The invention concerns a process for curing a UV curable printing ink on a printed material, wherein the printing ink is irradiated with UV light from a UV radiation source. The invention also concerns an associated device for irradiating the printing ink with UV light.
UV curing printing inks contain low amounts of solvent or no solvent, cure when irradiated, and have recently become increasingly important. This is due to the high energy of UV radiation which is particularly advantageous in high speed printing of printed materials, in particular for flat bed printing and letter press printing. They also have practical advantages from a technical applications point of view compared to solvent-containing ink e.g. with regard to their working lifetime, solvent related environmental pollution, and waste disposal.
UV curing printing inks have a UV curable fixing agent system comprising a polymerizing fixing agent or mixture of fixing agents and one or more associated photo-initiators. The polymerization or cross-linking can be triggered by UV irradiation to cure the ink. One differentiates between radical-induced and cationic polymerization. Conventional radical-induced polymerizing fixing agents are based on acrylates, whereas the cationic polymerizing ones are characterized by acid release during UV irradiation. The invention concerns the general curing of UV curing printing inks independent of the particular fixing agent system.
Conventional applications for UV curing printing inks are e.g.: sheet-fed offset printing (e.g. packaging), continuous offset printing (e.g. direct mail advertising), dry offset printing (indirect letterpress printing, e.g. cups and tubes), label printing (letterpress and flexographic printing), flexographic printing (e.g. packaging) and silk screen printing (e.g. technical articles). UV curing, also often referred to as UV drying, has the advantage that the printing inks are solvent-free or of low solvent content and cure rapidly on the printed material under UV irradiation so that the printed material can be promptly further processed or packaged. The invention concerns curing of the printed ink and is therefore independent of the particular printing process used for introducing the printing ink onto the printed material.
Substantial technical requirements are required for the industrial radiation curing of printing ink. Prior art has required very high output power for the UV radiation sources in order to satisfy demands for ever increasing production speeds of 100 to 400 m/min and higher. In multi-color printing, the separation between printing devices must be kept small to guarantee the precise matching of sequential colors without excessive complication and expense. The maximum separations in combination with the high printing speeds lead to extremely short times within which the ink must be sufficiently cured to prevent smearing during subsequent handling. Practical separations between printing devices assume values of circa 0.3 to 1.0 m corresponding to production times between printing stations of about 0.1 sec.
When one considers these stringent requirements it becomes clear that the UV intensity of the radiation source is very important. In order to achieve this, mercury vapor high pressure and medium pressure lamps have been nearly exclusively used as UV radiation sources in practical industrial applications up to this point in time. These lamps facilitate a particularly high UV intensity. DE-3902643 C2 and DE 4301718 A1 provide examples therefor.
The arc lengths of the conventional lamps vary between 10 cm and 220 cm and the specific electric power lies in the range between 30 to 250 watts per centimeter of arc length. The UV light power assumes values of approximately 20 watts per centimeter of arc length. Due to the need for UV transparency, the tubular lamp material is quartz and the lamps are operated with a gas pressure of 1 to 2 atm. In certain cases, lasers, in particular excimer lasers, are also used to produce the UV radiation.
The above mentioned conventional UV radiation sources have the advantage of being able to produce a very high UV intensity on the surface of the printed material to effect very short curing times in the range of tenths of seconds. Excimer lasers have the disadvantage of being complicated and expensive. For this reason, medium and high pressure gas discharge lamps are more widely used. They have, however, the disadvantage that their efficiency of UV light production in the relevant spectral region is only 20%, so that 80% of the introduced energy is dissipative power and must be removed by cooling.
Due to the high power consumption and high dissipative power of the lamps, their surface temperatures are in the range of 800 to 900° C. which necessitates special measures for cooling their surroundings. Since the lamps cannot be immediately restarted after having been switched-off, one must also provide means for preventing the printing ink introduced onto the printed material or the printed material itself from burning when the printing machine is in paused operation. Heat protection glass, which is sometimes cooled, and pivoting reflectors are therefore provided. The power consumption portion of the drying device used in a conventional printing machine having an overall power consumption of 100 kW, assumes values in excess of 50 kW and typically 80 kW.
