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A villain OR A HERO?

Sheikh Ahmed Yamani 1930-2021

In February 2021, Sheikh Ahmed Yamani died. He was 90 years old, and though most people may not know who he was, he played an unparalleled role in events 45 years ago that inadvertently rocked and changed the printing industry.

His charm and brilliant intellect won the admiration and respect of sympathizers and political adversaries from the entire political spectrum, becoming the most influential political powerbroker for over two decades.

"The Stone Age didn't end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil"

When Sheikh Ahmed Yamani accepted Crown prince Faisal bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud's invitation to work as a legal adviser to his office, he never imagined his life would be influential and meaningful in the domestic and political world scene. A couple of years after that appointment, he became the oil minister, and soon after, he headed the recently established OPEC at the age of 32.    

Since the beginning, the member's voice of OPEC, an oil cartel, with a mandate to co-ordinate and unify petroleum policies among member countries, to secure fair and stable prices for top petroleum producers: Algeria, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., and Venezuela dominated world affairs.   

He became known as Sheikh Yamani, and he was born in Mecca, the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad when people used camels for transport, and he watched his country's transformation by the oil revenues. His paternal ancestor's roots originated in Yemen. His father, a Qadi and a respected scholar in Islamic Law acted as Grand Mufti in Indonesia following a family tradition as Yamani's grandfather was a Grand Mufti in Turkey.

The intellectual sword of Harvard.

Great formative years concluded with a master's degree in 1956 from Harvard Law School. The same year Joan Ruth Bader Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School with whom shared views of the importance of the role of women in society. The family lineage and traditions led him to pursue Law and obtained his first degree in Law from the University of Cairo, followed by a master's degree from N.Y.U.

Sheikh Yamani's face became recognizable for decades in the media. He was charismatic and eloquent, humble, profoundly religious yet pragmatic, and commanded attention with his articulate, soft-spoken arguments. He openly shared his views and guided OPEC to developed and secure fair and stable prices for petroleum producers.   

He became a legend and stood up by his engaging personal style and made no secret to what extend oil is the most dominant weapon of modern times yet recognized that oil had a life cycle and predicted the end of the oil industry. His fascination for history made him a source of knowledge that attracted the attention of world audiences. 

Yom Kippur battleground of superpowers.

A decade later, Sheikh Yamani will be at the center of unfolding events when the Yom Kippur War started. The armed conflict fought from 6 to 25 October 1973 between I.D.F. and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria. During the armed conflict, OPEC raised oil prices. It introduced significant production cuts of what became known as the oil embargo against the United States and other industrialized nations in retaliation for their weapons support to Israel and to gained leverage in the post-war peace negotiations.   

Sheikh Yamani at the OPEC meeting in Tehran on 22 December, of the same year, persuaded members to restrain and agree under USD 12 a barrel against the Shah's idea of putting the price to USD 20. His diplomatic abilities defused the possible U.S. invasion of Saudi Arabia's oil fields.   

Historians seem to agree that although effective and brilliant political strategy, the oil embargo didn't accomplish the initial intent to leverage support for Palestinians yet caused an economic recession and reshaped the world business dynamic.    

Critics of Kissinger's Realpolitik strategy suggested that the U.S. Government could have defused the oil embargo if Nixon in the White House had focused on strengthening diplomatic relationships earlier with Saudi Arabia to secure the oil supplies. Instead, they militarized Iran as a strategic ally against the Russians during the Cold War.

The world awakening to terrorism.

In the year 1975, two singular and connected events well-publicized marked the lives of protagonists of the oil embargo. One was the assassination of H. E. King Faisal Al Saud in March by 31 years old nephew Faisal bin Musaid Al Saud.    

The second occurred in December, when Illich Ramírez Sánchez, better known as Carlos, The Jackal, kidnapped the OPEC oil ministers in Vienna with Sheikh Yamani among them.    

The Viennese authorities complied with the kidnappers and provided a plane. They release 36 hostages at the first stop in the airport of Algiers. After refuelling, the terrorists stopped at Tripoli airport in Libya and returned to Algiers. Algerian President Boumediene intervened and persuaded The Jackal to spare the lives of the oil ministers. They released the remaining hostages and took another plane to fly directly to Baghdad. Everything ended two days before Christmas. 

"We are masters of our own commodity."

H. E. King Faisal Al Saud was an abolitionist who initiated Saudi Arabia's modernization and promoted women's education, everything within strong economic independence and nationalistic spirit.    

The unprecedented change, progress, and openness during the rule of H. E. King Faisal Al Saud, inspired by his father's vision, the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz, remained influential in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia expected GDP 790.00 USD Billion 2021.   

Sheikh Yamani acknowledged King Faisal's vision to focus on young Saudi's education and technical expertise to run the oil industry. Yamani pushed to establish the University of Petroleum and Minerals at Dhahran in 1964 and soon became a significant science and engineering School. The Arabian American Oil Company, Aramco, eventually became a state-owned company.    

King Faisal was pro-Palestinian and against Israeli occupation and supported a unified Pan Muslin foreign policy. To many, the oil embargo was the cause of his assassination. Still, it is a mystery why his young nephew killed him at the King's palace in an official function by shooting him at point-blank resembling Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald in public in front of the media.

The King was a man of peace and never backed down under pressures and threats from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to end the oil embargo. Now 98 years old, Kissinger told King Faisal at a meeting, 'If Saudi Arabia does not lift the boycott, America will come and bomb the oilfields.' King Faisal replied, 'You are the ones who can't live without oil.' 'You know, we come from the desert, and our ancestors lived on dates and milk, and we can easily go back and live like that again.'

Oil shortages consequences.

