With its microprocessors, relays, sensors, and software, a modern printing press is a marvel of digitally controlled automation—all in the interest of squeezing time and cost out of production runs. But, one maker of press cleaning accessories contends that these complex systems can still get a big helping hand in a key press function from a simple but strategically placed strip of durable plastic.

FlexoConcepts supplies doctor blades and anilox cleaning systems for flexographic and offset presses. Its technological emphasis is on assuring print quality and print manufacturing efficiency by keeping press parts scrupulously free of whatever shouldn’t be clinging to them when one job changes over to the next. Meeting that objective, explains Kevin McLaughlin, president of FlexoConcepts, is what drove the development of the QuikWash System—a retrofittable accessory aimed at improving a routine but crucial stage of presswork in every offset printing plant.

McLaughlin notes that although offset press automation has speeded up job changeovers, ink roller washup remains one of the most time-consuming parts of the process. For most printers, the trend to smaller run lengths has increased the number of jobs they must perform, correspondingly increasing the frequency of roller washups. Running PMS colors in addition to CMYK also means more rollers to clean before the next job can be put on press.

As with nearly everything else that takes place on a press, there’s an environmental consideration as well. Roller washes contain VOCs, and it’s ironic, says McLaughlin, that printers are expected to scale back their consumption of VOC-bearing consumables at the same time that changes in print procurement are obliging them to perform more roller washups.

No Moving Parts

As a mechanical solution for better ink roller cleaning, the QuikWash System could scarcely be less complicated—it consists of just a washup blade in a clamp that’s designed to be attached to the existing washup trays of a press. The system’s effectiveness, says McLaughlin, lies in the TruPoint™ DeltaFlex™ blade, formed from a plastic that makes the blade significantly more resistant to wear than standard rubber-tipped metal washup blades. In UV applications, says McLaughlin, the DeltaFlex plastic also is “completely impervious” to the swelling, cracking, and other damage that UV fluids inflict upon rubber-tipped blades.

But, the TruPoint DeltaFlex blade’s defining characteristic is the small, fine area of contact it maintains with the roller during washup—smaller and finer, says FlexoConcepts, than the contact area of a rubber-tipped blade, which expands as the blade wears. Like the doctor blade that cleans the anilox roller in a flexo unit, the TruPoint DeltaFlex blade maintains even and precise contact across the full width of the roller, optimizing the speed and the efficiency of the washup.

The result, according to FlexoConcepts, is washup completed in one cycle vs. the two or more cycles that might be required with rubber-tipped blades. Using calculations based on a six-unit press in which one unit is washed twice daily, a white paper from the company projects an annual savings of nearly $13,000 per washup unit with the QuikWash System from reductions in press downtime, labor, and solvent consumption and disposal.

Butter Knife vs. Razor Blade

The white paper claims, in fact, that the QuikWash System can reduce annual solvent and disposal costs by up to 50%. The savings, according to McLaughlin, stems from the fact that the DeltaFlex blade, with its smaller, finer contact area, distributes solvent across the roller more frugally—but also more completely—than a rubber-tipped blade. The contrast in performance, he says, is “like the difference between shaving with a butter knife and shaving with a razor.” 

The clamp and the washup blade can be installed by press personnel using standard tools (this video, depicting an earlier version of the QuikWash System, shows how). The DeltaFlex blades are about equal in price with rubber-tipped blades, says McLaughlin, and, depending on the number of washups performed, should last longer. The white paper claims that at its most severe point of wear, the contact area of a DeltaFlex blade is still substantially smaller than that of a new rubber-tipped blade.

The QuikWash System has been available in its current version for about 12 months, following its launch with the DeltaFlex blade in the U.S. and Japan. About 1,000 of the units have installed, mostly on 40" equipment such as Heidelberg’s Speedmaster CD 102 and SM 102 platforms. The product is compatible with nearly every type of offset press, says McLaughlin, adding that he didn’t see any new machines at drupa 2012 with which the QuikWash System wouldn’t also work.

QuikWash Gets Long Looks

He says that the product met with “a fantastic reception” at drupa, especially from distributors eager to help FlexoConcepts bring it to market He also reports that four of the six major offset manufacturers—Heidelberg, KBA, Komori, manroland, Mitsubishi, and Ryobi—are evaluating the QuikWash System as a press enhancement. Although most of the installed units are at work on older, out-of-warranty presses, McLaughlin hopes that trials by the OEMs will enable the product to be shipped factory-installed on new equipment as well.

McLaughlin knows that because many new presses come with automated ink washup systems as standard features, some printers might question the need for an add-on like the QuikWash System on late-model machines. His reply is that while the press manufacturers have done a good job of improving the efficiency of the washup cycle, they are still looking for ways to make it faster and less costly—as evidenced by the interest that the four OEMs have taken in the product.

McLaughlin is confident that the press makers will see the desirability of offering the QuikWash System to their customers. “It’s a simple solution that has a very big benefit,” he says.