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Green Innovation: Washing up

Apr 1, 2009 12:00 AM

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The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) serves as the air pollution control agency for Orange County, CA, and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

In 2005, SCAQMD mandated changes in the rules regarding the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) permitted in blanket or roller washes. After a series of disputes, in January 2007 the agency gave printers one year to comply with the new rules. Blanket and roller washes could not exceed 100 g/l of VOCs, as of January 2008. In other words, most printers would have to find new washes.

LAgraphico (Burbank, CA) was one of the first printing companies in the South Coast District to comply with the new regulations. The $40 million, 200-employee printer specializes in providing one-stop marketing solutions to the entertainment industry. The 74,000-sq.-ft. plant is equipped with a full range of grand format, digital printing and digital prepress equipment, combined with design capabilities, fulfillment and sheetfed offset printing.

About three years ago, LAgraphico began its quest for a low-VOC solvent. Housing two Heidelberg presses — a CD102 40-inch 6-color and a CD 74 29-inch 5-color — the pressroom uses the Genesis family of pressroom solutions from Amerikal (Waukegan, IL), including fountain solutions, washes and specialty chemistry. Operating with Genesis BRIGL blanket wash, LAgraphico exceeds the SCAQMD mandates with 34 g/l of VOCs.

Less is more

As LAgraphico proves, it is possible — if not simple — to achieve low VOCs on sheetfed presses. But what if you are running 12 web presses, nine of them conventional and three UV? That's the challenge that faced MoneyMailer (Garden Grove, CA). With annual revenues of $120 million, MoneyMailer specializes in direct mail couponing on a national basis. The 275,000-sq.-ft. plant prints approximately 75 million pieces a year and each direct mailer can include up to 60 coupons.

“We achieved compliance before the new rules went into effect,” reports Besher Shameh, press manager for MoneyMailer. “We are always trying to achieve low VOCs; MoneyMailer started that initiative in 2003. In 2005, we tested more than 40 different inks, fountain solutions and washes.”

Working with its ink vendor and Genesis pressroom chemistry, MoneyMailer has reduced VOCs 60 percent in the past two years. “It was a bit of a challenge,” says Shameh. “We have two processes, traditional and UV, plus we use both polyester and aluminum plates. First we needed a fountain solution that works with those four variables. BRIGL blanket and roller wash works with all of our plates and both the conventional and UV inks.”

Although MoneyMailer started testing in 2005, smaller companies that want to be environmentally conscious face different types of problems. Main Graphics (Irvine, CA), for example, is a $6 million printer that caters to ad agencies and design houses. Its 10,200-sq.-ft. plant houses five sheetfed presses: a Komori 6-color, 28-inch with coater; a Komori 2-color, 28-inch perfector; a Heidelberg SM52 5-color with coater; a 2-color sheetfed press; and a Heidelberg Printmaster.

“We became SCAQMD compliant in September of 2007, about three to four months before the rules went into effect,” says Rick Blomquist, general manager. “We knew that in January 2008, we would be required to get VOC levels under 100 g/l. When we started tackling the problem, we were running at 750 to 900 g/l, which we got down to 500 g/l. That was a difficult task in itself.”

Main Graphics tested a wide range of blanket and roller washes, most of which had a high vegetable-oil base. “It was difficult to get the washes out of the rollers, which was affecting roller integrity and print quality,” says Blomquist. “Plus it was taking us longer to achieve optimum color on press.”

Then Blomquist heard about Genesis. “We worked with BRIGL wash to lessen the environmental impact on our 31 employees and to reduce VOCs. And it paid off. Today, Main Graphics is compliant at about 34 g/l.”

Faster washing up for shorter runs

One of the biggest concerns at Main Graphics was washing low VOC chemicals out of the rollers. “It takes a lot more water to rinse the low-VOC products out of the rollers,” Blomquist notes. “Washup with higher VOC chemicals took about 10-12 min. With the switch to lower VOC solvents, it took about 20 min. Therefore one of our largest problem was meeting timelines in a normal shift — especially for the shorter runs.”

