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Oct 1, 2003 12:00 AM
Printers expect a lot out of their printing blanket. How does it handle solids and halftones? Does it have good ink and sheet release? Does the gauge remain consistent on press? Is it stable on press? How well does it recover from a smash? How well does it clean up? As Axel Thien, consumables product manager for Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA), humorously observes: “You want to have a blanket that fulfills all these criteria and has a good price/performance ratio.”
These requirements aren't surprising. Because the blanket is where ink touches paper, registration and dot reproduction are crucial. Runnability and durability are important too — shutting down a large web press to change blankets could cost the printer more than the blanket itself.
And though the cost of a blanket itself may not compare to that of a press stop, Rian Kelly, vice president of manufacturing for ProLine Printing (Pineville, NC), estimated at a Web Offset Conference seminar this spring that consumables may make up the second biggest expense in the printing process. The quality of, and compatibility between, consumable pieces can therefore directly affect the bottom line.
Today, the need for high-quality printing blankets is greater than ever, due in part to the growth of CTP, UV- and hybrid-ink use, and interest in environmentally safe printing. Some pundits credit the growth of CTP with an attendant rise in stochastic screening popularity, since digital platemaking largely eliminates registration and dirt issues. While attention is most frequently paid to the plate in these environments, Bill Branson, business director for blankets at Day International (Dayton, OH), points out that blankets do play a role: “You have to know how stochastic screening affects the dots — and it does,” he says. “The pattern is irregular; you're dealing with smaller dots.” Ink and water balance can create issues in stochastic, Branson says; piling is a typical complaint.
Adds John Kirtsey, director of sales for Reeves Brothers (Spartanburg, SC), “With stochastic screening, you're going to a 300-line screen. You need a blanket that gives you excellent dot reproduction, so you don't have a fat or fuzzy dot.”
Blanket manufacturers report anecdotal evidence that requests for UV and other specialty-printing blankets have also been on the rise. Scott Poyner, general manager for Phoenix North America (Fords, NJ), for example, reports that UV is currently Phoenix's strongest market. UV and coating have been the two areas with the greatest growth for MacDermid Printing Solutions (Atlanta), as well, according to Doug Rich, general manager of MacDermid's commercial-blankets business. Heidelberg, which outsources its blanket production, is also evaluating possible candidates to manufacture a Heidelberg-branded UV blanket, says Thien.
“It's not that there's a major overall shift to UV,” explains Kevin Kennedy, national sales manager for DYC Supply (Virginia Beach, VA). “But it's becoming more popular because customers are looking for that higher quality [in printing].”
UV presents challenges on the blanket end, though. “With UV, the rubber compound on the blanket has to be able to withstand the aggressive chemicals and UV washes and inks. You can't mix UV inks with a conventional blanket, or conventional inks with a UV blanket,” Poyner explains.
Kennedy notes, however, that with more printers switching between UV and conventional work, and with the advent of hybrid inks, most manufacturers are coming up with a blanket that offers that dual use. Observes Jon Hutchins, technical support manager for Duco (distributed in the U.S. by NDI [Rockland, MD]), “Hybrid blankets that can perform with conventional and UV ink systems have been developed to complement EPDM UV compounds.”
Some printers are additionally contending with environmental pressures. “There's an overwhelming need from the account level to reduce VOCs,” relates Eric Gutwillig, vice president of marketing for Prisco (Printers' Service) (Newark, NJ). “The problem is that when you reduce the VOC levels of blanket-roller washes, you tend to produce chemicals that aren't effective cleaning agents and may even produce residue on blankets that's difficult to remove.”
Though perhaps not noticeable to most printers — who are known for finding a blanket that works and sticking with it — manufacturers thankfully continue to tweak their offerings to keep up with such pressroom demands. “If you look at press speeds and demands today, the blankets of many years ago would have done a very poor job,” observes Day's Branson. “Blankets have come a long way — it's just been kind of a slow progression.”
Following are a roundup of blankets and some other consumables for the pressroom.
Day International (Dayton, OH) has created a new blanket technology, DuraZone. Day took a theoretical model of a compressible layer and then maximized all the components. The technology is said to give printers longer blanket life and better print quality.
