Blasting Your Way to Perfect Prints

The cleaner the equipment, the better the quality of the end product. This is particularly true in the printing industry, where poor quality shows up in living color on printed paper or product packaging. Ultimately, it is the quality of the end product that brings repeat customers.

In order for printing press owners and operators to meet the high-quality production demands of their customers, it is imperative that they keep their printers running and avoid prolonged press downtime. For printing presses to operate efficiently and reduce the chance of equipment failure, it is critical that they remain free of contaminants such as ink, grease, grime, and remnant paper products.

Given production demands, it can be difficult for printers to maintain consistent cleaning schedules. In order to produce high-quality products and still meet customers' production demands, printers need to reduce cleaning times, as well as the impact that traditional cleaning methods have on overall production.

In some instances, traditional and extraordinary cleaning efforts can put both equipment and people at risk. One such cleaning incident identified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration involved a maintenance crew cleaning printing rollers while they were still installed in the press. To clean the rollers, employees circumvented the printing press' machine guards, and then used rags to clean the rollers as they spun at high rates of speed. This cleaning method exposed the employees to ingoing nip point hazards, as well as the potential for severe injuries if the rag or their hands had been caught in the rollers.

These types of shortcuts involve a significant amount of risk that in many cases is not necessary. In addition, traditional cleaning methods, which involve scraping and scrubbing hot equipment with toxic solvents, can also be dangerous to workers, as well as expose the equipment to unnecessary wear and tear.

One printing company, the Western Container Co. in Kansas City, Mo., has a reputation for being a quality producer of custom folding cartons and specialty products printed on paperboard. On a daily basis, the company uses die-making, die-cutting, and finishing equipment, and three printing presses, which print up to seven colors, plus aqueous coatings. The equipment frequently runs non-stop for several hours, and following the printing process frequently involves heavy duty gluers. Because of the degree of activity, it is vital that any built-up ink and paper grime be removed to ensure that the equipment functions properly.

Western Container's traditional cleaning methods, which included sanding and scraping presses with solvents and wire brushes, was time consuming and expensive, and had started to impact the integrity of the presses. As a result, the company sought a new cleaning solution that could provide a complete clean, while reducing mechanical breakdowns and production delays.

A New Way To Clean

Upon hearing about the benefits of dry ice blast cleaning for printers, managers at Western Container made the decision to implement a dry ice blasting system to replace their conventional cleaning processes. They quickly learned of the versatility of the cleaning process. Dry ice blast cleaning is capable of cleaning even hardened ink and grease build up, from grippers, rollers, drums, ink trays, side walls, feeders, delivery units, letter presses, and flexography and clogged vents, which slow down printing speed.

"Dry ice blasting has made an impact on our entire printing process," said Rick Horton, department supervisor of Western Container. "The ease of operation and the amount of cleaning we get done is amazing. With the blasting system, we remove grime and glue with incredible speed. What once took several hours by hand, now takes less than an hour. To see it first hand is really phenomenal!"

The kinetic and thermal shock effects of dry ice blasting create mini-explosions on the press surfaces. This breaks the bond between the surface and residue, which cause contaminants to fall to the floor and the ink to flash freeze and fall away. The dry ice sublimates, leaving only the fallen contaminants to be vacuumed. The fact that dry ice blasting does not produce secondary waste reduces the added cost and inconvenience of secondary waste treatment and disposal, as well as the environmental impacts of downstream contamination.

Horton added, "This is the best system we have seen for cleaning water-based coatings, and it does well on UV as well."

Because most of Western Container's previous cleaning was done manually, maintenance crews were limited to cleaning what they could reach with the wire brushes. As a result, ink and other residue were not being completely removed, which resulted in significant build up in hard-to-reach areas of the presses. When not completely removed, these contaminants can upsurge and cause poor printing output and misalignment, requiring a prolonged shut-down for deeper, more intensive cleaning. With dry ice blast cleaning, maintenance workers are able to access tight and confined areas that are not reachable with manual cleaning.

Since dry ice blast cleaning is non-abrasive and non-conductive, it is safe to clean the delicate wires and electrical components of a printing press. Cleaning with dry ice blasting helps to extend equipment life by reducing the wear and tear of manual scrubbing methods, facilitating regular, thorough cleaning, and eliminating the risks associated with disassembling and moving equipment. Western Container's conventional cleaning methods also required a six person cleaning crew nearly 24 hours to clean all of the company's production equipment. With dry ice blast cleaning, Western Container now needs only one person to adequately clean the presses, enabling the company to relocate labor to other areas of the facility to increase productivity.

Since switching to the dry ice blast cleaning system, Western Container has dramatically reduced its cleaning time per press by 80 to 90 percent, while cutting down total cleaning time from 24 hours to only 10 hours. Western Container has been able to save thousands of dollars per project, with much of the savings coming in reduced labor expenses.

Dry ice blast cleaning is also helping Western Container to promote a safe and environmentally responsible work environment. The user-friendly process uses recycled CO2, and helps the company to reduce its dependency on harsh chemicals and cleaning practices that place employees at risk.

"With Cold Jet's dry ice blast cleaning system, cleaning can be integrated into the production process, which increases production run time, and reduces scrap rates and press damage or erosion," said Horton. "Cleaning with dry ice blasting is the best solution for our cleaning challenges, allowing us to quickly take care of important and critical cleaning so that we can restart the printing process."

As the costs of doing business continue to rise, many companies in the printing industry are taking advantage of the many benefits associated with dry ice blast cleaning.

Most importantly, because dry ice blast cleaning provides a more efficient and complete clean, operators will spend less time on maintenance and more time on maximizing productivity and delivering high quality results to their customers.

Kellie Grob is director of global marketing communications for Cold Jet LLC, a leader in dry ice blasting and production technology. For more information, visit