Apex Academy

Anilox Cleaning Insights: Beyond the Basics - Interview with Eaglewood

Welcome to the third installment of our blog series, where we persist in our exploration of anilox cleaning techniques. Throughout this ongoing series, we consistently bring you discussions with industry-leading experts and offer direct insights from manufacturers.


In today's dynamic printing landscape, printers still grapple with the challenge of discerning the most efficient cleaning method for their anilox rolls amidst a myriad of suppliers worldwide claiming to provide the ultimate solution. This intricate terrain necessitates careful navigation to align cleaning methods with operational needs and budget constraints.

Once again, taking center stage in this ongoing dialogue is Apex International, globally acknowledged as the largest supplier of anilox rolls. The question of identifying the optimal cleaning method for anilox rolls persists, with the answer often remaining elusive due to the diverse applications of anilox/metering rolls. With these rolls utilized across a broad spectrum of liquids, including water-based inks, UV inks, solvent-based inks, adhesives, latex, and more, the pursuit of a one-size-fits-all solution continues to challenge Apex and industry counterparts.

To provide further illumination on this crucial topic, Nick Harvey, Apex International's Technical Director, has once again collaborated with key suppliers of anilox cleaning equipment. Together, they aim to delve deeper into different cleaning methods and offer expert advice on each product. Join us as we persist in this enlightening journey into the complex world of anilox roll cleaning, sharing invaluable insights from industry leaders every step of the way.

ET-Logo-ColorInterview with Eaglewood Technologies:

Nick Harvey: Nice to have this opportunity to chat with you. We're excited to feature you in our blog series focusing on anilox care maintenance. Given your active participation in industry discussions and forums, we're eager to delve into this topic with you.

Peter Mulheran: Hello Nick, I'm excited to be here. Thank you for the invitation. I believe this blog series will be very beneficial in providing the marketplace with solid information on the various methods available to them. But also, maybe allow some of the misinformation to be squashed.

Nick Harvey: Let's dive right in. Can you discuss the primary cleaning techniques currently being utilized globally?

Peter Mulheran: Because we sell cleaning technologies globally, we see it all and have experienced it all. As it stands today, we see baking soda cleaning, ultrasonic, pressure wash systems and of course laser systems being used. We’ve even encountered companies in some areas using dry ice blasting to clean aniloxes with very negative or disastrous results. Additionally, hand cleaning is still used as a primary cleaning method which is always shocking to hear as we stand in 2024 with all these solutions readily available to anyone, anywhere.

Nick Harvey: Are there distinct recommendations that you would give to clients within the Corrugated, Label, Wide Web, and Coating industries?

Peter Mulheran: Absolutely! A solution for all market segments really doesn’t exist currently. Let me start by saying, when a company contacts us for a cleaning solution, we take a lot of time trying to understand their unique cleaning needs. Needs such as corporate sustainability initiatives, budget, throughput needs, speed and workflow. Only after understanding those needs can we intelligently discuss what technology is best for them.

UniCorr - Connecticut 12-9-20In corrugated, baking soda cleaning is still by far the best solution for in-press deep cleaning. There are companies doing in-press laser cleaning, but they ignore OSHA, Federal, State and Municipal laws when doing so. Currently, we find that in-press laser cleaning is not a safe, nor viable option. So much so that we put together a white paper:  The Dangers of In-Press Laser Anilox Cleaning to highlight the inherent risks. Baking soda is safe, quick, and extremely effective.

In the label market, budgets seem to be the primary driver for selecting the right cleaning technology. While the market understands the importance of a clean anilox, label printers tend to seek out an option that is repeatable and cost effective. Sustainability currently doesn’t seem to be a major factor when discussing cleaning technologies otherwise laser cleaning would be more widely adopted. Ultrasonic cleaning is very popular in the label market as its low cost of operation and ability to clean 1 – 6 aniloxes simultaneously is beneficial for those companies with high Sitexco + Cleaning - High Rez - editedthroughput needs. This is the same with Jetwash systems as they do have the ability to clean many aniloxes at a time.

For Wide-Web, speed and safety are paramount. Many of our wide-web customers want their aniloxes cleaned quickly and often. So, their technology needs to be safe for high throughput applications. And a perfectly cleaned anilox is essential for them achieving the quality their customers expect of them. Laser is the ideal technology for this as it can easily achieve these goals while providing valuable information seamlessly to the production team.

Lastly, the coating sectors. We find this is a mixed bag of baking soda cleaning, laser cleaning and in many cases, simply a regular mobile cleaning service would suffice. In our experience, cleaning is more reactive than proactive in this sector. Only when a cylinder is incapable of the appropriate coat weights do they react and realize its time for cleaning. Many coating companies just want to hit the easy button, have a company come onsite to clean and handle that entire variable for them. We at Eaglewood Technologies clean many coating and adhesive cylinders. When doing so, we usually use our baking soda system which allows the media to effectively break down the large volume of coating.