Conventional use of medium pressure and high pressure lamps is therefore very complicated and expensive and is associated with high power consumption. The associated disadvantages have, however, been accepted in the art of radiation curing printing technology, since one has assumed up to this point in time that very high intensity UV lamps having high UV radiation power were necessary to achieve shorter curing times.
The publication Industrie-Lackier-Betrieb [Industrial Coating and Painting], 1969, pages 85-91 proposes the use of so-called actinic or super-actinic fluorescent lamps to reduce thermal loads when curing UV curable coatings. These are special low pressure lamps having a fluorescent coating which shifts the intensity maximum towards the red to achieve a spectrum having high fractions in the UV-A region. The high UV-A fractions have been considered necessary by those of average skill in the art in order to achieve rapid reaction times. Those skilled in the art of curing pigmented systems such as printing inks were of the same opinion.
JP 59189340 A2 (Derwent reference No. 84-303796/49) proposes a compound for use as printing ink which can be cured by a plurality of different UV radiation sources, including high pressure, medium pressure, and low pressure mercury lamps. The applications described in this publication suggest that the lamps primarily emit in the UV-A or visible spectral region and that relatively long irradiation times, not compatible with rapid industrial production processes, were required.
Departing from this prior art, it is the underlying purpose of the invention to create a process and an associated device for curing a UV curable printing ink on a printed material which avoids the disadvantages of conventional UV gas discharge lamps associated with their high heat production.
In order to achieve this purpose, it is proposed in the above mentioned process and corresponding device to use a low pressure gas discharge lamp as the UV radiation source which has an integrated spectral radiation flux in the UV-B and UV-C region in excess of 50%, preferentially in excess of 75% of the UV radiation flux.
In accordance with the present invention, one has surprisingly discovered that the extremely stringent requirements for radiation curing of printing inks can be satisfied by low pressure gas discharge lamps without—as had been previously considered necessary—having their wavelength spectrum somewhat shifted or substantially shifted towards longer wavelengths.
The range of the UV spectrum as well as its subdivision into various regions are not consistently defined in the literature. Within the framework of the invention, the UV spectrum is subdivided in accordance with DIN 5031, Part 7. It includes the region between 100 and 380 nm, wherein the UV-C range extends from 100 to 280 nm, the UV-B region from 280 to 315 nm and the UV-A region ranges from 315 to 380 nm. Spectral radiation flux refers to the radiation power in watts per nm as a function of wavelength. The radiation flux is a measure of the intensity of the radiation. Integration or summation of the spectral radiation flux over a wavelength interval gives the radiation flux irradiated within this wavelength interval.
Low pressure gas discharge lamps in accordance with the invention are lamps which can normally be operated with gas pressures between 10 mbar and 50 mbar, preferentially between 20 mbar and 30 mbar. Their specific electric power consumption is substantially less than that of medium and high pressure lamps and lies in the range of 0.2 to 2.5, preferentially between 0.5 and 1.0 watts per cm of arc length. Although the low pressure gas discharge lamp efficiency for the relevant UV region is higher than that of conventional lamps and amounts to 30 to 40%, their overall UV radiation flux is substantially less than that of conventional lamps. It assumes values of circa 0.2 watts per centimeter of arc length and is therefore about a factor of 100 less than that of previously used conventional medium and high pressure lamps.
It has surprisingly turned out that UV curing printing inks can also be satisfactorily cured using low pressure gas discharge lamps even when the printing ink is irradiated with a UV intensity of radiation between 1 and 100 mW/cm2, preferentially between 10 and 50 mW/cm2. The UV intensity of radiation of medium and high pressure lamps on the printed material is approximately 1 W/cm2. This radiation intensity on the printed material refers to the radiation flux per unit area incident on the printed material. The printed material can be tilted at an angle with respect to the direction of the radiation. The intensity of radiation has the units of W/cm2.
