Commentary & Analysis
UV.EB West Showcases Current Trends in Radiation Curing Technologies
Ultraviolet (UV) and electron beam (EB) curing technologies have been around for decades, but have continually evolved and are well-suited for today’s modern print and packaging production processes.
By Richard Romano
Published: March 11, 2015
“We were the guys in the back of the class carving monsters into our desks,” said Jason Lopes, Lead Systems Engineer for Legacy Effects. “Now look at us.”
He’s no longer carving monsters but rather printing them on one of nine 3D printers owned by Legacy Effects, a special effects house serving the movie and TV industries, making props, costumes, make up effects, and other materials for feature films, TV commercials, and video games. Lopes’ presentation—“Creating Iron Man, Robo Cop, and Other Hollywood Special EFX Using 3D Printing”— capped a morning’s worth of sessions at UV.EB West, held this week in Redondo Beach, Calif. Produced by RadTech, the trade association for UV and EB technology, Tuesday’s conference featured two simultaneous tracks: one concentrating on 3D printing, and the other on printing and packaging and, specifically, the use of ultraviolet (UV) and electron beam (EB) curing technologies. In his standing-room-only representation, Lopes demonstrated how the acquisition of a 3D printer in 2008 changed his company focus and led it to specialize in “printing” a wide variety of props and costumes for major motion pictures—such as the body suits in films such as the Iron Man franchise and the new Robo Cop; Egyptian headdresses in Night at the Museum; and indeed monsters in The Amazing Spider Man—as well as TV commercials, and even live stage productions (Katy Perry’s world tour featured backup dancers sporting light-up mohawks, all of which were printed by Legacy Effects). “It shows people what can be done with this technology,” said Lopes.
The rest of the day focused on a bit more prosaic but no less creative applications for not only 3D printing but also UV and EB curing, the latter in the packaging space. The day kicked off with Mike Idacavage, VP of Business Development for PL Industries, providing an overview of the three major technologies for 3D printing or, as it is perhaps more properly known, “additive manufacturing.” “3D printing has a lot of definitions,” he said, defining it for the purposes of the day’s sessions as “ The building of a three-dimensional object by adding successive layers of material.”
In keeping with the name of the show, Idacavage ran down the pluses and minuses of using UV curable materials for additive manufacturing. The advantages include higher build resolution, faster builds, smoother surfaces, greater strength in the z direction (because of how the material forms strong bonds as part of the curing process), the ability to print moving parts in one pass, and so on. Some of the disadvantages, however, include safety concerns with the light sources (lasers) and the uncured resins, the cost of resins and the machines, and the tendency for the cured resin to absorb moisture, which can soften a 3D-printed object over time.
We hear a lot about UV cured inks and coatings, but UV’s sister technology, EB, often gets short shrift.
On the Printing & Packaging track, Stephen Lapin, Applications Specialist at PCT Engineered Systems, sought to lengthen that shrift with a session titled “EB Tech for Packaging Printers,” which identified some of the advantages of EB, such as speed, energy efficiency, compactness, cool-curing, and deep-penetration into thick ink films or coatings). Dr. Lapin also identified some of the current applications for EB-cured packaging printing (folding cartons, especially for milk, juice, and ice cream; laminated packaging such as boxes for powdered laundry detergent) as well as some up-and-coming EB packaging applications (pouches, such as for dry soup mix or tea bags; cold-seal flexible packaging, such as for candy bars). New areas for EB include EB-curing flexo, thanks to new ink technologies such as Sun Chemical’s Wetflex, which allows wet-trapping on a flexo press. Shrink sleeve labels are a fast-growing packaging application, and cold-curing EB is well-suited for thin plastic films. On the horizon are EB applications in security printing, narrow-web flexo and screen, narrow-web inkjet, and metal packaging like cans and caps. The advent of new EB curing systems—such as a “lamp” which is indeed not much larger than a lamp—are enabling many of these new applications.
Colleen Larkin Twomey, Assistant Professor at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, spoke about “tactile” effects in packaging, specifically how adding texture effects to packaging improves what Procter & Gamble has referred to as the FMOT (“first moment of truth” or when a package first attracts the attention of a consumer) and SMOT (“second moment of truth,” or the relationship that a consumer has with a package once s/he gets it home). Twomey admitted that texture effects have been used for decades (embossing and debossing, e.g.) but new techniques such as Hi Rise and Soft Touch coatings are making the application of texture effects less expensive and faster, as they can be added inline while printing.
Twomey also presented the results of a research project her students undertook that gauged the effects that these coatings had on both the perceived quality of a product (in the case of the study, a fictitious skin care product) and the extent to which the consumer would be willing to pay a premium for this kind of specialty packaging. The study found that consumers do feel that Hi Rise and Soft Touch make a difference in the positive perception of a product, but, curiously, would only pay more for packaging with Soft Touch coating. “People enjoy fondling their packaging,” said Twomey.
The afternoon sessions were divided into two concurrent tracks, “UV Inkjet for Food Packaging” and “What New Products and Processes Will UV LEDs Enable in 2015?” the former making the case for UV/EB inkjet in packaging in general and food packaging in particular: “high speed is the Holy Grail for this industry,” said Dene Taylor, principal and founder of technical consultancy Specialty Papers & Films. “With UV inkjet, we can match the speed of the analog machine,” whilst also taking full advantage of everything that digital printing can offer.
UV.EB West continues on Wednesday.