

“As lamp technology has advanced and higher power lamps have been demonstrated, SunJet has managed to produce graphics inks which fully cure with LED UV exposure,” Mr. Shouldice added. “SunJet CRYSTAL UFE – LED inks are an ink chemistry specifically designed for curing under exposure to UV light from LED sources. SunJet CRYSTAL UFE – LED inks are designed for use in single pass and scanning wide format applications which raise the achievable line speed by more than three times. Adhesion to PVC, hard plastics and metals with these inks has been achieved.