From humble beginning as a pioneer in the pre-finished doctor blade industry to its current position as a leading manufacturer of doctor blades, FTA member Allison Systems Corp has always been committed to providing innovative and quality products, excellent customer service and quick order fulfillment times. March 20 brings a significant milestone as the firm marks the 50th anniversary of its incorporation.
That day, Allison will hold a corporate event for all employees and their families to share in the celebration. We will be promoting the anniversary at trade shows, through sponsorships and special anniversary giveaways. As a member of the team for more than 33 years, I’m proud of where we came from, where we are today and how our future is developing. I have witnessed the company grow from producing hundreds of blades a day to thousands. None of our success would have been possible without the leadership of Tom and Eve Allison and the dedication, knowledge and skill of the Allison family of employees.
Current number of employees is 14, up from just one. All are located at our headquarters in Riverside, NJ, where manufacturing and processing operations take place. Allison Systems is currently ISO 9001:2008 registered and will be audited to the ISO 9001:2015 standard this year.
Allison Systems’ Beginnings
Tom Allison Sr. started it all while working out of his house in Moorestown, NJ, to design and develop various concepts he had for improvements to the gravure printing process. He secured patents for two different versions of doctor blade edging systems. Tom Allison Jr., still in high school at the time, delivered systems to local customers. After completing an engineering physics degree at Cornell University and several years’ work in other fields, he returned to Allison Systems to work side by side with his dad. When his father passed away in 1979, he assumed leadership of the family business.
Shortly thereafter Eve Allison, Tom’s wife and current president of Allison Systems, suggested focusing on providing pre-finished doctor blades. The combination of manufacturing blades and systems became too much for the small shop in Moorestown and part of a building was leased in Riverside.
Changes & Advancements
Over the past 50 years, we have been fortunate to be involved with the evolution of flexography, from a low-quality process to one that competes favorably with high-quality printing methods. Numerous challenges had to be overcome to get to the current level. Directly relating to the doctor blade, a major challenge that was realized is the ability to deliver a consistent and repeatable film of ink to the plate and, ultimately, the substrate. The introduction of the doctor blade to flexography, via the reverse angle doctor blade system, perhaps cleared the path for other advancements in the process.
Early flexography did not use doctor blades, but instead used the two-roll metering method, which was heavily operator dependent and affected by press speed and ink viscosity. The introduction of doctor blades with the reverse angle system was a major improvement to process control. Ink viscosity and press speed variations were almost completely eliminated with the use of a doctor blade. Chamber blade systems helped to minimize the amount of ink required on press and allowed for faster press speeds.
1968: Allison Systems incorporated
1972: Engineered and built first blade positioning system
1973: FTA membership secured
1979: Corporate growth necessitates additional space, present building leased
1980s: Designed and built advanced, proprietary, computer-controlled doctor blade production system
1987: Introduced Superhoned bevel that provides small initial footprint and minimal tip growth as blade wears
1988: Water-based inks’ corrosive effects on carbon steel lead to introduction of plastic doctor blade line
1991: Composite doctor blade line reduces wear on ceramic anilox rolls for flexo printing
1996: Purchased current property and assumed use of all its space. Added Gold series of long-life metal blades to product line
2000: Introduced Superhoned Plus very long bevel, providing the same force control features of Superhoned shape with less tip growth as the blade wears
2009: Expanded product line to include end seals and flexo chambers
2013: Peristaltic pumps for flexo chambers offered
2014: Authorized distributor for The Flexo Factor, began carrying complete line of cleaning solutions
2015: ISO 9001:2008 registered company
2018: Celebrates 50th anniversary, expansion plans unveiled
The doctor blade is the link that connects all of the components of the ink delivery system and therefore it needed to evolve over time. Major components of the ink delivery system include the ink, doctor blade and anilox roll. One could argue the most significant developments in this area were the ceramic anilox roll and the chambered doctor blade system. Neither is relatively new, but both had a major impact in improving the overall flexographic process.
Widespread use of water-based inks and ceramic anilox rolls led Allison to introduce a variety of plastic and composite doctor blade materials in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These materials provided acceptable metering quality along with longer blade life when compared to the basic carbon and stainless steel blades that were available at the time.
Many current versions of chamber systems utilize different blade angles for the doctor and containment blade, so that each blade can perform at full potential. Both the reverse angle blade system and chamber system are very repeatable and consistent when operated correctly.
Looking to the Future
As flexography continues to advance, challenges continue to develop. Inks and anilox rolls are constantly changing and generally becoming more abrasive to the doctor blade. Advancements in press speeds are also contributing to blade wear.
Demands for better print quality necessitate the doctor blade perform better and more consistently. An ongoing challenge that is always being addressed is minimizing press downtime. Improper application of the doctor blade is often the cause for early failure. Training will help establish standard operating procedures (SOPs), so the doctor blade is applied properly.
Stopping a press to change a doctor blade costs significantly more than the price of the blade itself, so an additional cost for an upgraded doctor blade is easily justifiable. Long-life blades are recommended in high abrasive applications.
Allison Systems’ sales representatives work with customers to evaluate their current blade setups and help determine alternative blade choices to meet goals. We are constantly researching new materials that help achieve the demands of today’s printers. In fact, we are now evaluating two materials we believe will offer enhanced performance for doctoring applications. Testing and feedback look very promising.
Also, big news is occurring as we celebrate our 50th! A facility expansion project undertaken will provide a 60 percent increase in size. Extra space will allow us to install additional equipment to facilitate more product additions to our already expansive portfolio and improve the quality of our existing products. Additional benefits will be realized in the form of improved workflow efficiencies that further enhance customer service and support.
Eve offers her unique perspective: “I find it hard to believe that 50 years have passed since Allison Systems, the first company to produce pre-finished doctor blades, became a corporation. We just keep getting better with age! I have been there since the very beginning and see great things in our future.”
About the Author: Bill Warner is vice president, Allison Systems Corp. He has been affiliated with the firm for more than 30 years, is frequently seen at industry events and is a recurring contributor to FLEXO Magazine.