Washup times at Main Graphics have improved. On its two larger presses, each equipped with automatic washup devices, press operators wash the rollers manually, as well as using the automatic washup.

Shameh uses the Genesis BRIGL wash along with a calcium remover that keeps paper debris (calcium carbonate primarily) from accumulating on the rollers.

Bob Danielson, Jr., vice president of development for Amerikal, offers some hints on working with the new low-VOC products. “Press operators are used to using petroleum distillates, which evaporate very quickly. However, when solvents evaporate off of the rollers, contaminants remain on the rollers. With BRIGL, for example, printers will need to replace their washup blades. The condition of the washup blades and the rollers is critical to successful use of low-VOC wash-ups. Typically blades should be changed every six to eight months — not every three years.”

Danielson also points out that training is an important part of the process: “When using lower VOC washes, printers have to have a handle on their maintenance procedures. Training on the proper way to perform wash-ups and an awareness of regular maintenance procedures is a must when moving to these low-VOC products.”

Users should review and revise their off-line wash-up procedures. “Low-VOC products can be slippery,” explains Danielson. “[These] press washes appear oily vs. petroleum distillates. Many press operators use the same roller washup products to clean catwalks, floors and sideframes. Use the right product for the task at hand.”

Easier than you might think

As mandates such as those issued by the SCAQMD are likely to spread throughout the country, printers must be prepared to lower their VOC emissions. Shameh recommends working closely with vendors and ink manufacturers. “First, understand your process,” he suggests. “Then find a product that will work for you. Changes will have to be made in your operations, so allow two to three months to get up to speed after the change to lower-VOC products.”

Griffin adds, “Test the products you are considering thoroughly. It will take a few months to retrain your press crew, so allow time to ramp up the switch to low-VOC products.”

“Be very aware of manufacturer's guidelines when instituting the low-VOC chemicals,” advises Blomquist. “Old habits have to be broken, but it can be done. Our transition to the BRIGL wash was error-free. We weren't expecting it to be so easy.”

Contact Jill Roth at

Meet the low-VOC family

Amerikal's Genesis line of sustainable pressroom products, including low-VOC blanket and roller washes, fountain solutions, metering and chrome roller cleaners/desensitizers and other special pressroom chemistry.

  • Genesis fountain solution increases ink mileage, speeds dry times and works with conventional and many types of modern plate technology.
  • BRIGL Wash is suitable for cold set, heatset and energy-curable inks.
  • FASTPRINT is designed for metering rollers or dampening rollers. It has no VOCs and helps desensitize dampening systems to repel ink during the printing process.
  • Metering Roller and Chrome Roller cleaning products promote hydrophilic properties. By using the proper product to clean and desensitize dampening rollers, water transfers more efficiently and ink feedback is reduced.
  • Specialty Pressroom Chemistry includes roller deep cleaner, deglazer and conditioner; plate cleaner and scratch remover; fountain solution system flush and cleaner; ink film stabilizer; ink anti-skin; roller lubricant; and more.


Unexpected benefits

Beyond low-VOC benefits, printers using Amerikal's Genesis family of chemicals report other environmental advantages.

“We are in compliance with the SCAQMD mandates, and our visitors say is doesn't smell like an auto repair shop anymore,” reports MoneyMailer's Shameh.

“There is no odor from the solvents,” echoes Blomquist. “Clients who come in for press checks comment that there is no odor as in many other printing plants. Plus, the quality of our printing has actually improved because we do more deep cleaning of the rollers.”

Amerikal's Danielson also points out that using low-VOC products can reduce the amount of chemicals being used in the pressroom by 50-70%. “You don't need 15 chemicals on hand; only four or five. That means there is less inventory and fewer chemicals to dispose of. You don't have to worry about dealing with disposing of hazardous waste.”