These expectations were for instant drying to enable faster turnaround of print, a cleaner working environment, and an increase in its ink bill. All have been fulfilled. “We have definitely improved turnaround times, so we are getting more jobs through and with less marking.”
The Leicester company was the first to install two LED presses simultaneously, a five-colour B3 Ryobi machine and an eight-colour B2 Ryobi. Their performance has matched expectations. “I have always thought that Indigo offered better quality than litho on uncoated papers. But we are now getting that sort of quality from litho,” he says.
The investment also meant a move from B2 to SRA1 printing which needed a little getting used to because of the larger sheet. However, it has reached the point that Flexpress is confident of signing up to work towards ISO 12647-2 accreditation.
“At the start we switched around the inks quite a bit as there are new types of ink coming out all the time and as the suppliers adjust formulations.
“LED UV remains relatively uncommon and some Pantone colours remain unavailable, but it does seem to be getting better,” he says. The company has settled on a Toyo ink having tried a number of alternatives. Batch consistency was initially a problem, says Wenlock. “Sometimes the ink was excellent, at others we suffered. We are using Toyo at the moment as it seems to be a little more consistent.”
All inks share the price characteristic: because of the need for photo initiators and because of the relatively low demand, LED UV inks can be three or four times the price of a conventional set. However, this is not an issue for Flexpress.
“You simply do not have to wash the press up, unless it is for a special colour,” he says. “That means you do not have to run the press up for half an hour in the morning, nor do you need to wash up for an hour at the end of each day.” The extra production time he explains more than covers the additional cost of the ink. “And there are so many other advantages.”
A key advantage is the lack of spray powder. Its presence could never be limited to the delivery area of the press, spreading to leave a layer on every flat surface in the factory and finding its way to coat rollers and equipment in the finishing department.
There are lessons that the company has learned through experience. “You have to be strict with your maintenance and you have to be careful about keeping the lamps clean. Apex told us we would need to do this and we do so, around once a month is enough, but it is remembering to do that,” Wenlock explains.
The process itself is less forgiving than conventional litho, hence the importance of keeping the press in good condition and the sort of systematic process control that ISO 12647-2 brings with it. Achieving the balance of ink, fount and plate becomes much easier with a process oriented regime in place.
Wenlock explains: “The SRA1 press has proved more difficult to control than the smaller machine. You certainly have to keep your wits about you as the process is not quite as forgiving as with standard litho ink. There is also the issue that there is a shorter shelf life for each ink. You do not want to be buying in lots of ink and seeing it go off before it is used.”
The company adopted the Cron plate at the same time as moving to LED UV. Like the Ryobi presses, the plate is supplied by Apex Digital Graphics. It has performed well with the consistency praised by Wenlock. The company has few runs exceeding 20,000 so has not tested the upper limit of the plate’s life. It has no problem in holding the sharper dot that characterises new generation UV printing.
There are certainly no complaints from Wenlock. “Around a third of our turnover is trade work and these customers can be pretty fussy. They have been pleased with the quality and especially the very sharp dot that comes on uncoated.
“At the end of the day there are not enough disadvantages to prevent you doing this. It is about fast response. Nobody ever gives you longer to do a job than they did yesterday
“We have never regretted the decision to go into this. In the same position we had been in, would we do the same thing again? Yes we would.”
It has worked to find the ideal combination of consumables for its work profile and says that a key benefit has been that there is now more time to print and earn money because there is no need to clean down the press at the end of each day.