By David Lindsay
Attendees at Print 01 — or at least those eager to gain competitive advantage by evaluating the newest of new technologies — may have done well to learn about a concept that has been 30 years in the making: the Subtractive Keyless Inking (SKI) technology presented in the modest booth of Arlington, Texas-based Epic Products International (www.epicproducts.com).
The family owned business is best known for the Delta Dampening System, a continuous dampening technology perfected in the 1980s that is now licensed by most major press manufacturers. It took decades for Epic CEO Harvey Dahlgren, his brother, Harold, and other family members and associates to create the Delta system as it exists today. Continuous dampening, the method of choice for many of the industry’s hickey-haters, has become the firm’s niche.
But, with all the attention Delta has received since its launch, another Dahlgren innovation, an inking system using a single-form-roller, nearly languished. Harvey Dahlgren had devised the system in the 1960s as a way to eliminate ghosting.
“The original concept worked,” he said, “but there were problems,” among them excess ink on the form roller creating
variations in ink densities and, ultimately, in color consistency.
Enter subtractive inking, a patent-pending technology that uses a roller for the express purpose of removing excess ink from the form roller after each impression. For each impression, a fresh, uniform ink film is applied.
“This reduces dot distortion, allowing exact duplication of the plate image. It ensures color consistency, side to side and gripper to tail, with every impression,” according to a company brochure.
The system has already been installed at least one print shop, and is now commercially available from Epic as a retrofit to sheetfed or web presses.
Lose your keys
Epic’s innovation, while in tune with a trend to streamline presses that might one-day use retrofitted digital-imaging heads, is out of key with many manufacturers’ approach to inking. The industry’s most prominent inking advancement of late has been computer-controlled presetting of ink-keys based on CIP3 data. SKI, according to Epic Chief Operating Officer Max Dahlgren, eliminates the need for ink keys altogether. While SKI also eliminates a press operator’s ability to vary ink density across the sheet, Dahlgren also noted that it provides a uniform and consistent density job after job after job.
The single-form roller concept has been explored by other pressmakers, although not in conjunction with Epic. According to Max Dahlgren, however, without the key element of a subtractive roller, the concept can be problematic.
“The subtractive part of this technology, which continuously removes and recycles excess ink from the form roller back to the fountain, is the key element,” he noted. “The subtractive part of our technology removes excess ink left on the form roller after it has transferred ink to the plate, making it possible to achieve an equilibrium.”
The end result, he added, can be presses that come up to color in four or five sheets, consistency throughout the run, and “a simplified wash-up that significantly reduces VOC usage.”
When dampening dries up
Commercial availability of the SKI system comes at a time when the firm must plan for changes in how its core dampening system product is sold. Currently, Epic and Baldwin Co., which markets the Delta Dampening system, receive licensing fees from pressmakers who install Delta on new presses. Epic also does its own retrofits internationally to presses that did not come with Delta.
As more and more printers buy new presses already outfitted with Delta dampening, the firm’s base of retrofit customers will shrink. Moreover, the Delta system’s exclusivity in the market will likely disappear once its patents expire.
By then, of course, Epic hopes to have a new base of customers for its SKI technology. SKI is being sold as a retrofit for sheetfed and web presses, with the hopes that it, like Delta, will one day become a feature that is licensed by pressmakers and included on new machines.
In the meantime, however, there are trade shows to work, starting with Print 01, where the Epic staff set up camp hoping to impress passersby. Already, said Max Dahlgren, initial response has been extremely positive. He noted that representatives from some large, nationally known printers came to the booth, and went away saying SKI “was one of the most significant
technologies at the show.”