The use of low pressure gas discharge lamps in accordance with the invention has various significant advantages in practical applications. Their surface temperature is substantially lower. Mercury vapor lamps have temperatures during normal and optimized operation of about 30° C. Amalgam lamps, which have the advantage compared to mercury discharge lamps of having a somewhat higher UV light yield, have temperatures during normal operation of circa 120° C. These lower surface temperatures, in combination with the reduced power consumption, lead to a substantially reduced temperature loading of the surroundings of the lamp and of the printed material.
The reduced heating of the counter-pressure cylinder also has technical advantages, in particular for multi-color printing devices. Up to this point in time, a high degree of complication and expense was necessary to keep the counter-pressure cylinder at a constant temperature. This was of central importance for the quality and execution of the printing process. The reduced temperature loading allows for the printing of materials with UV curable printing ink which could not previously be printed. An example is temperature-sensitive plastic foils (e.g. heat shrinking foils).
The relatively low power requirements of low pressure gas discharge lamps and the technical simplicity of associated cooling allows for the reduction of the fraction of power consumption for the drying unit: in a printing machine having an overall power consumption of 100 kW, to about 10 to 15 kW or less. The power consumption of a medium pressure gas discharge lamp with associated cooling fan assumes a typical value of about 3.5 kW. In contrast thereto, the power consumption of 10 low pressure gas discharge lamps in accordance with the invention, including associated fans, is only approximately 400 W.
In addition to the reduced heat load, the reduced danger of burning, and the reduced power loss, the low pressure gas discharge lamps have the added advantage of being quickly exchangeable. The lamps require nearly no cooling-down time following failure and can therefore be more rapidly replaced. Furthermore, low pressure gas discharge lamps have the additional advantage compared to conventional lamps of requiring little or no warm-up time before reaching stable operating conditions. They can also be restarted immediately after being switched-off and have an intensity which can be regulated. In addition, in contrast to medium pressure lamps, there is no danger that drops of ink or dirt particles burn into the bulb to destroy the lamp. The lifetime of low pressure gas discharge lamps is about 8000 hours, which is at least four times that of medium pressure lamps.
In addition, the amount of ozone produced through operation of low pressure gas discharge lamps is substantially less than that of medium pressure lamps. This is due to the fact that low pressure gas discharge lamps emit little or no radiation at the critical wavelength of 185 nm at which ozone is produced in atmospheric oxygen. In contrast thereto, medium pressure lamps cause substantial ozone production.
In summary, the invention achieves goals which have been sought by those of average skill in the art for a long time. The following measures are preferentially used individually or in combination to assure particularly good results with regard to quality and speed of the configuration as well as with regard to the structural requirements of the printing machine.
It can be advantageous when the integrated UV-B spectral radiation flux is in excess of 50%, preferentially more than 75% of the UV radiation flux. In this case, the lamps are designated UV-B lamps. It can also be advantageous if the UV-C integrated spectral radiation flux is in excess of 50%, preferentially more than 75% of the UV radiation flux. In this case, the lamps are designated UV-C lamps.
Within the framework of the invention, both UV-C as well as UV-B low pressure gas discharge lamps have turned out to be advantageous for the curing process. With UV-C low pressure gas discharge lamps, the radiation flux integrated over the UV-C range can assume values in excess of 50%, preferentially more than 75% of the UV radiation flux. In the case of a UV-B low pressure gas discharge lamp, the corresponding UV-B integrated spectral radiation flux can assume values in excess of 50%, preferentially more than 75% of the UV radiation flux.
The maximum of the spectral radiation flux distribution of the low pressure gas discharge lamps, in particular of the UV radiation flux, can advantageously lie in the UV-B or UV-C region. For a line spectrum, this refers to the wavelength having the highest UV intensity. For a continuous spectrum, this requirement refers to the maximum of the spectral radiation distribution. When the UV spectrum has both lines and continua, this feature refers to the maximum with regard to the line and continuous emission regions.
An additional advantageous feature proposes use of a low pressure gas discharge lamp having an integral spectral UV radiation flux above a wavelength of 190 nm, in particular above 240 nm, which is more than 50%, preferentially more than 75% of its UV radiation flux, in particular of its UV-C radiation flux. It is particularly advantageous when the integrated UV-C radiation flux above a wavelength of 190 nm, in particular above 240 nm, is more than 50% and preferentially more than 75% of the UV radiation flux.
