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Technology Focus

Application Equipment at the Dawn of a High-Speed Age

by Jeff Peterson

November-December, 1998
The continued growth of the commercial hologram market, in large part, will not be determined by increased exposure or marketing efforts (although both of these are important,) but by technology. Yes, large applications for registered, image holograms will not increase unless the technology to manufacture, and more importantly, apply holograms reaches higher levels of accuracy and speed.

Holograms have a product life cycle like all products and services. With the enormous growth holograms have realized over the past couple of decades, it is estimated that the market is probably somewhere in the middle of the growing stage in its life cycle. At some point, this growth will slow down, and even level off. If we, as an industry, want to keep this pattern of moving up the product life cycle grid, technology in manufacturing and the application of holograms must keep up with the potential growth.

This article will highlight new equipment and technology that is now or is about to become available to keep up with the growth of the holographic market and help make holograms a feasible choice for all types of promotional and security applications.

In-Line Embossing of Holograms

One of the emerging technologies in the hologram industry embossing holograms in-line as the finished product is being produced demonstrates a step forward in both the manufacture and application of holograms. Only in its infant stage, this technology could soon become a very important part of the entire holographic marketplace.

Currently, most holograms are embossed directly into the foil product before application and then must be applied off-line in a separate process. The in-line production of holograms incorporates the embossing of the hologram and the application of the hologram in one press run, saving hours of production time, and creating markets for holograms that were never thought feasible in the past.

One of these companies that has seemingly mastered the art of embossing holograms in-line is NovaVision Inc., which has been awarded six U.S. patents for the process. The NovaVision process transfers a proprietary hot stamping foil to the substrate, and then, at a separate in-line station, a holographic image is embossed into the foiled area. The most practical use for the NovaVision process is on narrow web rotary presses where the substrate can be printed, foil stamped with the proprietary foil, and then embossed with the hologram in one pass. The NovaVision process on a 24 wide rotary press can run at speeds as fast as 300 feet per minute. NovaVision has also been successfully tested on larger platen presses as well as on cylinder foil stamping presses. Although this requires two passes on press (one pass to stamp the proprietary hot stamping foil and another pass to emboss the image,) it still may be the best choice for certain applications. Sheet-fed jobs that require multiple hologram positions on one sheet may benefit from the NovaVision technology.

NovaVision Inc., based in Bowling Green, OH, was established by Al Caperna, David Boswell, and Ken Jenkins in 1994. It has already licensed the system to several American and European printers, mostly in the security printing arena.

One of the challenges with host stamping image holograms has been the inconsistency of registration marks. Embossing the image in-line eliminates the need for the registration mark because the image is not in the foil roll. It is embossed into a previously foil stamped area. In addition the method of embossing the holographic image on the foil roll before application has sometimes resulted in inconsistent spacing between each image. Again, this can cause a problem for the registration equipment and the operator. Embossing in-line eliminates this possibility as well.

Of course, the biggest advantage that embossing in-line creates is the ability to print, foil stamp, hologram emboss, and laminate in-line in one pass. Conventional methods of host stamping a hologram require3s several stages, from embossing the hologram off-line into the hot stamping foil roll, to applying the hologram off-line with special hologram registration equipment after the printing process. These production costs add up very quickly.

Although there are many advantages for the in-line embossing of holograms, it is not a cure-all for all applications. For example, it is not as secure as other types of holograms because the hologram lies on the surface of the product and can be replicated much easier than a hologram that is embossed into a hot stamping foil or foil label stock. A hologram that is embossed into hot stamping foil or label stock is actually buried within the foil, not lying on the surface. In addition, the NovaVision process cannot achieve a true 3D image as other methods of hologram embossing can. Unlike the traditional hot stamping of an image hologram on platen or clamshell foil stamping presses, in-line embossing has a serious size limitation. The largest image size is restricted to less than a 2 x 2 area. This is acceptable and common for most security applications, but it is usually too small for the promotional use of holograms. Other methods of applying a hologram must be used when stamping larger images.

Rotary F oil Stamping

The largest area of growth for hot stamping in general, is in the rotary hot stamping market. Rotary hot stamping units are being offered with new flexo and UV flexo printing presses or a unit can be retrofitted to an existing press. The rotary hot stamping process, in principle, is similar to foil stamping with a conventional platen or clam shell press. The foil is applied to the substrate with heat and pressure. The key difference is that rotary stamping in done on a web with an engraved brass die verses the conventional sheet‑fed method using a flat die. The challenge with rotary hot stamping applications in the past, for standard foil or holographic foil, has been the enormous amount of foil waste indicative of the process. The foil roll traveled at the same speed as the web of paper, resulting in thousands of feet of wasted foil. And for holographic foil applications, rotary foil stamping was even more unfeasible, because the cost of the holographic product was much higher than a standard gold or silver foil.