Nick Harvey: What is your perspective on the current global trends?

Peter Mulheran: One of the concerning trends I see is what the marketplace is doing in terms of due diligence when looking for new cleaning technologies. Laser cleaning is not laser cleaning. Ultrasonic cleaning systems are vastly different, baking soda cleaning systems have major differences, and so on. When looking for a new car, you don’t simply send an email out to all car manufacturers and whoever comes back with the best price is what you buy. That’s not due diligence. You need to understand the pros and cons of not only the technologies themselves but the differences between manufacturers and how they will impact your business over time.    

A positive trend I am seeing is the focus on automated cleaning and training. These go hand in hand and are critical to success. You can’t just intend on buying a new cleaning system and think it’ll solve all problems. Your team needs to understand how to identify when an anilox needs to be cleaned, when it needs to be recovered, and how to identify issues. Regular audits from anilox suppliers are also critical and companies should lean on their sales or technical representative to help train and create SOP’s. With the high turnover we’re seeing at a lot of companies, having a process in place with someone who can train will help alleviate a lot of pressroom pain points.

Nick Harvey: This is the perfect setting to speak openly. Could you share your recommendations for daily, weekly, and monthly cleaning practices?

Peter Mulheran: Process, process, process. It’s both amazing and concerning the wide gaps we see between Copy of Untitled2companies who have proven processes in place around managing their anilox inventory and those who don’t. I’ve seen everything from companies who have a person in charge of the anilox inventory whose sole responsibility is to clean, measure, track and manage their vendors all the way to those companies who have no process at all and simply react to issues.

Training and creating a process around anilox maintenance can seem daunting but companies like mine, anilox manufacturers like yours, Nick, and other companies are readily available to assist in building a program best suited for each company’s needs.

With the right process in place, flexo printers will still need all the right equipment. The right press side cleaner is still needed for daily or quick cleanings. And please do not use consumer products like Simple Green or Windex to breakdown complex flexo ink chemistries. There are a lot of cleaners available that are safe, inexpensive and effective for breaking down your specific inks. A scope of some sort is needed. Whether it’s an AniCAM or MicroDynamics interferometer to provide detailed reports or even a simple 500x magnification analog scope, if your team is trained properly to use them, they are valuable. And lastly, an automated cleaning technology is critical to keep your anilox inventory as close to perfect as you possibly can.

Nick Harvey: In your opinion, is there a real difference between regular cleaning and deep cleaning, or does it all boil down to whether the anilox is clean or not?

Peter Mulheran: I like this question.

I’ll answer it like this. There are two instances I see this question being difficult to answer. First, is in the space of UV/LED inks in the label market. We find our customers in this segment absolutely make a distinction between regular cleaning and deep cleaning. Because they can be so effective in cleaning the UV/LED inks out of the cells with a good daily cleaning process, they are less reliant on an automated cleaning technology. But deep cleaning technology is still regularly used, just not as often as those printing with solvent or water-based inks.

Before after laserI would say a similar mindset is experienced in the corrugated market segment. These printers can get away with dirty aniloxes for so long until they become so completely plugged with ink, they skip feed or simply can’t use that print deck. Which is where an automated cleaning system is needed to completely restore the available volume.

Otherwise, I would say it’s simply a matter of an anilox being clean or dirty. There are many printers who demand that the anilox be 100% clean and that’s a reasonable expectation.

Nick Harvey: Could you identify and prioritize the key elements that drive your customers' purchasing choices? These factors might include environmental sustainability, energy efficiency, cleaning duration, adaptability to different roll sizes, operational costs, ease of use, purchase price, and any other considerations that may not have been mentioned.

Peter Mulheran: I want to make sure I remain consistent in my message here in that every market segment values these primary factors differently. I can’t say all market segments put the same weight and importance on the same values. Here’s how I see it:

    • Corrugated: First is minimal downtime. The faster they can get those aniloxes cleaned and that press back up and running, the better. Second, cost of cleaning service or purchase price of a cleaning system. Third, minimal downtime. I know that the first and third items are the same but that’s the message we’ve received loud and clear over the past 25+ years.

    • Label Market: First, purchase price. Second, operational costs. Third, ease of use to fit the cleaning needs of all their press assets.

    • Wide-Web Market: First, quality of cleaning. Second, speed of cleaning. Third, purchase price. Fourth, sustainability.

    • Coating Market: First, quality of cleaning. Second, ease of use. Third, purchase price.

Nick Harvey: Our aim is to delve into the details, providing our readers with a comprehensive view of your insights on the various cleaning techniques available. Could we begin by discussing your experiences and opinions on soda and media blasting?

