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Roldan Graficas: UV Waterless on Plastic

30 Oct 2010 3:39 PM | Keiji Obata (Administrator)
by Bienvenido Andino,
Contributing Editor, Barcelona, Spain

“I have gone to exhibitions over the past 10 years to inquire about the progress of waterless printing for printing on plastic (PVC) surfaces,” states Mr. Albert Roldan when questioned about the reasons why he decided to install a five unit KBA Rapida 74 as the core printing equipment at his company in Tarrassa, Spain (Barcelona).

He has another 2 unit Roland 300 conventional offset sheetfed press. With both machines, his firm produces around 30 million plastic cards yearly. Around 75% of this production is exported to countries like Finland, Holland, Germany and several Arab nations where it is rather difficult for a Spanish printer to conduct business.

“We have trouble selling our products in America since there is approximately a 40% difference against us, although we match and surpass the quality of US printers in our sector. Reasons for the difference are not only due to the exchange rate, euro versus dollar, but also because the raw material (PVC) is cheaper in the States than in Europe.

Roldan senior and junior: satisfied when inspecting a printed sheet delivered by the Rapida 74.

Add to this, the transport costs that, if air freight is used, means a significant extra cost. Shipping by sea may take 8 weeks which, again, is a handicap when the customer, like a supermarket chain, orders 11 million of plastic cards to be delivered within a month.”

Around 30 people are permanently employed, approximately 70% are women, in Roldan Gráficas located in an Industrial Polygon outside Tarrasa (Barcelona).

The company is very experienced in their sector with the cutting edge technology they have developed. One wonders how they reached such a high level of technological capability.

According to Albert the explanation is simple: “If there is a will, there is a way,” when he introduced his company to us. “My father, a typesetter, started the company back in 1992 as a printing shop,” explains Albert while his father roams the factory helping out and keeping the facility in an exceptionally tidy state.

“At 18 we knew that the letterpress printing presses we were using were fading, therefore he pressed to switch to offset starting from zero with a Solna sheetfed press. This was followed by a Heidelberg GTO and finally two 4-unit MAN Roland 300s.

We specialized in the printing and finishing of plastic cards and similar derivatives, while facing a lot of difficulties as such substrates are very complex to print and finish. We were not satisfied with the existing printing presses as they were not reaching the peak quality we were aiming at.”

After a long, intensive study the company decided to adopt the waterless printing system after deciding that it was the best method to achieve the quality their product required.

To obtain the professional feedback from the manufacturer of KBA printing press, Albert paid a visit to the German factory where all technical details were discussed and tests carried with his own substrates.

Then, another visit followed to a printing company in Poland owning a Rapida 74 and printing on PVC in practical industrial operation. Once the facts were assembled, the decision to buy the sheetfed offset machine was made. Already well acquainted with conventional offset printing system, was it difficult for them to switch off to waterless offset?

“Although one week training in waterless printing was included in KBA purchase, we obtained two weeks. After just one week our printers were fully capable in this new way of printing. We left the remaining week for the future. Since then, no more conventional offset print is used for quality jobs produced in our company.”

A large panel of plastic cards in different languages and texts, Cyrillic, Arab or Chinese, demonstrates the international activity of Roldan Gráficas.

In the dry and windy Mediterranean countries, dust is often the major foe the printers must face. The situation is made worse because the plastic surfaces attract the unwanted dust particles.

A completely clean environment is therefore necessary to avoid the problems that may arise from these troublesome particles. In addition to this, Roldan Gráficas’ procedures guarantee accuracy in all the graphic steps, from design, prepress and die cutting to the finished product.

This is not an easy task when bearing in mind that they have to cope with unfamiliar Cyrillic, Arab or Chinese language characters when they print the plastic cards ordered. With such a clean and professional structure in the company, how did the waterless method evolve? How did the printer react to the new system?

“We had to restrain our press crews who wanted to go too far with the new capabilities of the waterless machine because they were excited with the results they achieved.