At Graph Expo, Day introduced the new 5000 series of blankets, built on the DuraZone technology. The line will initially consist of three models: the 5000, a buffed-surface blanket for commercial heatset-web printers; the 5010, also for the commercial heatset-web market but featuring Day's patented textured surface; and the 5500, suited for directory and insert web work. Day intends to apply the DuraZone technology to sheetfed blankets in the next phase of development. A sheetfed blanket based on DuraZone may come as early as Q1 2004.
Duco's (distributed by NDI [Rockland, MD]) latest product is the Dot Master blanket for sheetfed and carton printing. The blanket is said to have a thick compressible layer over a strong, stable carcass. For use with conventional inks, the Dot Master reportedly offers good smash resistance, clean dot reproduction and good cut edge resistance.
The S7630 offset printing blanket from DYC Supply Co. (Virginia Beach, VA) features a new surface rubber formulation as well as fortified carcass/foundation developments. Because of the surface rubber's ink affinity and finish, users can reportedly carry a fuller reservoir of ink to the sheet, allowing for fuller solids and what are said to be cleaner halftones.
The S7630 reportedly resists swelling and staining, due to its new formulation. The fortified carcass is said to give the blanket a stable foundation for smooth image transfer and durability, especially at the gap.
The Gerber Sector automatic coating blanket cutter from Gerber Innovations (Manchester, CT) is a dedicated digital system for the on-site production of coating blankets. Designed for commercial and package printing operations, it comprises software and a coating blanket cutter, which together are said to provide automatic, accurate cutting of blanket sheets used in spot, knock-out and flood applications. The software contains a customizable template library for users to establish individual profiles matching the requirements of each printing press. It also assigns precise cutting parameters to eliminate coating registration problems.
The cutting unit features a high-speed cutting head that can be readily equipped with a pen insert for proofing jobs on paper or polyester film prior to cutting, a polarized sprocket drive that guides the blanket material through without slippage or skewing, and smart knife technology that automatically adjusts for various material depths and knife geometries.
MacDermid Printing Soutions' (Atlanta) Rollin brand name,
already established in Europe, will now be used with its premium
blanket products. The first products to carry the Rollin name will
be Web 64+, Precise, carton Plus and Stabil-X. Introduced at Graph
Expo, Stabil-X uses polymers and synthetic fibers to replace
nitrile rubber and cotton, providing what are said to be
exceptional mechanical properties to the blanket. The blanket is
said to offer higher print quality and longevity on press.
circle 5 or visit freeproductinfo.net/ap
Heidelberg's (Kennesaw, GA) consumables division featured a range of products at Graph Expo. In addition to its Perfect Dot blanket for sheetfed commercial printing, Heidelberg also showed its newly introduced Saphira Caleidoplate 46 plate, an alternative plate material for Quickmaster DI Pro and Plus users. Also on display was a new imposition proofing paper for the Spinjet 5500.
Prisco (Newark, NJ), in partnership with ContiTech, offers a package for commercial web offset printing, consisting of the Priscolith Conti-Air Zenith, Prisco Webfount concentrates and Prisco Webwash blankets and roller washes. The Priscolith Conti-Air Zenith features a special blanket carcass and a patented, “blown cell” compressible layer, which are said to provide unmatched paper control, without overfeeding. The rubber compound is especially hydrophilic, reportedly allowing for very long run lengths. The blanket and Prisco washes have complementary characteristics to provide printers with a total solution.
Prisco also introduces new technology for reducing VOC levels in the pressroom with products for blanket and roller washing. These new products are said to have a high cleaning ability without the greasy-oily residue usually associated with reduced-VOC products. Current available products include Autowash 4300, 5900 and 9070 for manual and automatic systems; the E-Cure Classic NH for both conventional and UV-ink applications; and PES C34 for newspaper web applications.