Peter Mulheran: We’ve got a LOT of experience here. Baking soda is still a widely adopted and fantastic technology. We sell these units all over the globe. One of the biggest misconceptions I see, hear and get asked about often is this. The baking soda particle is too large to get into the cells of an anilox. This is false. Baking soda is a friable particle that boards_simple - update scaledbreaks down to less than 6 microns. But let me be very clear, I’m speaking about our Sanilox System, not all baking soda systems use the right variables but more importantly, the right media to allow this to happen. We use a proprietary baking soda media made by Arm and Hammer to assure that we can break the media down small enough to clean effectively and safely. So, when I speak of baking soda systems, I’m not speaking on all systems, just our own. In our eyes, this is the best and safest method of cleaning in-press in the world.

Nick Harvey: Moving on to another prominent technique, the Jetwash method has gained traction among industry leaders. Could you delve into how this method operates and its significance in the field? Do you anticipate a decrease in their attractiveness in the foreseeable future?

Peter Mulheran: I’d be happy to share my knowledge and experience with the Jetwash method. Essentially a combination of water and a cleaning agent, in most cases a caustic cleaning agent is used to both agitate and penetrate the cells of the anilox cylinder to get the anilox clean. This chemistry is heated and applied within a contained unit to cover the anilox during the cleaning process and when completed it is dried. I believe this technology absolutely still has a place in our industry, but I see that place shrinking.

This has been around for quite some time and was adopted widely by many. This was a fantastic technology to replace hand cleaning and I think this technology was the catalyst for many other players to realize the market need for automated cleaning technologies. With that being said, we see this technology being replaced widely by competitive technologies whether it’s due to poor cleaning results, high costs in consumables or that at some point, many of the parts breakdown and it takes an incredible cost to get operational once again.

Nick Harvey: Transitioning to another significant aspect, ultrasonic cleaning systems have been a fixture in the industry for a considerable time, sparking diverse viewpoints. Could you offer a detailed overview of ultrasonic anilox cleaning? Furthermore, are all ultrasonic systems utilizing the same underlying technology?

Peter Mulheran: I love this question. Similar to laser cleaning, there are countless differences in ultrasonic cleaning technologies. There are MANY ultrasonic systems available in the market and if you go find the cheapest solution, you ALPHAS_083will get what you pay for. I would say the largest difference between ultrasonic systems are the actual ultrasonics or transducers that are used. While yes, at its core everyone is using the “same technology” there are bad, better and best qualities of transducers. Additionally, there are other ways to reduce the reliance on the ultrasonics themselves. With the Alphasonics ultrasonic technology, they use medical grade ultrasonics that are also used in the equipment they make for cleaning critical parts in hospitals and medical rooms globally. In addition to that, they have dual frequency cleaning settings. One setting fits high line screen aniloxes and another for low line screen aniloxes. This assures that the correct wavelength is used to not only effectively clean but to assure that no damage to the cell structure can occur. Lastly, they have “Active Cavitation” in their units which re-introduces oxygen into the cleaning tank to increase the reaction between the cleaning agent and the contamination resulting in better cleaning.

We find that the right ultrasonic system has a significantly lower cost of operation vs. other liquid cleaning systems. This is a fantastic technology for the right application and is still widely used globally.

Nick Harvey: Now, let's delve into a topic that's likely to capture the attention of our readers: laser cleaners. This emerging technology is increasingly embraced by many users. How do you perceive its role and potential?

Peter Mulheran: I could discuss this topic all day. Let me start with this, we have more experience with laser cleaning than nearly anyone. We are also the only North American based company in flexo printing with a Laser Safety Officer on staff to assure that not only do we know about all the laws, guidelines and standards needed to safely operate

lasers, but we can be a resource for those interested in learning more about lasers, safety around lasers, implementing SOPs, etc.

My take on this technology is that it’s our most popular technology we sell and it’s the technology companies most want to talk to me about. And rightfully so. The right laser cleaning system checks all the boxes. See how I said, “the right laser cleaning system?” Similar to my answer on ultrasonic cleaning, there are a lot of players in this space now and most of them are struggling to deliver on a system that checks all the boxes.

The right laser anilox cleaning system needs to deliver on the following:

  • Safety. Safety to the operator, environment and the anilox. Without this, you have a detrimental asset in your organization.
  • Quality. At the end of the day, you need a machine to effectively and consistently clean your aniloxes.
  • Speed. After the first and second generation of our laser system came out, the feedback we primarily received was, “Can you make it faster?” So, we did. We now have the fastest laser anilox cleaning system in the world. This assures it can keep up with throughput demands but you’re also never experiencing press downtime due to a color matching or density issue.
  • Sustainability. Can you improve your process while reducing waste and costs? Yes, you can easily do that with the right laser cleaning technology.
  • 2020_jmf1512-2Features. What else can my anilox cleaner do to provide value to my production team and facility? Laser cleaners can now provide data, help conduct anilox audits, connect remotely for swift technical support and generate automated reports to help make business decisions to reduce errors and downtime in the pressroom.

