Titanium printing roller case studies
Anilox rollers are used in printing to transfer uniform quantities of ink.
The anilox roller surface has a microscopic pattern of wells or channels that pick up and hold precise amounts of fluid. Rollers must also be resistant to corrosive inks, and durable over many years of service.
In order to meet these challenging demands, anilox rollers are currently given an extremely hard coating of chromium oxide using high temperature plasma spray. The roller surface is machined and laser engraved. However, the process is energy intensive, laboursome and not in line with other advances in manufacturing.
The Titanium Roller.
In 2010, Laserlife Littlejohn, a Melbourne-based company with over 40 years of experience in manufacturing printing rollers and equipment, approached CSIRO with the idea of making an anilox roller using completely different materials. The titanium printing roller was born.
The titanium roller is made using supersonic deposition of titanium particles by cold spray. Titanium is a lightweight, high strength material with an exceptionally high degree of chemical resistance. Taking advantage of recent improvements in laser technology, a laser is used to engrave the titanium surface as well as harden it, improving its durability.
Cold spray of titanium is a highly efficient process, with fewer than 3 – 4 % of titanium particles rebounding from the surface during spray. In contrast, the proportion of chromium oxide particles lost during plasma spray is over 50 %.
Unlike chromium oxide rollers, the titanium roller can be repaired by re-spraying and re-treating by laser. This is a useful feature, because the delicate roller surfaces are often ruined by contamination with grease or oils, or by damage caused by mishandling.
Extremely fine engraved structures have been produced on the titanium surface. Moreover, the rollers have been tested in a commercial printing press and shown to be very hard-wearing.
Rolling the Technology Out
Laserlife Littlejohn’s collaboration with CSIRO has allowed them to redefine their business model. In a rapidly-changing manufacturing sector, Laserlife Littlejohn now have a new approach to making rollers, and new product that clearly differentiates them from the competition. It is hoped that one day, the titanium roller may be used for everything from labels and packaging to printed electronics and solar cells.