The advanced Vulcan Alto compressible blanket from Reeves Brothers (Spartanburg, SC) is engineered for high-speed heatset web presses. The blanket features a closed-cell compressible layer that is said to offer instant rebound and consistent performance at high speeds. A three-layer surface provides greater resistance against cuts, abrasions and smashes. The blanket's low-stretch carcass reportedly maximizes on-press stability, helping to prevent costly damage caused by high-speed vibrations.
Reeves' Vulcan ND 999 compressible sticky-back blanket features a proprietary biaxial layer that lets press operators cut and mount the blanket in any direction for easy makeready and maximum yield. Because it is manufactured with a high-strength, woven fabric layer, the blanket reportedly remains stable on the cylinder. The Vulcan ND 999 is designed to print carbonless forms without crushing the ink capsules.
Phoenix North America's (Fords, NJ) new Carat series features an upgrade to Phoenix's blanket-manufacturing procedures. New chemicals are used in the compressible layer; compressibility is adjusted according to the application in question. The blankets reportedly undergo additional heat treatment to facilitate even tighter thickness tolerances and minimize setting behavior. A new chemical additive in the surface layer is said to improve ink transfer while minimizing dot gain. A fabric pre-treatment process reportedly helps achieve low elongation values without damage to the fabric. The result is said to be a higher-quality, higher-end blanket. All of Phoenix's existing blankets will be upgraded to the Carat series and manufacturing process.
RBP Chemical Technology (Milwaukee) has added a complete line of aqueous coatings for both web- and sheetfed applications to its Graphex line of specialty pressroom products. Coatings include gloss, high gloss, matte, work-and-turn, and primer coats.
Creo (Vancouver, BC) has announced it will manufacture, sell and support its own thermal printing plate. On Sept. 11, the company's board of directors approved an agreement to acquire a plate-production facility based in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, from First Graphics (Pty) Limited, for an aggregate purchase price of $11.25 million (U.S.). The transaction is anticipated to close by the end of the calendar year and is subject to the execution of a definitive agreement and the receipt of any required statutory and regulatory approvals.
The Creo Positive Thermal Plate (PTP), which is now available in North America and Europe, will be produced through a combination of wholly owned and outsourced manufacturing. Creo will use its existing channels and global service infrastructure for the sale, distribution and support of its printing plate.
According to CEO Amos Michelson, the plate introduction represents the culmination of a long-term effort to develop its own plate and developer technology. “By selling printing plates as well as equipment, software, services and support, we expect to substantially increase our totally addressable market and improve our competitive capability to offer complete end-to-end solutions to our existing and future customers,” he says.
Jetrion, LLC (Ann Arbor, MI), Flint Ink's new global inkjet product, service and integration company, has introduced a nationwide 24-hour technical-support program. The program is made possible by a recent service agreement with DataJet Services (Norcross, GA), a print service-support organization. Through a channel of experienced DataJet Field Service technicians, Jetrion will coordinate and deliver customized hardware support, networking and training for its customers.
The service agreement includes both preventative maintenance monitoring and a 24-hour response hotline. The hotline will give Jetrion customers access to technical specialists around the clock. Customers are given a local service number to call in case they require immediate assistance. Support technicians will address each case and provide specific troubleshooting solutions to minimize any production downtime.
Blanket manufacturers stress the need for the proper equipment and proper procedures when mounting, cleaning and using blankets. Some things to keep in mind:
Jon Hutchins, technical support manager for Duco (distributed by NDI [Rockland, MD]), stresses that printers should use a compatible wash for their blanket. The wrong wash can reportedly cause tacky blankets, glazing and poor sheet release.
“Make sure your blankets are properly torqued, using the press manufacturer's recommendations,” suggests John Kirtsey, director of sales for Reeves Brothers (Spartanburg, SC). “If you overtorque, sometimes you get too much tension; if you undertorque, then the blanket can come loose and cause the web or sheet to squirm all over the place.”
Eric Gutwillig, vice president of marketing for Prisco (Printers' Service), stresses that printers should use the proper tool for the job: a torque wrench.
“People can improve their blanket life significantly through proper housekeeping,” says Bill Branson, business director for Day International's (Dayton, OH) blanket business. “Dried ink [for example] can cause faces to blister, delamination and more.”