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UV Curing Basics -- What Finishers Should Know

Ultraviolet (UV) curing is an electrically based technology that uses intense UV light,
generated by a high-voltage power supply, to instantly convert UV-curable materials
from liquids to solids. This technology is slowly opening new finishing doorways,
particularly in areas where high curing temperatures pose problems for substrates.
Because of its recent emergence, it’s important to understand the basics of the process.

UV-Curable Materials – UV-curable materials include, but are not limited to, liquids,
powder coatings, inks, sealants, adhesives, and other materials specially formulated to
polymerize in a particular way. While conventional coatings are either solvent- or water-
based, materials to be UV cured are generally composed of base polymers, non-solvent
diluents and photo initiators. Primary UV-curable compositions include monomers,
polymers and oligomers with the addition of photo initiators to produce free radicals and
actions that induce cross linking between the unsaturation sites of monomers, polymers
and oligomers.

Applications - Commercial applications of UV curing, which were introduced in

Europe during the 1960s, are now widespread and growing at a rate of more than 10
percent per year. Virtually all substrates -- wood, plastic, glass, paper and metal -- are
involved in some type of UV curing application.

Equipment - UV equipment used to cure coatings and other materials include


primary electrode-type long-lamp technologies and microwave-powered short-lamp
technologies.

In electrode or conventional arc lamp technology, high voltage supplied from either a
transformer or ballast system is applied to electrodes at each end of the lamp. This
process creates an arc between the electrodes in the conductive gas mixture within the
lamp envelope. A small quantity of mercury or other additive within the lamp then
vaporizes into the arc, generating plasma that emits the UV wavelength used for curing.

In a microwave-powered system there is no physical connection between the lamp and


the power source. Instead, the lamp is positioned in a specially tuned chamber into
which microwave power is radiated by a powerful magnetron. In turn, the microwave
energy excites the lamp, generating the UV-emitting plasma. A reflector located behind
the lamp directs and focuses the UV energy out of the front of the chamber by way of a
fine conductive screen. This allows the UV light to pass through while containing the
microwave energy within the chamber.

A typical UV curing system consists of a lamp, reflector, cooling system and power
control. Cooling systems are required to cool the bulb and reflector, as well as to direct
infrared-generated heat (which is a byproduct of the process) away from the substrate.

UV curing heat-management systems are typically water-cooled, air-cooled or both. The


choice of a cooling system is determined by a variety of factors, including the UV
equipment design, lamp output, heat sensitivity of the substrate, and general production
requirements. Generally, water-cooled systems remove heat more effectively than air-
cooled systems; however, air-cooled systems are less complex in design, more
compact and require less maintenance.

Advantages - UV curing offers distinct advantages over conventional finishing, due

to the materials and equipment involved. Recently, the Environ-mental Protection


Agency identified UV curing as a preferred technology due to VOC reductions, energy
efficiencies, and improved dry-film quality of end products. Primary documented and
measurable advantages include:

• Productivity: Most UV curing systems are solvent-free and require less than a second
of exposure, resulting in the potential for significantly faster line speeds.
• Flexibility: UV curing is a heatless process and does not involve water or solvents. As
a result, it can be used on many heat-sensitive substrates such as plastic and wood.

• Environmental: UV-curable coatings do not contain solvents. As such, they do not


omit VOCs or other regulated emissions.

• Energy: UV curing uses less energy than standard infrared lamp and hot/air drying
systems.

• Quality: UV coatings offer multiple improvements in the quality of coating, ink and
adhesive applications, including: improved hardness; higher gloss; increased wear
resistance, compressive strength, adhesion, and elasticity; and increased consistency.

• Space requirements: UV curing equipment often requires half the space needed for
fuel-fired ovens, solvent recovery systems and air scrubbers. Additionally, faster
turnaround times reduce materials handling and space requirements for short-term
storage due to cooling requirements and backed-up work.

• Cleanup: UV curing materials do not dry in the applicator or cure prematurely during
handling operations. As a result, the cleaning process is generally easier and faster.

• Savings: UV curing systems eliminate the handling of solvents and other volatile
materials, resulting in reduced insurance costs and the handling of compliance issues.

As understanding for UV curing grows, finishers will learn to harness its potential as a
cost-effective, heat-sensitive process. Because of its many advantages, most notably
increased productivity and decreased environmental issues, UV curing offers a new
alternative to the finishing industry.

Author : Raji Koshy

Email: rajikoshy@gmail.com