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Because of its versatility Roland DG’s machine can be used for a wide variety of applications, including Braille printing

When Roland DG unveiled its Versa UV LEC-300 in August last year, it had a specific target market in mind. Traditionally, the manufacturer pitches its products to the sign-making sector, but since last summer, a number of customers have been putting the machine to new uses.

“We knew in the back of our minds that this product could be dynamite for markets that we didn’t know about,” explains Mathew Drake, UK print product manager at Roland. “And we have found that the product is getting interest in niche markets because it is so versatile.”

These niche markets range from Braille printing to the production of faux leather handbags. Labels, prototypes and point-of-sale material have also been run through a machine that virtually has the UV printer/cutter sector all to itself, according to Drake. “We have found a gap in the market,” he adds. “We have always advocated print-and-cut as part of an effective workflow.”

That gap meant that the LEC-300 became the world’s first UV inkjet printer/cutter, according to Roland. The 30in-wide roll-to-roll machine was given its UK debut at Total Print! Expo last October and since then there have been several sales. Roland reckons that it can pitch the machine at any print firm keen to boost their product range and says that the work that the LEC-300 can carry out allows companies to give value-added services.

“We’ve had a lot of interest from commercial printers,” says Drake. “Their margins are being squeezed and if they can introduce a new application to their customers, they can charge a premium. For that market, the LEC-300 would be a sound digital investment.”

Roland believes that the one-pass finishing capabilities of the machine will give companies a much-needed edge. The options include kiss-cutting or die-cutting while products can be either matt or gloss finished. This holds particular appeal for companies wanting to produce prototypes, a sector Drake expected the LEC-300 will play well to. But other short-run markets have caught Roland by surprise. The incorporation of Braille into labels is one example.

“Its ability to print raised images means that it can handle applications like Braille,” says Drake. “This is useful for the pharmaceutical market where its products have to incorporate Braille on the labelling. With the LEC-300, you can print both the Braille and the text on one machine, as opposed to using separate printers.”

“The advantage is that it’s only one machine to print, gloss, varnish, emboss and cut the graphic,” adds Brett Newman, UK head of product management at Roland.

Environmentally friendly
Under the bonnet of the LEC-300 is some pretty smart technology. The machine incorporates two solid-state UV LED lamps, arranged in a staggered configuration. The LED lamps can be turned on and off instantly and are ready to use as soon as the machine begins operating. According to Roland, conventional curing systems can take up to 10 minutes to reach the targeted output level.

“Our LED lamp technology uses less power and has a higher consumable lifespan,” says Drake. “It is more environmentally friendly.”

The LEC-300’s lamps last up to 10,000 hours, which Roland claims is 10 times longer than conventional UV lamps. There is also less heat involved in the process – not quite the energy-sapping 800°C required by conventional UV lamps.

It’s also the staggered lamp configuration that allows for the two clear-coated finishes. When gloss finish is selected, only the right lamp is used for curing; according to Roland, this allows enough time for clear coat droplets to spread and form a smooth surface that reflects light evenly. For a matt finish, both lamps are used, curing the clear droplets shortly after they land on the media, forming a ‘rough’ surface that scatters the light.

Bringing all of this together has been a time-consuming process. Roland says it could have rolled out its UV technology much earlier than it did, but the manufacturer wasn’t convinced that the conventional technology was that efficient. It already had in place effective inkjet capabilities.

“In terms of the inkjet head, we have gone down the piezo route,” explains Drake. “It has a very fine droplet size and creates a stunning resolution.”

On the ink front, Drake believes that the LEC-300 has another advantage. “It’s effectively a one-stop shop. There is no need to change the inks for different materials.”

The machine prints CMYK plus an opaque white and clear coat in both gloss and matt finishes. It uses Roland’s own Eco-UV ink, which was specially formulated for the LEC-300’s curing system. The combination of inks gives the high-gloss finish while it can also aid scratch and chemical resistance for greater outdoor durability. That said, Roland admits that the core market for the LEC-300 is indoor, not outdoor work. Without a clear coat, print will last just six months outdoors but, with a UV coating, it can last for a year, the company claims.

Latest engine
Like the inks the front end of the machine is also pretty special. The VersaWorks RIP is based on the latest Adobe CPSI engine and was developed by Roland. The software allows users to select either dual-pass or single-pass print modes for white ink applications.

Another advantage is the range of substrates the machine can print on. Roland says the LEC-300 can handle PVC self-adhesive vinyl for wraps, paper for labels, decals, point-of-sale displays, posters, synthetics, interior décor fabrics, foils, PE, PET film and offset printing stock.

“People are buying the machine with a particular material in mind to print,” says Drake. “It has also been very well received by the textile graphics market.”

Newman adds that more straightforward markets include proofing, packaging and signage. “Each sector can significantly add value,” he says.

And that is the thrust of Roland’s sales pitch: the LEC-300 is a device that will make you money. According to Drake, the cost of producing a prototype on a machine is estimated at around £10 ($14) to £20 ($28). He argues that this represents significant reductions and means that businesses can offer this service at a premium.

Future developments could help drive the machine into wider markets. Drake says that Roland has already been trialling alternative substrates on the machine including leather and aluminium and he believes that the next generation of Roland printer/cutters could go wider than 30in while an increase in speed could also be on the cards.

With the market currently all to itself, Roland plans to make hay while the sun shines. Early indications suggest that firms have taken a keen interest in the LEC-300 and are using it to create all sorts of weird and wonderful products.


Specifications

Media width                30in
Max speed                   5.4m2 per hour
Max resolution           1,440dpi
Inks                              Eco-UV
Imaging method        piezo inkjet
Number of colours     5 plus gloss special effect
Price                             $ 54,000
Contact
Emirates Computers
+971 4 321 6000

the alternatives

Mimaki CJV30-160 printer/cutter
While the LEC-300 was making its UK debut at Total Print! Expo, another printer/cutter was on show for the first time. Mimaki has made its first inroads into the sector with the launch of the CJV30-160 series. While it’s not a UV machine, Mimaki’s product is considerably cheaper than the LEC-300 and covers four widths: 24in, 39in, 51in and 63in. The machine is distributed by Hybrid Services and, unlike Roland, Mimaki has been in the UV market for some time. The CJV30-160 comes with a two-year warranty. It is possible to run the machine with eco-solvent inks.

Media width                                   24-63in
Max speed                                      17.5m2 per hour
Max resolution                               1,440dpi
Inks                                                 SS21 solvent ink
Imaging method                            piezo inkjet
Number of colours                        four
Contact                                      
Signtrade L.L.C,
+971 4 268 1828                     
www.signtradeonline.com

 

Mimaki UJV-160
Another option from Mimaki is the UJV-160, a UV roll-fed machine. Unlike the LEC-300 it doesn’t incorporate a cutter but, according to Hybrid Services marketing manager Duncan Jefferies, the machine is a much more “practical size”. It is currently a four-colour machine and the UV flexible has been developed in partnership with 3M. “Flexible UV ink is a big deal as unlike solvent and aqueous inks, traditional UV ink is brittle and has no ability to stretch,” adds Jefferies. The UJV-160 comes with Mimaki’s RasterLink Pro 4 RIP, which features 16-bit rendering as standard.

Media width                                   60in
Max speed                                      7m2 per hour
Max resolution                               1,200dpi
Inks                                                 Mimaki UV ink
Imaging method                            piezo inkjet
Number of colours                       four
Contact
Signtrade L.L.C,
+971 4 268 1828
www.signtradeonline.com