Olympus Print Group embraces hybrid future

Hybrid LED/Arc curing and uniquely configured flexo-inkjet press shows 'future proofing' at work at the growing UK label converter.
Olympus Print Group invested in pioneering installation of GEW's LeoLED UV system and a 12-color Nilpeter-Domino hybrid press with in-line foiling

Olympus Print Group has embarked on a new round of investments which includes a pioneering installation of GEW’s LeoLED UV system and a 12-color Nilpeter-Domino hybrid press with in-line foiling, now offering shrink sleeve as well as label production.

Since L&L’s last visit to Olympus, the company has moved into a new, bigger factory in Pudsey near Leeds with a 55,000sq ft floor space. A phased program of expansion has seen a new press installed every year for the last four years. Olympus now boasts a fleet of six modern Nilpeter FA-4* presses configured with rotary screen and foil/embossing, and a growing digital capability including a new hybrid press line and a wide format point of sale division. To maximize efficiency a new MIS was recently installed. 

Although Olympus’ main target market has been high-end health, beauty and cosmetics (HBC), it operates across a wide range of sectors including premium beers, wines and spirits and household products and is BRC certified.

Managing director Adrian Brown takes the long view in growing the Olympus Print Group, placing a great emphasis on future proofing wherever possible. 

‘I have to anticipate where my customers might go,’ explains Brown. ‘Then we are speaking all the time to our suppliers to understand where they are going, as you do not want another surprise around the corner. They are all helping to make sure we go down the right road for the future.’ 

Hybrid curing

Olympus’s decision to become one of the first users of GEW’s LeoLED hybrid LED/Arc UV system, launched at Labelexpo Europe 2019, reflects this approach and helps promote a number of goals which are central to the company’s future direction.

LeoLED employs GEW’s established ArcLED hybrid UV technology, which allows the use of a conventional UV arc lamp or LED array on the same print unit. Both arc and LED cassettes are compatible with the same power supply and fit in the same housing for ease of change. GEW’s Rhino control enables any combination of curing technologies to be used on the same press. 

LeoLED brings several new features to the ArcLED system. The wider 50mm window gives a longer dwell time and is waterproof-sealed for easy cleaning. It is also resilient to dust and ink ingress. The LED array delivers electrical power at 88W/cm and an intensity of 25W/sq cm, with minimal light loss due to the direct UV path. A water-cooling system is integral to the unit.

‘Reducing energy costs and our carbon footprint are both very important, and LeoLED has already had a great impact,’ says Brown. ‘We are seeing power savings of 55 percent and at the same time we can run our presses faster. Results on white and cold foil with LeoLED have been superb.

"Reducing energy costs and our carbon footprint are both very important, and LeoLED has already had a great impact. We are seeing power savings of 55 percent"

‘UV LED also means a better working environment. Lamps don’t have to heat up or cool down and do not waste energy on standby like conventional UV. With LED it’s instantaneous power, on and off.

Although the initial costs of a UV LED array are higher than an arc lamp, lamp replacement costs are dramatically reduced due to the longer life of the LED diodes. GEW’s UK sales manager Chris Nuttall says the expected lifetime of a UV LED array is around 20-30,000 hours, ‘but since introducing LED in 2014, not a single LED lamp in the field has reached end of life, so even greater lifetimes are likely possible. Add that to the other advantages of LED-UV lamps, like less maintenance and they do not have to be specially disposed of, plus lower power consumption and no emissions to deal with. For all these reasons we are seeing a big upswing in LED adoption, with the sheet-fed market growing particularly strongly.’

One of Olympus’ 8-color Nilpeter FA-4* presses is equipped half and half with conventional arc and LeoLED cassettes, which has allowed useful comparisons to be made. ‘We saw 30 percent cost savings just from those four LeoLED units,’ reports Brown. ‘We are always mixing and matching, plugging lamps in and out. Typically, on metallics we will use arc and LED for varnish and white.’ 

Up to now one of the barriers to the wider adoption of UV LED has been the price premium on inks and coatings, but Brown is optimistic. ‘It’s true that the inks are still more expensive than conventional UV, but prices are being driven down – in fact they have halved in less than six years. The cost of ink will come down further as more printers adopt LED.

‘Our positive experience with the LeoLED-equipped flexo press gave us the confidence to buy our new hybrid press with LeoLED UV LED curing throughout. In the future as prices go down we will put more LED lamps on more presses, and If we got another press now it would get fully fitted with LeoLED.’ 

Increased use of UV LED curing, with its reduced heat load on the web, also fits well with Olympus’ recent move into shrink sleeve production – and could eliminate the need for chill rolls in the future.

Hybrid press

The other significant ‘future proofing’ investment at Olympus Labels has been a new 12-color hybrid press. This is uniquely configured with a Domino N610i 7-color print engine, four Nilpeter FA-4 UV flexo print units and FA-4 converting units including in-line foiling and Nilpeter’s new semi-rotary die-cut unit. This operates at speeds up to 120m/min, so is well able to handle the Domino N610i’s top speed of 70m/min. 

Before installing the new press, Olympus already had six years of digital printing experience under its belt. The digital print division consists of a standalone Domino N610i digital press, working with a highly specified off-line ABG Digicon 3 converter. Olympus also runs a wide format POS division mainly producing signage and other marketing collateral.

‘The standalone digital line was whipping through work, but there were still some inefficiencies from two machines which are solved by putting work straight through in one pass,’ says Brown. ‘One of the main reasons for sticking with Domino is that its double-hit white capability and high resolution mean it fits very well into our main market, which is health and personal care. The digital white competes well against conventional screen whites in most applications.’

"This is an exciting initiative for us, as for the first time it allows designers to specify unique combinations of flexo, digital and cold foil on shrink sleeves"

The unique configuration of the hybrid press once again demonstrates Brown’s commitment to strategic future proofing. ‘We agreed on 420mm wide print converting units, in line with Domino’s 340mm wide digital printer. When we are then ready to move up to next generation 420mm Digital Units that come to market, we will be already prepared.’

Brown also believes that in the future more digital print units will hit the 100m/min mark, and the semi-rotary die-cutting unit will still more than match those higher speeds. 

Olympus has now announced the start of shrink sleeve production on the Nilpeter-Domino hybrid press. ‘This is an exciting initiative for us, as for the first time it allows designers to specify unique combinations of flexo, digital and cold foil on shrink sleeves,’ says Laura Quigley, sales and marketing executive at Olympus.

Despite inkjet now being such a well-established technology, Brown says some customers in the HPC sector remain unconvinced about quality levels compared to conventional print processes. ‘One example was a major relaunch for a retailer where it was specified the labels must only be printed UV flexo. However, after consultation and a range of trials the range was successfully launched printed fully digital and indeed subsequent sub ranges were specified to be produced digitally.’

Andy Thomas

  • Strategic director