It is particularly advantageous when the low pressure gas discharge lamp emits more than 50%, preferentially more than 75% of the radiation flux of its UV light in the UVC region above a wavelength of 240 nm. The lamp then differs substantially from the medium pressure lamps having their main emitted UV spectral fraction in the UVB or UV-A region. Since not only the overall intensity but also the distribution of the individual lines can be of significance, it is advantageous when the above mentioned conditions apply to wavelengths having an intensity of more than 20% of the UV wavelength of highest intensity. The intensity maximum of UV-C low pressure gas discharge lamps is normally in the wavelength range between 249 and 259 nm, in particular at 254 nm.
The likewise advantageous UV-B low pressure gas discharge lamps are also designated as UB-B fluorescent lamps. They have a phosphor coating which shifts the maximum of the radiation flux into the UV-B region. The maximum preferentially lies above 305 nm. The actual positions of the intensity maximum and of the emitted lines as well as, in particular, their linewidths can be influenced by the phosphor or the phosphor mixture. The possible band widths thereby range from very narrow, nearly monochromatic UV-B radiation up to emissions which nearly span the entire UV-B range. The UV-B low pressure gas discharge lamps advantageously emit in excess of 50%, preferentially more than 75% of their UV light in the UV-B region.
Within the framework of the invention, low pressure gas discharge lamps are generally preferred whose emission spectra are not shifted towards longer wavelengths through the addition of fluorescent materials. This means that neither an actinic nor a super-actinic gas discharge lamp is used. The UV-B lamps are not quite as advantageous as the UV-C lamps, since their light output is lower due to the light conversion step and since the printing ink can be less reactive in the spectral region in which they emit than in the UV-C region. They nevertheless likewise constitute an economically interesting improvement over conventional medium pressure and high pressure lamps.
In accordance with an additional advantageous feature, a plurality of low pressure gas discharge lamps of differing emission spectra can be utilized, in particular a combination of a UV-C and a UV-B low pressure gas discharge lamp.
The advantageous use of low pressure gas discharge lamps having differing emission spectra to produce mixed light can be effected not only by having differing lamps, but also using lamps which are partially coated with fluorescent material. The ratio of integrated UV-B to integrated UV-C radiation flux can lie between 0:1 and 1:0. A higher UV-C fraction is however normally preferred for the above mentioned reasons.
The fixing agents of conventional UV cured printing inks are normally tuned to the particular radiation of the UV radiation source. One would therefore expect that conventional printing inks are not suitable for the invention and that special fixing agent systems or, in particular, special photo-initiators would be necessary which are tuned to the UV spectrum of the low pressure gas discharge lamps used in accordance with the invention. It is clearly possible for one of average skill in the art to develop printing ink compositions and photo-initiators which are optimized and specially tuned to low pressure gas discharge lamps. It has however surprisingly been discovered within the framework of the invention that good curing results can also be achieved using conventional printing inks. This is particularly true for e.g. the XKC-Series UV-Flex inks of Gebruder Schmidt Druckfarben, Frankfurt, in particular of type 80 XKC 1004-1.
A printing ink is, by way of example, suitable for the process in accordance with the invention which has a fixing agent system containing the following components: a) one or a plurality of cycloaliphatic epoxy resins as curable fixing agent and b) one or a plurality of arylsulfonium salts as photo-initiators. A cycloaliphatic epoxy resin is a cationic curable fixing agent. Clearly, the ink can also contain additional conventional components such as additional photo-initiators, solvents, pigments, dyes, thinning agents, reactive thinner, wax, leveling agent, wetting agents or other additives.
In accordance with an additional advantageous feature, component b) contains a triarylsulfonium salt. It is thereby preferred when the triarylsulfonium salt contains a triarylsulfoniumantimonate, in particular a triarylsulfoniumhexaflouroantimonate. One can advantageously further provide that the component b) contains a mixture of different arylsulfonium salts. The printing ink can also contain other fixing agents in addition to the cycloaliphatic epoxy resin.
