PhoseonTechnology has grown to become the leading manufacturer of UV LED Curing for printing systems. Linked to the growth of inkjet, this innovative exhibitor has a unique view on the industry and a compelling tale of growth and innovation. We talk to Rob Karsten of Phoseon, who was around from the start and now leads this dynamic company in the European market.
When did Phoseon start out and have you always been involved in inkjet?
“Phoseon started lifeback in 2002 with 3 core products the MX, FX & RX. The MX product was for MEMS inspection technology and they also developed LED light sources for this. We developed in-line inspection systems for MEMS wafers and had some very big clients including companies such as Bosch, Motorola & ST Micro who used these sophisticated machines for in process wafer inspection. It was very successful but had a limited market such as life critical MEMS for air bag sensors. Most of the world’s air bag sensors are inspected using Phoseon technology. We eventually capitalised on that technology and used the money to reinvest in something new.”
Enter 2004 and Rob Karsten joined the company to build the business in Europe.
What kind of company were they back then?
“At the time they were focusing on MX and RX (Radiation) and we had initially planned on going into the CD industry. However right about this time the CD industry collapsed! Although of course this posed a challenge, the beauty of a small company is you can change direction very quickly. We noticed that at almost the same time, the inkjet industry started to grow. So we quickly changed direction and we focused on developing products for inkjet printing which was for us quite easy as we were already talking to the inkjet players.
We discovered that they had a lot of draw backs with some of the available curing techniques in terms of heat generation, weight and maintenance which could be effectively addressed by UV LED. We thought there was an opportunity but the industry didn’t have the right materials and we needed to find partners that were sufficiently motivated so they could develop the correct materials to work with us. So we had found a problem that needed solving, but didn’t immediately have the solution. All we needed todo was bring all of these factors together with the right materials and UV LED became the right light source for most applications for digital printing.”
So no one else had this kind of technology?
“Not for InkJet, Phoseon pioneered this and we remain the leaders in this technology today. 14 years on from this time and we have a substantial company based in Oregon and now have a major presence in Europe. We have highly qualified sales people with technical backgrounds and their role is very focused on OEM sales so we work closely with them and materials to develop our existing products whilst introducing new products as well.”
What is your approach to product development?
“Culture wise we are very collaborative and with end users to ensure we have the right technology and what we learn from the market so it is robust and industrialised. Over the years we have been pushing the boundaries of the technology. We can still have technology running for 60,000 hours at 80% output! So we have very robust product that continues to improve that is built from our learning over time.
As I said the strength of the product is in the accrued knowledge over time. And this knowledge does not grow on trees!! It is not possible to copy the product in terms of performance because of the design rules, the selections, the materials, the processes and a lot of this is information that we had to create and develop a lot of this from scratch over time.”
How have you grown as a business?
“The people and culture is a really enjoyable one to be part of. We have a low turn-over of staff as Phoseon is a nice company to work for, with no primadonna’s and it makes life very really straightforward. We always listen carefully to our customers and what they are telling us then create, manufacture and adapt where necessary.
What we have seen now is that we are successful with an approach totally dedicated to UV LED curing for digital printing. We can see now that the traditional ARC lamp providers are offering competitive products so we now see that it is a real industry and shows for healthy and strong market. But we still dominate the market in terms of the numbers of units. We have the best part of 60,000 light sources worldwide and a manufacturing capability to deliver against that. I guess to make a UV LED light source is not difficult. However can you make 10,000 of them, reliably, repeatedly and consistently? Probably not.”
So UV LED is a new technology when compared with ARC. What is the difference?
“UV LED has competed with ARC lamp systems which were the incumbent technologies. Thereare also systems that are solvent based that use thermal drying. One of things we have noticed is that UV LED is an enabler and we have converted considerable amounts of the industry to UV LED and enabled a lot of new industries to be able to do things with UV curing that couldn’t be done with ARC lamps due to high temperatures, ozone damage and radiation risk.
As well as digital inkjet printing, we have a substantial amount of business in screen printing, flexo and offset printing and we are seeing a lot of growth and interest here. What we see with most of these technologies is the fact the technology is great at saving energy and improving productivity. The systems are typically marginally more expensive but the real advantage is the fact that customers have achieved greater productivity and that is the key as energy savings alone is not enough. If you start to look at all of the productivity cycle of a manufacturing process, if a product can help here then it is going to be popular.”
What is the key advantage with LED and why it is more efficient than ARC Lamps?
