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LED curing is clearly the path of the future for UV-curing Print E-mail

Heat from mercury-arc UV lamps melts many substances, has a known history of starting fires on your UV printer, melts your combo transport belt, and causes many substances to bubble up (resulting in head strikes).

Providing significant cooling to mercury-arc lamps is quite expensive, as you see on printers from L&P or Spuhl (and still their curing systems, even though water-cooled, can melt many substances you would like to print on).

The solution that many companies are working on is to use LED lamps to cure. Gerber Scientific uses another approach, long fluorescent-like tubes (not actually fluorescent light; this is only to describe their approximate size and shape). I am under NDA with Gerber so can't comment more than what anyone who asks around at a trade show could find out from public knowledge.

But all cool UV curing systems have downsides: cost, speed (they are slow), and lack of a full cure in some instances (Mimaki being the most obvious example of incomplete cure so far).

Inca Digital was the first to successfully use LED curing in a production UV printer. But they have sold only about two dozen of their nice Spyder 150 printers.

Sun LLC was the first to show to the public at a major international trade show the second significant progress in LED lighting. I first met them at a trade show in Dubai. Their product, and their staff demonstrated they were capable, so I visited their factory in Novosibirsk, Russia, inspected their R&D department, and gave two days of lectures on UV printing for a symposium they organized.

In the recent year the collapse of oil revenues to Russia and the general world recession has clipped their funding noticeably, but Sun LLC still has good management and technical people. But due to funding issues it has not been possible to visit their new factory.

In past years the printers arrived from China and had the LED lamps, electronics, and printheads added in Russia. Gradually more of the printer was developed and assembled in Russia since rather obviously products made in China have issues. But until I can get to their new factory it is not easy to certify how much of the new printer is made in Russia and how much is still from China. There is the same open question with printers of Eurotech. Originally this company in Turkey rebranded printers from China. Then they began to add more of their own features. But without visiting all the factories where the components are manufactured I can't certify whether their Eurotech UV printers are really made in Europe or only retrofitted in Europe from Chinese prototypes.

Sun Neo UV-LED Evolution reviews
Here are some samples printed by the Sun LED UV at VISCOM Germany 2008.

Summit was the next company that fostered development of UV lamps. They hired a capable UV printer consultant, Mario Carluccio, but after a year or so they learned the same result as did Sun LLC: namely that all other companies wanted to make their own LED systems. So far no printer manufacturer has desired to buy LED lamps already made from another company. So for SGIA '08 Summit exhibited a Chinese UV printer with their Summit LED curing lamps. In other words, if no manufacturer would use their lamps, they would become their own manufacturer.

DuPont tried this with UV ink: tried to make a UV printer to create a demand for UV ink. But DuPont's ink was not their own, it was rumored to be from Triangle; and the Chinese manufacturer selected by DuPont did not produce usable machines. At least Summit does develop their own LED curing lamps.

Nonetheless, with the Summit Destiny 2500 UV flatbed printer the same problem begins all over again. I do not know who there consultant was that connected them with their initial Chinese manufacturer, but I could have suggested a more reliable manufacturer in China (and several even better in Taiwan and even better in Korea).

I have never visited the Summit offices, R&D department, etc.

Summit Destiny 2500 UV flatbed printer reviews
Summit Destiny 2500 UV flatbed printer was exhibited at SGIA 2008.
Roland VersaUV LEC-300 reviews
Roland Versa UV LEC-300 printing some samples at Photokina 2008.

Other LED companies: there is now another brave LED UV ink curing developer. But until I visit their facilities and learn more about their product I can't judge whether they can overcome the industry posture. It seems such a waste if every single individual manufacturer spends R&D money trying to make their own LED fixtures. They will all make the same initial mistakes that everyone else has already stumbled through.

In the meantime, Mimaki and Roland have shown their LED-curing printers to the public at many trade shows: Mimaki UJV-160uv, Roland Versa UV LEC-300. There are FLAAR Reports on both these UV printers.

Dilli has discretely exhibited their LED curing: the first year it was under wraps and they showed it only to invited guests. Then at SGIA the LED curing was a bit more open, but most people would have walked by their booth and not noticed. Dilli has a significant R&D department in their own company. I have visited Dilli in Korea overa a several day period and can understand that they are large enough to develop LED curing on their own.

A few other companies are obviously developing their own LED solutions discretely. There will be a bit more shown at ISA '09 perhaps but FESPA Digital '09 in early summer will see the main new UV printers with LED curing. You can expect perhaps one more by SGIA '09 in the autumn (or at the autumn European shows: VISCOM Germany and VISCOM Italy).

Mimaki UJV-160uv printer evaluations
Mimaki UJV-160uv printer at FESPA Mexico 2008.

More information on LED curing and on UV-curable inks in the FLAAR Reports

FLAAR has an entire series of publications to tabulate, list, and describe each aspect of UV-curable printers: the inks, the printheads, the other features.


First posted January 6, 2009.

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