Printing technology primarily uses radical curable printing inks, since these provide, when irradiated with conventional medium pressure lamps, a drying time which is shorter than that of a cationic curable printing ink. The radical curable inks have the additional advantage that their chemical composition can be widely varied. However, the most prevalent fixing agents absorb mostly in the UV-C range. As a result, only a small amount of printing ink reactivity can be effected even with photo-initiators absorbing in the UV-C region. In contrast thereto, the fixing agents used with cationic curable printing inks are substantially transparent in the UV-C region. A high degree of reactivity can therefore be achieved even with a UV-C or UV-B low pressure gas discharge lamp. Cationic curable inks based on epoxy resins are preferred within the context of the invention for the above mentioned reasons. Radical curable inks can however also be used.
It is generally advantageous to cure a printing ink with the printing process in accordance with the invention which has fixing agent components which are substantially transparent in the UV-C or UV-B regions of the UV-light from the low pressure gas discharge lamp. In this manner, deeper layers can also be reached by adequate amounts of UV light. This means that the absorption curve of the fixing agent should be shifted towards shorter wavelengths compared to standard fixing agents used in medium and high pressure lamps. Offset printing is associated with typical layer thickness of 1 to 3 μm and flexographic printing with layer thickness between 3 and 8 μm. In addition, the squeezed edges have a thickness of at most 20 μm. The fixing agent should therefore be sufficiently transparent up to a thickness of 20 μm. This implies that the transparency of the fixing agent is preferentially sufficiently high up to this layer thickness that it does not absorb more than half of the incident UV intensity of the low pressure gas discharge lamp. Accordingly the system of fixing agent and photo initiator is such that preferentially more than 10% of the UV light is absorbed up to a layer thickness of 20 μm.
The properties of the fixing agent, in particular its transparency to the UV light used and the reactivity of the fixing agent and photo-initiator system are of particular importance for the use of a printing ink within the context of the invention. In addition, as is usual, the individual components should be mixable and mutually compatible so that no spontaneous reactions are triggered. Filling agents and additives can be used in liquid or solid form and are subject to the same requirements with regard to UV light transparency as is the fixing agent.
The pigments can be organic or inorganic in nature. Inorganic compounds are generally solids and organic compounds can be solid or liquid. The concentrations and absorption properties of liquid pigments should be appropriately adjusted. This is also true for solid pigments with which additional grain-size dependent scattering effects can occur.
The printing ink should be sufficiently reactive to the UV light and capable of activation by same. This is particularly true for the photo-initiators which should be sufficiently reactive in the wavelength range used. The reactivity has two aspects. First of all, the UV light absorption must be sufficiently large. In addition, the photo-initiators should also properly transfer or feed the absorbed energy into the corresponding radicals (radical polymerization) or acids (cationic polymerization) to initiate the chain reaction for polymerization. The photo-initiator should therefore be present in suitable concentrations and be sufficiently absorbing. It must also be capable of transferring the absorbed UV light energy to the monomers for both radical as well as cationic curing.
It is also possible to use a plurality of photo-initiators in one printing ink having different absorption properties. The chain reaction initiators then differ from the light absorption activators.
It is generally advantageous to cure a printing ink having fixing agents largely transparent to the UV light emitted by the low pressure gas discharge lamp with photo-initiator components which highly absorb the UV light emitted by the low pressure gas discharge lamp, which are reactive and which can also be activated in this wavelength region. It is therefore generally advantageous for the fixing agent and photo-initiator components of the printing ink to be composed and adapted to each other in such a manner that the printing ink can be cured up to a layer thickness of 20 μm using the UV light emitted by the low pressure gas discharge lamp.
It is furthermore preferred when the printing ink has a high reactivity even at room temperature. In the process in accordance with the invention, the printing ink is heated only slightly or not at all. The temperature during UV curing is preferentially not higher than 40° C. Conventional high and medium pressure lamps have substantially higher temperatures and associated application related disadvantages.
