Sanitiser frenzy = press alcohol shortage

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The public's enormous demand for hand sanitisers is causing a shortage of IPA press alcohol as dampening-solution providers find their alcohol suppliers switching to meet unprecedented need.

Hand sanitiser: High-value product
Hand sanitiser: High-value product

Driven by the growing coronavirus pandemic, sales of hand sanitisers have skyrocketed, even though using soap and water is universally acknowledged to provide better protection. The hand sanitisers have a level of isopropanol, or isopropyl alcohol, in them, and this alcohol is being diverted from other sources as providers race to meet demand, one of those sources being the alcohol that goes into press dampening solutions.

Richard Timson, managing director of Heidelberg ANZ said, "we have had had countless printers calling up asking for dampening solution. We do have enough supply, but only for our existing customers, unfortunately we cannot supply anyone else."

Tony Bertrand, marketing manager at supplier Ball & Doggett said, "We simply do not have any IPA. It is all being diverted to hand sanitisers. More will come in, but for now the shelves are bare."

Offset presses can be run without IPA, but much more care needs to be taken, the process without IPA is a lot less forgiving. Tips for running alcohol free include:

  • Metering and form roller condition should be checked with a durometer if possible. The softer the rubber, the easier it will be to transfer and control the dampening solution. Shore durometer readings between 18 and 25 are desirable.
  • Reset the roller pressures. Alcohol alters the viscosity and flow characteristics of water; solutions without alcohol do not flow as well and will need less nip pressure between the rollers.
  • Dampener speeds will probably increase, for the same reason as above. It does not mean that more water is actually being used. If the alcohol-free fount does not flow as well, then faster roller speeds are needed to transfer the same amount of dampening solution to the plate.
  • The ink manufacturer should be advised when a printer is trying to eliminate alcohol from the fountain solution; some inks perform better than others and any advice may be worth seeking.
  • Ink feed may need to be reduced. With no alcohol acting as a diluent and solvent, less ink could be required to achieve the same density on the paper, which would also allow reduced water settings.
  • Check the circulators for air leaks. Alcohol has antifoam properties, and running without it may increase the level of foaming. Examine all hose fittings, and ensure there are no holes which will admit air. Contact the manufacturer of the circulator if necessary, as they may be able to reduce the rate of circulation.
  • Refrigeration of the fount will help. This has the effect of raising the viscosity of the fountain solution slightly, which will assist transfer from the duct to the plate. It will also keep the printing nip and rollers cooler.
  • When running without alcohol, rollers tend to glaze a little quicker, and glazed rollers do not carry a good film of ink and fountain solution. Alcohol is an ink solvent and helps to keep the rollers and parts of the press cleaner. Use of proper water miscible washes and regular deglazing will avoid problems.
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