Select UV LED partner

Manager’s Guide to Choosing a UV LED Curing System Provider

Each converting UV curing process, while similar to others, has unique requirements and parameters based on many factors such as the substrate, specific chemistry, web speed and width, etc. So it’s important as you begin investigating the feasibility of UV LED curing for your converting operations to find partners, both equipment and chemistry, who can help guide and support you along the way. Let’s discuss how to find the right partners and, the primary considerations and top 7 questions to ask when selecting a UV LED curing system provider.

How to find the right partners

Even in the initial feasibility stage it’s a good idea to enlist help from both chemistry and UV LED curing system providers because you’ll get better, more realistic information for your specific situation. In addition, you can begin assessing and comparing providers and building relationships with those who are the best fit to help you through testing, trials, and production start-up.

Here are 4 steps to find the right partners:

1. Talk to industry peers, your existing chemistry formulator, and/or UV curing provider to get their recommendations.

2. Visit  RadTech North America’s website and/or attend a UV curing  industry event to learn who is active and knowledgeable in formulating and UV curing for your specific converting application.

3. Create a short list of 3 to 5 UV LED curing system and chemistry providers who meet your key consideration requirements (see below).

4. Narrow the list using the top 7 questions found below.

Primary considerations for selecting a partner

System integrator versus solution provider - UV LED curing system providers typically fall into one of two camps -- they are either a system integrator who buys the UV LED curing equipment from a third party, or a UV curing solution provider who makes a turnkey curing system using their own UV LED curing equipment. In either case, the system provider incorporates the UV LED curing equipment into a complete system with housing/mounting, power supplies/controls, light shielding, and anything else needed to mount and operate the system on your converting line.

A system integrator (and you) must rely on their UV LED supplier for new innovations in LED curing technology and risks associated with changes in form factor, power needs, controls, etc. While the system integrator may have a close relationship with one UV LED curing equipment supplier, there is the risk of finger pointing between the integrator and their UV LED supplier when something goes wrong. Using a UV curing solution provider eliminates this risk, but does “lock” you in to their UV LED technology. So be sure the company has a solid financial backing, deep research and development capabilities, and a long-term commitment to UV curing.

UV curing process expertise and capabilities - You’ll need partners who have UV curing process experience specific to converting applications and the capability to run  lab testing, and pilot line or in-plant trials . UV curing testing, when done correctly in the lab using UV LED curing equipment just like that which will go on your production line, easily scales to pilot line and production processes. This minimizes risks during start-up and helps ensure production rates and return on investment (ROI) meet expectations. Having the capability to run testing in the system provider’s lab or using loaner UV LED curing equipment on a pilot line, yours or elsewhere, is critical to feasibility analysis and production success. Most UV LED system providers can provide a list of pilot lines, toll coaters, formulator labs, etc. where their UV LED systems are available for running tests.

A UV LED curing system provider should also be able to point you to possible chemistry formulators specific to your converting application and help you create a shortlist. Learn what experience and capabilities the system provider has to help with installation, operator training, and start-up.

After sale support – Even in the feasibility stage it’s important to think about what support you will need after the new UV LED curing process is in production. Think about whether you’ll need maintenance services, staff training, troubleshooting support, consignment spare parts, etc. If you have multiple plants across the country or even globally, make sure your partners can support all of your operations no matter the location. As your production and operations change, consider what services you will need and assess how time consuming and expensive it will be to adapt the UV curing system to your changing needs.

Top 7 questions to ask prospective UV LED curing system providers

As you begin narrowing down your list of potential UV LED curing system providers, be sure to ask the following questions to get a better idea of their capabilities and fit for your needs.

1. What is your experience with UV curing for converting applications and how do you go about supporting feasibility and process development?

2. What lab testing capabilities do you have and how do you support pilot line or other in-plant trials to ensure the new process works and will deliver production rates and the ROI we need?

3. How quickly can we get an idea of feasibility and then how long typically to develop a final process and install equipment?

4. What operator, maintenance and training support do you offer and is it regional or global?

5. What is the typical Total Cost of Ownership of your system over five years and how flexible is it for changing production needs?

6. Is your UV LED technology your own or a 3rd party’s, and what is the roadmap for adapting the curing system to take advantage of the latest in LED chip efficiency and other technology or system advances?

7. How long has your company been providing UV curing systems and how many resources are dedicated to research and development?

UV LED curing feasibility to ROI

The opportunity exists to increase production rates by as much as 10% or more by retrofitting or adding UV LED curing to your converting line. Choosing the right UV LED system provider is key to minimizing downside risks and ensuring ROI. Now that you know how to find and select a UV LED curing system provider, you can feel confident asking these top 7 questions as you narrow down and select the best provider for your needs.

Assigning a  Process Development or Design Enginee r to investigate a conversion from traditional UV curing to UV LED curing?  These resources will help them get up to speed more quickly.