In accordance with an advantageous feature, the time duration of the UV irradiation curing of the printing ink is less than 2 seconds, preferentially less than 1 second. The short printing ink reaction time advantageously allows for the realization of high production speeds or smaller separations between the individual printing stations. The reaction time is thereby that time which passes until the surface of the printing ink is no longer sticky so that the printed material can be printed in additional printing stations or otherwise processed. The curing time can be substantially longer. With radical curing printing inks, the curing time is not substantially longer than the reaction time. For cationic curing printing inks, the UV irradiation normally only initiates the process, i.e. pre-cures. Subsequent complete curing can be rapid or could also take up to 24 hours. As mentioned, the short irradiation time or reaction time is not only of significance for the printing of an increased number of objects per unit time, rather also in multi-color printing. The passer problem associated therewith necessitates small separations between printing stations and associated rapid intermediate drying to prevent spreading of ink.
The amount of time during which the printing ink is irradiated with UV light depends on the speed with which the printed material and associated printing ink move relative to the low pressure gas discharge lamps for UV curing as well as on the area irradiated by the low pressure gas discharge lamps. With the method in accordance with the invention, printing processes can be advantageously carried out with which the printed material moves with a path velocity of more than 20 m/min., of preferentially more than 40 m/min., and particularly preferably of more than 50 m/min.
The use of low pressure gas discharge lamps in accordance with the invention, in particular in combination with the above described UV curing printing inks, has turned out to be particularly advantageous in flexographic printing. This is true for all flexographic printing machine concepts which can be classified as follows:
1. The multi-cylinder printing machine is a rotating type having four or six individual printing devices associated with one station, in particular for printing a plurality of colors.
2. The tandem printing machine is a rotating type with each printing device disposed in its own individual station.
3. The one cylinder or central cylinder machine is a rotating type having the printing device disposed about one common central counter-pressure cylinder.
The device in accordance with the invention for curing a UV curing printing ink on a printed material by means of which the printing ink is irradiated with UV light from a UV light source, in particular for carrying out a process in accordance with the invention, is characterized in that the UV radiation source comprises a low pressure gas discharge lamp whose integrated UV-B and UV-C spectral radiation flux is in excess of 50%, preferentially more than 75% of the UV radiation flux. A device of this kind is subsequently designated with the conventional name “drier”.
Depending on the application, the drier can include one or more UV radiation sources. If a plurality of UV radiation sources are used, these could be the same or of differing types. It can also be advantageous in certain special cases to provide for conventional radiation sources in addition to the low pressure gas discharge lamp. The exclusive use of low pressure gas discharge lamps is preferred. An advantageous feature proposes that a drier comprises more than four, preferentially more than eight, low pressure gas discharge lamps.
An advantageous embodiment can be particularly characterized by the fact that the drier comprises a plurality of adjacently disposed low pressure gas discharge lamps. In this fashion, a high UV radiation intensity per unit area on the printed material or a smoother spatial illumination can be effected. Alternatively, a relatively large area can thereby be illuminated. The low pressure gas discharge lamps can be bar-shaped. However, it is preferred when the drier comprises a plurality of U-shaped low pressure gas discharge lamps disposed next to each other at the longitudinal sides of the U-shape. U-shaped low pressure gas discharge lamps have the advantage of effecting a relatively high illumination intensity. The low pressure gas discharge lamps can be arranged in particularly close proximity to another if they are disposed in alternately opposite directions. The open and closed ends of the U-shape form an alternating series and the open ends having electrical contacts can be connected to electrical contact elements without having the separation between the low pressure gas discharge lamps be limited by these contact elements.
The separation between the lamps and between the lamps and the printed material is preferentially subject to the requirement that the radiation intensity in the plane of the printed material within the principal effective region, i.e. excluding e.g. the entrance and exit zones, is as homogeneous as possible. If the printed object is moved along a transport direction and/or rotated in the curing zone, this condition applies to the time-integrated intensity during passage through the drier.
The low pressure gas discharge lamps can be disposed at close relative separations to effect a compact assembly and/or to realize a homogenous irradiation intensity which deviates by less than 30%, preferentially by less than 20% from an average value. The low pressure gas discharge lamp bulbs can even touch without mutual separation. The separation between the bulbs of the low pressure gas discharge lamps preferentially does not exceed 30%, preferentially not more than 20% of the low pressure gas discharge lamp bulb diameter.