Today, units such as the FoilSaver technology from Total Register are available which minimize the foil waste by de-coupling the advance of the foil from the web, so that the foil does not move at the same speed as the substrate moving through the press. Other companies involved with the manufacturing of rotary hot stamping units have developed similar processes as well. Ikela Company, of Sarasota, Florida, which specializes in rotary hot stamping machinery and rotary engravings, now can run three separate webs of foil as small as Q" wide on its rotary units rather than one wide roll. This is important because it creates an additional source for stamping pattern holograms and potentially image holograms that was simply not an option until recently. When the rotary unit could run only one web of foil across the entire sheet width, the use of holographic foils (image or patterns) would be totally unfeasible because of the enormous cost of wasted foil. With the ability to run up to three webs of foil across the sheet, these costs can be minimized. Ikela Company is in the process of working on a rotary hot stamping system that can register image holograms or security and promotional applications that they hope to introduce to the market very soon.

In addition to standard rotary hot stamping units that are making inroads into the holographic market, there are two machines in particular that are related to the rotary hot stamping family, though have taken somewhat different approaches, that look to have potential benefits for hologram applications as well. A German press manufacturer, Steuer Grafische Maschinen, has developed the Steuer Foil-Jet foil stamping press that combines the technology of the rotary hot stamping process with more conventional sheet-fed platen equipment. The innovative rotary design includes a patented, self-optimizing foil program that actually surveys the foil running and controls the foil consumption. The foil program allows sheets to run at optimum speeds of 10,000 sheets per hour without consuming foil at the same rate. Unlike rotary hot stamping, where a web of paper is used, a printed sheet is fed into the press one at a time, much like a conventional platen press. In addition, actual engravings are used on the foil‑jet that are curved to fit the circumference of the cylinder inside the machine. The ability to utilize engravings verses an entire engraved cylinder, prevalent with conventional rotary hot stamping, can save thousands of dollars. Brass engraved cylinders are usually priced between $5,000 to $10,000. The Foil-Jet machine, still relatively new to the market, has recently added registered hologram capabilities. The unit is said to have the capability of foil stamping image holograms with 6 webs at speeds of 8,000 sheets per hour. Every hologram is detected individually with a special registration system that is accurate to .001 of an inch. This is extremely tight registration at very high speeds for hologram production.

Another machine that has recently been introduced is the Gietz Rofo 870 from Swiss manufacturer Gietz & Co. AG. Unlike the Steuer Foil-Jet, the Rofo is a web fed machine, similar to a rotary hot stamping application. The key difference with the Gietz Rofo is that is uses conventional platen principles for applying foils or holograms. This allows the operator to use inexpensive flat dies versus expensive brass rotary dies. It also enables press operators who have operated a platen press in the past to have a much shorter learning curve. Foil can run in both directions as well, providing flexibility to optimize the foil usage. This can be an extremely important feature, especially for more expensive holographic foil applications. Because the Gietz Rofo works on a platen principle, the hologram registration system works much the same way as a Gietz FSA platen foil stamping press, which is a proven system for foil stamping registered holograms. The registration system includes a hologram register mark scanning device that is placed in the middle of the honeycomb chase which reads the hologram mark just prior to stamping the image. In some platen registration equipment, the register mark is read outside the chase, increasing the possibility of registration problems. The Rofo has the capabilities of running image holograms at average speeds of 45 to 55 meters per minute, providing another alternative for high volume, high speed hologram applications.

With the recent introduction of in-line embossing of holograms and the innovations occurring with rotary hot stamping applications, machine technology is seemingly keeping up with the demand for ways to produce holograms faster at lower costs. Although many factors exist which will determine how much more and how quickly the hologram market will continue to grow, there is no disputing that application equipment will play a very large role in the outcome.

InsideFinishing would like to thank Godi Graf, Gietz & Co. AG, 0041 1 833 0133; Dieter Sietz, Steuer Grafische Maschinen, 071116068-0; David Boswell, Nova Vision, 419-354-1427; Peter Kuschnitzky, Ikela Company, 800-536-5352; and Terry Gallagher, Total Register, Inc., 203-740-0199 for their assistance with this article.