Again, as I said about ultrasonic systems, they are not all created equal. I would actually say the gap between quality laser anilox cleaning systems is vastly larger than the ones in the ultrasonic cleaner space. If you are simply shopping around for the best deal, you will encounter issues and pain points. Conduct your due diligence, visit these manufacturers, see demonstrations and seek out references.

Nick Harvey: Thank you for providing such valuable insights throughout our discussion. It's been enlightening for both myself and our audience. As a final note, could you summarize the critical significance of anilox cleaning and offer guidance on what factors readers should consider when choosing a cleaner?

Peter Mulheran: My pleasure, Nick. I cannot stress enough the importance of a clean anilox. So much time and money is spent on finding the right specifications for your anilox inventory and that investment needs to be protected. Unfortunately, the flexo process is inherently an inefficient one. Immediately, when the anilox is inked up, it’ll release about 50% of the ink from the cells onto the printing plate. Overtime, as the cells become more and more contaminated, efficiencies are reduced further. Without a process in place to manage the heart of the flexographic press, everything downstream will be affected. The best way to protect your investment and to keep costs down is keep the anilox in place, train anyone who touches an anilox on proper handling and cleaning techniques and invest in an appropriate automated cleaning technology.

Nick Harvey: For readers contemplating an investment in an anilox cleaner, what guidance would you provide? What critical elements should they assess in a system to guarantee its suitability for their requirements?

Peter Mulheran: I’m not trying to be redundant here, Nick, but the advice I have is do your due diligence. Don’t just price shop. Learn and understand the pros and cons of the technologies and companies themselves. Be weary of companies who only have one technology to offer you. Find companies who have expertise in various technologies and try to understand your needs rather than just sell.

Give vendors the chance to present to you, their technologies. Ask questions. See demonstrations. Get references. Spend the time it takes to properly evaluate an important asset such as an anilox cleaning system. This shouldn’t be a fast and easy project to take on but if you find the right vendor, it’ll be an easy technology to implement and will continue to be valuable to you in the long run.

Nick Harvey: Thank you for your time and for sharing your extensive insights. Our conversation has been truly captivating, and I'm certain it will ignite discussions among our readers.

Peter Mulheran: Thank you, Nick and the Apex team for including Eaglewood technologies in this blog series!

As we conclude this insightful installment of our blog series on anilox cleaning techniques, it’s clear that the complexity of choosing the right anilox cleaning method is as varied as the printing processes themselves. Today's discussion with Peter Mulheran of Eaglewood Technologies not only sheds light on the diverse technologies available but also emphasizes the importance of a methodical approach to selecting a cleaning system that aligns with specific operational and budgetary requirements.

The key takeaway from our conversation is the critical need for due diligence and comprehensive understanding when selecting an anilox cleaning system. Factors such as environmental sustainability, operational costs, and specific cleaning needs must be meticulously balanced to ensure the selection of a system that not only meets immediate needs but also supports long-term operational goals.

In a rapidly evolving industry where technology and compliance intersect, staying informed and proactive is paramount. As we move forward, let’s continue to engage with industry leaders and experts to refine our practices and enhance the efficiency and longevity of our printing assets.

Thank you for joining us in this enlightening journey into the intricate world of anilox roll cleaning. We look forward to bringing you more expert insights and detailed discussions in future posts, aiming to equip you with the knowledge to make informed decisions that propel your operations to new heights.

About Eaglewood Technologies:

ET-Logo-ColorEaglewood Technologies is the recipient of the FTA Technical Innovation Award and a finalist of the Label Industry Global Award for Innovation.  We offer an array of environmentally safe cleaning options for every flexographic and digital printer.  Eaglewood now offers a sustainable part washing systems, the Nanovis product line. Our anilox cleaning systems include Sitexco+, the L20 System for label printers, the industry standard Sanilox™ System along with the impressive Alphasonics ultrasonic family of products.  Also offered is a mobile cleaning service, bringing sophisticated technology to your door.

About Peter Mulheran:

Pete - EaglewoodPeter Mulheran was born and raised in a Flexo family. His parents were active in the flexographic industry for 40+ years, each. As the President of Eaglewood Technologies, Peter is often asked to speak on the topics of process improvements, sustainability, anilox maintenance and emerging technologies. Peter is always happy to speak to anyone on these topics including Eaglewood’s portfolio of sustainable cleaning technologies. Reach out to him at petej@eaglewoodtech.com!


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