The separation between the low pressure gas discharge lamps and the printed object should be sufficiently large to prevent contact with the lamp in case that the position of the printed object should be subject to variations. A reasonable practical minimal separation is 1 cm. The upper limit of the separation between the surfaces of the low pressure gas discharge lamps and the printed material can advantageously be less than 5 cm.
It is furthermore preferred when the device comprises a reflector for reflecting the UV light emitted by the low pressure gas discharge lamps onto the curing printing ink. The reflector can be used to reflect UV light for UV curing which is not emitted by the low pressure gas discharge lamps in a direction towards the printed material as well as to effect a more even illumination of the printed material. If the printed materials are extended, the reflector is preferentially disposed on that side of the low pressure gas discharge lamps which faces away from the printed material to reflect the UV light emitted by the low pressure gas discharge lamps in a direction towards the printed material. If the printed material is not an extended flat object, it can also be advantageous to dispose a reflector at that side of the printed material facing away from the irradiation source to more evenly illuminate the printed material at all sides.
Reflectors disposed at that side of the low pressure gas discharge lamps facing away from the printed material are also known in the art for use with medium and high pressure lamps. They normally comprise metal plates and can be pivoted to reduce the heat load on the printed material during pauses in the operation of the installation. A reflector in accordance with the invention can, in contrast thereto, preferentially be stationary. The heat loading of the printed material caused by the low pressure gas discharge lamps is not severe. Since the lamps can be immediately restarted, they can also be switched-off if necessary. The reflector is therefore less complicated and less expensive.
The reflecting layer of the reflector can be assembled from planar portions. In a preferred configuration which is particularly easy to manufacture, the reflector comprises one single planar reflecting layer. If the reflector is also stationary, the configuration is particularly simple to realize.
Improved optics can be achieved in other advantageous configurations in which the reflecting layer of the reflector has concave portions curved with respect to the low pressure gas discharge lamp. In addition, the reflector can be arranged in a conventional manner at a separation from the low pressure gas discharge lamp. The reduced surface temperature of the low pressure gas discharge lamps also allows for the reflector to be in line or surface contact with the low pressure gas discharge lamp. In this manner, a very compact construction of the drier is effected which nevertheless has increased light output. Surface contact can advantageously occur over 30% to 60% of the surface of the bulb or of the periphery of a cross section through the low pressure gas discharge lamp respectively. The optimal values for each case depend on the size of the printed object and its separation from the low pressure gas discharge lamp.
It can be advantageous when the reflector comprises a dielectric mirrored layer to achieve a high degree of reflection. A dielectric mirrored layer is a multi-layered system of optical coatings for increasing the amount of reflection. The reflector itself can thereby be fashioned from metal, glass or another suitable material.
The reflector is preferentially diffuse reflecting in order to achieve a more even spatial irradiation intensity on the printed material and i.e. comprises a reflecting layer made from optically diffuse reflecting material. Optically diffuse reflecting materials are materials which, due to their composition, diffusely reflect incident optical radiation or diffusely pass penetrating radiation. They can therefore be designated as Lambert surfaces or Lambert radiators. They are usually mat white.
The optically diffuse reflecting material can be made from conventional ceramic plate or from metallic reflectors having a roughened, metallic reflecting surface (e.g. aluminum plates). A coating can be used comprising, in particular, a transparent material containing diffuse reflecting particles such as barium sulfate, titanium oxide or magnesium oxide.
A particularly advantageous feature proposes that the optically diffuse reflecting material of the reflector reflecting layer comprises a matrix made from a transparent matrix material consisting essentially of a curable silicone rubber with imbedded reflecting particles. A material of this kind is optically, chemically, biologically, and thermally resistant, is insensitive to soiling and can also be easily cleaned. It has a good resistance to aging and has high transparency, in particular to UV.
The matrix material in accordance with the invention consists essentially of silicone rubber. By essentially is meant that the silicone rubber does not contain any amount of foreign materials which would be intolerable for obtaining the desired properties, so that the properties of the matrix material are determined by the silicone rubber. As a rule, the matrix material normally consists of silicone rubber having a standard commercial or preferentially higher purity of e.g. in excess of 95%.
