Raise your hand if any of the following sounds even a little bit like the way you think:
- ✓ It’s OK for anilox rolls to be rode hard and put away wet because we use them every day, so ink never dries in the cells.
- ✓ Our anilox rolls are fine because press operators wipe them with a rag between jobs.
- ✓ An excellent product for cleaning anilox rolls is Easy-Off Oven Cleaner.
- ✓ If we’re are out of Easy-Off Oven Cleaner, engine degreaser from the local auto parts store or Walmart does a great job.
- ✓ Our press operators clean the anilox rolls once a quarter—or maybe even once a month—whether they need it or not.
- ✓ The press guys don’t mind adjusting the press to get the color right if the anilox rolls aren’t delivering their stated or expected ink volume. And moreover, as a business owner I don’t mind increasing press time and waste.
- ✓ Chemicals and cleaning tanks are too expensive.
- ✓ Cleaning rolls on or off press is extra work we just don’t have time for.
- ✓ I always mean to order cleaning chemicals but forget. Besides, the rolls look okay.
- ✓ It’s easier to send rolls out to be cleaned once or twice a year than it is to do it in-house.
- ✓ Re-surfacing and buying new rolls is just a cost of doing business.
If you raised your hand to any of these you’re not alone, because not taking good care of anilox rolls is business as usual in all too many label, packaging and corrugated printing operations. And it costs you money. Every day.
Not a Sexy Topic
The care and feeding of anilox rolls is not a sexy subject, and certainly not one that keeps printers awake at 3am. But it is one that — when not approached with some care and forethought — can cost money and result in loss of business. You’ve heard before that anilox rolls are the heart of a flexo press. After all, they are, in conjunction with the plates, the spot where ink meets the substrate. The better this intersection is controlled, the better the product that comes off the back end of your press. Think about it. The cells in anilox rolls are designed to hold a very specific amount of ink for transfer to the printing plates. If the amount of ink is incorrect, the printed product you provide won’t be what your customer expects. Your team, of course, can adjust the press based on the amount of ink the cells can hold, so the labels or packages come out looking okay. That’s just business as usual. But how much time is really needed to adjust the press if six 4-BCM anilox rolls are delivering volumes of 2.8, 3.0, 3.6, 3.4, 3.0 and 4.0 BCM, respectively? How many feet of substrate is wasted while your press crew gets color up? How much time and labor is added to the job—time you cannot bill for? And how do you budget for swapping the roll that only delivering 2.8 BCM for a newer one after the brand critical spot color just won’t come out the way the client expects? Sure, it always takes some time to get up to color, and you can plan for all or most of this in advance, but suppose there could be a greater level of certainty on every job?
There is a curious mix of indifference and passion when it comes to color accuracy, and to be fair most printers get it right. But the path to correct color is not always easy. On one hand, printers respond to customers’ demands for accurate color management and use a variety of practices and tools to make sure the end product they deliver is always right. Jobs are adjusted and tweaked in prepress. Color management is used with an eye to matching colors within just two delta E, and presses are adjusted to provide the exact color required. It all takes time: an extra 20 to 30 minutes in prepress, and maybe a like amount of time on press. Then the customer shows up for a press check and two of the six, eight or ten colors need closer attention. You budget for some of this, but a bit more time is always lost than you’d like and it shows up as a thinner margin. Multiplied by say, a dozen or so jobs per week and it begins to show up on the bottom line. Quick question: How much of that lost revenue that could be used in better ways?
Clean anilox rolls can play a big part because they make getting all the colors accurate faster and easier. A number of Anderson & Vreeland customers have highly standardized practices that are most visibly reflected in the handling of their anilox rolls. They carefully document the life of each roll from the moment it first enters a shop until it is retired. They know the precise capacity of the cells in each roll. This makes choosing the best rolls for a job easier, lets them get to color faster, reduces waste, and lets them turn a job around faster. All of which shows up on their balance sheets.
Clean rolls matter
A key part of these best practices is keeping all their anilox rolls clean. There are four key ways to do this, based to some extent on the kinds of printing you do. The most common and least expensive process for quick cleaning is using a cleaning solvent and the appropriate brush. Be sure the brushes you use are the right ones for the job so you don’t damage your valuable anilox rolls. Talk with your roll supplier for their recommendations. Nylon and brass bristles are generally best for minimizing damage to the surface of the roll, but unless used daily with appropriate solvents will not always ensure optimal longevity of the rolls. For that you need somewhat more involved techniques.
Think of it as baking soda on steroids. This is the best option for big anilox rolls, like the huge ones used for corrugated materials. Usually done on-site by a company such as Eaglewood Technologies, a special cleaning powder is blasted under pressure onto rolls that are mounted on a press, as each roll is rotated. After a few passes the roll is clean and the used powder and dried ink is removed and the press has a full set of clean rolls and is ready for the next job.
Lasers are misunderstood. While they can be used measure the size of rooms, work as pointers for presentations, and engrave complex patterns on dies, labels, and create the miniscule cells on anilox rolls. It’s all about the frequency of the light and power of the laser being used. Tuned correctly, the same light can remove dried ink from anilox cells without damaging the roll. In some instances—such as severely neglected rolls— laser cleaning may require sending rolls out, but savvy shop owners are snapping up laser-powered anilox roll cleaning systems so they can do it internally. Most rotate rolls out of service on a predetermined schedule, knowing rolls that have been cleaned will look and work great. This provides peace of mind and improves productivity by reducing waste and letting you get jobs up to color faster.
Another approach is ultrasonic, which uses very high frequency sound waves. This is not unlike the treatment the carburetor in your lawn mower or snow blower gets when you forgot to drain the two-year old gas out of it before putting it away for the season. In the case of anilox rolls, the roll is placed in specially designed cleaning tank that has an ultrasonic transducer that emits a sound wave of a specific frequency through the solvent, enabling it to clean dried ink out of the tiny cells in your anilox rolls. No amount of brushing or soaking can match the power of ultrasonic cleaning, and with eco-solvent and an ultrasonic transducer this can be done in your shop as a regular best practice.
A critical part of a roll cleaning strategy is monitoring everything. You need to measure and track the condition of your rolls with regular, accurate evaluation of their condition. This can be done using a device such as the Troika ANICAM which provides microphotographs of anilox cell interiors and evaluates the roll surface so you know whether a roll needs a deep cleaning or may be nearing the end of its useful life. The AniCAM provides an automated report that shows changes over time so you can track the condition of every roll in your plant. Combined with regular cleaning practices, such tracking and reporting helps prolong the useful life of anilox rolls and puts more money on your bottom line.
At Anderson & Vreeland we don’t promote any specific anilox roll cleaning products or technologies, except those that makes the most sense for your business. We offer the chemicals, the brushes, the lasers, the tanks, and also partner with Eaglewood Technologies for both onsite and off-site cleaning options. Our goal is to help your company produce the best possible labels, packaging and corrugated containers. Clean anilox rolls are a crucial part of this and we can help you make sure yours are ready to deliver the best possible product you can produce. Call us to find out more.