In addition to the superb tone range, smooth and uniform among all the 80 plastic cards on a printed sheet, they were able to exactly control the dot gain and reproduction curve to obtain colors like red and black which had previously been unknown to them.

Important too was the opinion of the firm’s Finance Director: “We should have bought this machine sooner.” After one year of operation, Roldan Gráficas waits for new versions, to replace the conventional offset printing presses in operation.

A plastic card printer does not survive on quality alone.

How does a firm cope with the strict EU regulations related to safety and environment in addition to those dictated by the local municipality?

In a global market EU companies must face competition of emerging industrial countries (India, China, even from Mauritania and Morocco). These printers manufacture similar products using equipment that lack the extra safety and environmental devices like those required by the EU.

These machines may cost less than 60% of the a machine intended to operate in similar conditions as ones in an EU country. Salaries may also be 50% lower but, does any Spanish Company exporting 75% of their production receive any help from the local Administration?

Not at all; there is none, rather they are charged heavy taxes. Even to put a sign with the name of the company on their building, within their courtyard, duly walled, will require a fee to be paid. A private written request, mailed to the local Administration to verify the fee has not merited an answer, even after 60 days have elapsed from the request date. Will you give up facing so many difficulties? “Not at all,” confirms Albert, “rather we are looking to enlarge the present market offering the new technology we have developed along with the updated machines like the KBA Rapida 74 which is specially suited to print waterless on plastics while allowing environmental benefits. Is it true? The plastic sector has not earned the best publicity among environmental advocates…

The plastic sheets used at Roldan Gráficas generate wastes like the punched hole particles used in the supermarket buying cards. Also they are trimmed to exact sizes before they are delivered to the supermarket chains.

All this waste is recovered by specific companies and, after being extruded, it is used to make irrigation or conductive tubes for liquid transports like the ones used by the municipality substructures.

This does not apply to other materials like polycarbonate cards and derivatives that do not meet the printing quality or finishing performance standards of Roldan Gráficas.

It is unusual for a Spanish printing company to take such extreme care to recycle waste and reuse it for other purposes. But they also eliminate the use of solvents for cleaning the silkscreen stencils and the use of the waterless offset in 90% of their printing activities eliminates IPA (isopropyl alcohol) while avoiding waste water contamination.
The conventional offset printing system has to cope with both of these issues. Even if a substitute for IPA is employed, the VOCs may reach 1,300 ppm (particles per million).

Roldan Gráficas, not only operates in a very sanitary environment using waterless printing on plastic substrates but it is one of the best of around 40 different Spanish printing companies we have visited in the last two years.

Aiming to “Be the best in your own activity” is the target of Roldan Gráficas, a true professional in the art of printing plastic cards with waterless offset all the way from design to finishing. The fact that 75% of their production is shipped to customers in foreign countries like Germany, Holland, Finland or Arab countries is proof of their excellence.

In such markets peak quality is of paramount importance. The USA would also be included amongst their client list if some difficulties could be overcome. While waiting for better opportunities in this progressive market, Roldan Gráficas concentrates in its existing ones.

Being realistic and aware of their own limitations, they will not accept an order of 11 million plastic cards to be delivered within six weeks, as recently required by a western supermarket chain with 100 stores in China.

Aware of emerging technologies available in the market for their needs, Albert does not hesitate to make a trip to Taiwan, stay there for two weeks to inspect a manufacturing process of the machine he has ordered according to the EU regulations or to pay a visit to the KBA factory in Dresden (Germany), to see the Rapida 74, followed by another to Poland to examine the same under actual operation and in a similar activity as the one used by Roldan Gráficas. The same would apply going to Russia to see in operation a brand new plastic card and highly accurate die cutting device.

This is the price an entrepreneurial manager has to pay to stay on the leading edge of technology related to their business. With no practical help from the local government, small town companies like Roldan Gráficas, it is a wonder that the firm even exists in the face of the intense competition of larger firms operating on a global basis.

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