There’s been much attention of late on the use of mercury arc lamps for curing applications in the printing industry. This technology is widely used, however it has some serious drawbacks, not least the fact that it uses an awful lot of energy even when not actually curing anything. This means cost and unnecessary emissions which do nothing to improve a company’s carbon footprint.
Fortunately there is an alternative but the current generation of LED curing technology is not a drop in replacement for mercury arc curing. It isn’t as fast, nor does it deliver an equivalent depth of cure. However the environmental benefits of LED curing are clear. These lamps use far less power than mercury arc curing lamps. They also last a very long time, some 20,000 hours whereas mercury arc lamps can need replacing after as few as 1,000 hours. LEDs are small and inexpensive and the curing intensity can be precisely controlled. And because they do not generate much heat they are kind to flimsy substrates. From an environmental perspective they are relatively benign since they contain no mercury or ozone.
The trouble is that they have been believed to be no good for high productivity applications, where prints must be churned out at high quality and top speeds. But that is changing and there are already signs in the wide format digital market particularly that high performance LED curing systems are coming sooner than we might think.
EFI has a clear market advantage when it comes to LED curing technologies for UV inks. It’s no understatement to say that the company is leading the way, most notably with the VUTEk GS5500LXr and the HS family. Now other manufacturers are starting to move into the LED curing space taking advantage of improving lamp performance and new ink recipes. HP is known to be developing LED curing inks and Agfa has said that it expects to introduce an LED upgrade to all of its Anapurna machines, following an earlier foray a couple of years ago. The Anapurnas are expected to be available with either LED or mercury arc curing systems and the technology is expected to be introduced at SGIA later this year. Agfa’s policy is to ship two months after new product introductions so this should be an important year. LED curing on the Jeti line will follow.
But competitors have a lot of work to do to catch EFI. The company has a substantial lead in this space and surely has LED innovations of its own in the pipeline. We shall just have to wait and see, but it is clear that technology advances continue to bring down print’s environmental impact.