In principle, all conventional silicone rubber is usable within the framework of the invention. A suitable silicone rubber material can be selected which has the necessary matrix material properties in dependence on the application. Both condensation cross-linked as well as addition cross-linked rubber may be used.
Silicone rubbers can be advantageously poured to facilitate inexpensive creation of arbitrary shapes for various applications. Other economical production processes, such as extrusion, are advantageous and possible. The thin liquid curable silicone rubber is initially processed and vulcanization subsequently occurs to form a cured, solid matrix material. For most applications, it is advantageous when the Shore A hardness of the cured matrix material assumes values in accordance with the DIN standard 53505 of between 20 and 90. The matrix material has an advantageous intrinsic solidity in this range.
In accordance with an advantageous feature, the reflecting particles are present within the matrix material in powdered form. For most applications, the reflecting particles should be homogeneously imbedded in the matrix material. For special applications, it can however be advantageous for the concentration of reflecting particles in the matrix material to increase or decrease with depth.
All conventional diffuse reflecting substances are suitable for use as diffuse reflecting particles in accordance with the invention. Examples of such diffuse reflecting substances are magnesium oxide, aluminum oxide, titanium dioxide, polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon (R) or silicon dioxide (Aerosil (R). Barium sulfate has turned out to be particularly advantageous within the context of the invention.
The diffuse reflecting particles substantially include one or more of the above mentioned substances. By substantially is meant that other particles are not present in the material or are only present to such an extent that, for the actual application, the diffuse reflection properties are determined by the particles to satisfy the particular requirements in each case. The particles are normally contained within the matrix material as pure substances having a high commercially producible purity, e.g. in excess of 99%. A high purity and homogeneous distribution can be particularly advantageous in optics applications. The particles of each substance can have one grain size or comprise a mixture of differing grain sizes to achieve special spectral properties.
The reflecting particles in the material in accordance with the invention can comprise only one of the above mentioned substances or can be a mixture of two or more differing substances. For production related technical reasons, an admixture of particles of only one substance is preferred. In special applications, in particular for effecting a specific spectral dependence, it can however be advantageous to utilize a mixture of differing substances and/or a mixture of differing grain sizes.
The grain size of the above mentioned particles advantageously lies substantially between 1 μm and 100 μm: for the case of silicon dioxide (Aerosil (R), between 10 nm and 200 nm. Substantially thereby means that the average value of the grain size distribution lies in this range. Since the grain size of particles or of powder has a certain tolerance or grain size distribution in dependence on production processes, a small amount e.g. up to 5% of the particles can also be present which lie outside of the above mentioned size range.
The full width half maximum of the actual grain size distribution can be critical in certain applications and rather insignificant for other applications. Trial and error can determine which particle sizes and particle size distributions produce the desired reflection properties for the actual case at hand.
The material in accordance with the invention has the advantage of having a wide range of applicability. It can be easily manufactured and tailored mechanically and optically to the case at hand. It can be self-supporting and of nearly arbitrary shape or be securely disposed on a substrate, wherein it can level and cover unevenness in the substrate. It is optically, thermally and biologically stable and temperature-insensitive. It can be easily cleaned and absorbs little light. The actual properties can be optimized for the particular application requirements. In addition, it is easily and therefore inexpensively processed. The hardness can be adjusted within a wide range to facilitate many differing applications. For example, flexible mats of suitable stability can be produced e.g. by molding which have arbitrary curved and bent shapes. The material can be easily worked and mechanically processed. It can be solid or flexible and can also be glued. Shaped objects can be molded or produced by injection molding. The material has no intrinsic color and therefore does not disadvantageously influence the spectrum. The surface of the reflecting material facing the emitted light must not have the mat finish required with conventional materials. It must not have a “molecular roughness” in order to effect good diffuse reflection performance. For this reason, it can be molded in a mold having a smooth surface.
The material in accordance with the invention is preferentially produced by mixing of the particles into a liquid matrix material under vacuum. In this manner, a vulcanized material can be produced without bubbles.