“LED is simply more precise. There is much less waste and the quality of curing doesn’t’ deteriorate. It is becoming even more compelling with constant evolutions of the technology as well as the new technology we are introducing. For example, we have just launched a new product called ‘Target Cure’. For more information link here http://uvledcommunity.org/articles/targetcure-technology
This new product enables us to take a lamp and set it at any particular required level. The lamp calibrates itself to work at optimum and it can stay flat for tens and thousands of hours with virtually no variations in output. In contrast, with an ARC lamp or poorly designed LED systems you will see degradation almost as soon as you turn it on and you will need to change light sources. This is increasingly important with the demand for low migration ink which is a big issue in food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. You need low migration ink, substrate and set up for press and a stable curing system that can really achieve this.”
What other innovations would you like to share some information on?
We have other products we have that are either recently launched or close to launching. The first is ‘Whisper Cool. This is a product for air cooling for LED. For more information link here http://uvledcommunity.org/articles/whispercool-technology
Then the FL 400 which a scalable water cool system. And this is all for LED. At the end of the day, it is down to the customer preference and this is fairly even but the highest performance is water cooled and is far more compact for production.” And the recently released FE400.
What is going to be big for the future in your opinion?
“Low migration is a big issue for digital print and packaging. As a result the major ink suppliers are introducing low migration ink systems for LED. If you have a stable predictable light source with consistent output you remove a number of variables from this process – so the curing allied to the inks is crucial.
If you take a look at the big companies you can see they have low migration inks (IJ, Screen & Flexo) for LED, including: Agfa, Siegwerk, Paragon, Flint, Nazdar, Hapa, and Marabu. It is a big issue for food, cosmetics, pharmaceutical etc. and I think this is set to grow in line with this trend.”
So you obviously think LED is the future?
“We do. The advantages are considerable over ARC which is why we really think that the ARC lamp market is decreasing.The business model for ARC Lamp is selling the lamp for a low cost and making up the low cost by selling the maintenance and spares. For us the goal is to sell something that may have a higher installed cost initially but which is more cost effective in terms of its performance overall. Then they can fit that and the ongoing maintenance cost is lower (90%) and the yield of productivity improvement is 20% more.
I believe that LED will move forward at a rapid pace, it will become more affordable, it will deliver a better ROI and become even more reliable. Phoseon is well positioned as we have a whole company focused upon LED!
The other thing that has been critical is we came to a point with the performance of the light sources were good enough to coincide with improvement of the performance of the materials – we developed the light sources with mainstream performance and it is where it is going now.
This obviously means we are not confined to paper which is why we have been part of the InPrint Show from day one. We are now involved in glass, metal, paper, packaging it doesn’t matter what the substrate is.”
What does the future hold?
“If you look at what we term as Industrie 4.0. This means by definition customisation of products in branding or customising products to consumer demand. And this means a much more flexible manufacturing process. When digital print quality and speed improves it puts more pressure on conventional processes. However way you look at it you will always need a static production type and the analogue segment will still be needed because this will continue to be used. In addition these analogue presses have become more flexible and competitive and they have embraced digital by becoming ‘hybrid’. But this is where LED has also been a really good fit for them also it has helped analogue become more flexible. It is not untypical to get 20 different job types in a day and you save significant amounts of time in a day in terms of warming up and cooling down because LED is literally a switch on digital technology.”
What future markets do you see as becoming increasingly important?
“From an inkjet point of view we see direct to container printing as very important to our growth working with a lot of those customers and this is a super important area.
Wood printing is interesting and things are beginning to happen here but the packaging market is the really interesting one in my opinion. I see this as the really crucial. However the volumes, speed and the low migration challenge is a really important issue. This will have an important role to play for packaging.
Security printing is another interesting one. It is very difficult and for that reason it is of interest to the security companies and this becomes more difficult for them to do. And they use LED and it is growing and challenging.”
What issues do you think may be holding back development?
“Knowledge is an issue in that there is not an abundance of it within this technology space, especially for inkjet. You will have to learn as you go. Also there are not so many entrepreneurs as it is capital intensive and it takes a long time to build an inkjet system a lot of engineering expertise. This is a challenge as entrepreneurs will have to have a lot of capital behind them. You have some really good companies out there who can help people develop inkjet systems to put on their manufacturing platforms and we perhaps need more of them to provide that link from base technology and take someone’s existing platform and integrate this and there aren’t too many companies that do it well. For example. Industrial inkjet have a level of expertise that is really valuable for a lot of companies and have been able to build a really credible business.”
How do you deal with the issue of not enough knowledge?
“We also set up LED community which we have linked a couple of definitions to already.
This helps people understand the technology, ask questions, see recent developments and reallybe part of what we are trying to achieve – this as well as plenty of events that we either host or we take part in to share the knowledge, promote the technology, develop and improve. We believe that being part of the industrial print community and being part of events such as InPrint is really important and an essential way to build our profile, connect with our community and broaden growth for industrial print.”