Even if the oil crisis lasted only a few months created such economic turmoil, it was a wake-up call for industrialized countries. The oil embargo changed many industries, and the printing industry was not an exception. The car industry introduced smaller cars in the marketplace when U.S. automakers couldn't make big enough cars. 

Strategic supplies shortages for the printing industry.

The price instability and shortages of alcohol isopropanol started with the oil embargo. Then a price hike ensued of oil by-products such as inks, varnishes, and solvents for ink manufacturing and cleaning agents. The 1979 Iranian revolution that overthrew the Shah intensified the availability of raw materials in the graphic arts industry.   

The oil shortages prompted a shift from alcohol used in fountain solutions (F.S.) to alcohol substitutes in offset printing.    

Environmental legislation.

A few years later, the environmental regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) in the late nineties in the U.S., and soon after, Environment Canada to reduce Volatile Organic Compounds (V.O.C.).   

The alcohol substitute introduction made matters even more complicated when around the same time, the newly introduced oil vegetable inks and alkaline stocks created a triple whammy challenge for printers.

Offset printing developments.

Technological developments have streamlined processes and improved offset printing quality since the 90s, automation and technologies focusing on the economic and environmental impact.  

In the prepress, electronic imposition with C.M.S. integration had a positive impact and, JDF and process standardization ease communication among remote parties, particularly in the publication and commercial industry segments.   

F.M. screens and C.T.P. (computer to plate) made film work stages obsolete. The new F.M. screening allowed higher and faster data transfer and data storage savings.    

Erwin Widmer explained at a T.A.G.A. conference that processing times are brief as the weight file sizes are much lighter using F.M. screens. His pioneering work on F.M. screens at U.G.R.A. in St Gallen helped newspapers and publications in Europe add more colour images and render high-resolution text and images. Velvet FM screening software developed by EMPA/UGRA added value to the printing process. This unique screening process was revolutionary, and studies based on accumulated quantitative data suggested additional ink savings and printing stability due to dot sizes.   

Chemistry-free or processless litho plates pioneered in early 2000 by Presstek are the last significant improvement that eliminates the chemistry from the printing process. Unfortunately, this technology experienced slow adoption even if it virtually ended cause of maintenance, chemical waste, and high disposal costs of the plate-making process chemistry.    

New technologies improved printing quality in the pressroom and reduced production cycles from hours to minutes, with simultaneous plate mounting systems pioneered by Manroland. All plates are mounted simultaneously, coupled with inline colour control, reduced make-ready time. Inline embellishment options are much easy and precise adding value to the final product.   

Available finishing inline technologies further enhanced the products by using L.E.D. U.V. curing systems for photo-reactive substances through polymerization instead of traditional evaporation are fast-growing and adopted technologies. Also, E.B. Electron beam curing systems established in web offset are increasingly expanding the market share in the food packaging market sector. With Manroland, VARIOMAN suited for extended colour gamut is a leader in this industry sector. Bobst has leaped to join these new business opportunities offering solutions for packaging manufacturing.    

More and more robotics logistics support the production flow for material handling in printing facilities.   

Sadly, only some presses dampening systems adopted quickly Alcohol-free F.S. Other presses manufacturers redesigned their dampening systems and embarked on Alcohol reduction programs. 

A recent survey demonstrated that many companies persist in using alcohol in offset printing.   

The Alcohol-free F.S. demands keeping an eye on critical parameters otherwise becomes challenging and unmanageable.

The dampening delivery systems.

It is fair to say that offset printing is an indirect technology, and quality begins with inks and dampening solution interactions. Consistency and stability delivery of a blend of ink and water are the main objectives to sustain the desirable reproduction quality in offset printing.   

Dampening systems must be responsive and capable of delivering a thin water film to a lithographic printing plate without interferences of plate cylinder gap, plate sizes, press speed or ink coverage.    

In the seventies, Harvey Dahlgren made a vital contribution with his robust Epic Delta Dampening System. Some press manufacturers have imitated and kept his continuous-flow dampening system design.  

Depending on the machine design configuration and press speed is the dampening systems equipment use. The sheetfed press technologies that adopted continuous-flow dampening systems are very different from spray systems used in newspaper or commercial web offset. But all systems are designed to provide a constant and stable dampening to allow printing stability.   

The most recurrent offset printing issues contributing to waste are ink-water balance, colour variations, scum, ink drying, set off, misregistration and picking. And ink-water balance is at the top, although it also influences other issues such as colour variations, scum and ink drying.  

The dampening delivery system used in sheetfed presses has a refrigerated recirculation system supporting the dampening system.   

In sheetfed is where becomes particularly critical the dampening performance as presses are set in motion from a standstill and ramp-up to higher speeds and put into production supported by a smooth and stepless dampening function model within a few revolutions. The stability will depend on establishing a fast ink and water balance to avoid wasting time and materials.

Fountain Solution research.

During the nineties, the industry scientific community embarked on a quest to formulate an alcohol replacement to substitute the first generation of F.S. that needed Alcohol isopropanol.   

The journey to formulate the optimum additive concentrate from the beginning was challenging and never ended as it continues developing based on observations and end-user experiences.    

The function of alcohol in offset printing is well understood. It was not easy to mimic as alcohol provided a larger operation window. The dynamic surface tension is the only manageable parameter with the Alcohol-free F.S.   

At G.A.T.F. and F.O.G.R.A., many studies helped understand the optimum concentration of certain F.S. ingredients of alcohol replacement and behaviour in the short and long-term conditions.   

With Lloyd at GATF, Pittsburgh, PA. June 2003.

Lloyd DeJidas conducted the most comprehensive research study at G.A.T.F., followed by many scientific papers published on the subject matter. If you wish to read his guidelines and suggestions that are still valid and current, request a PDF copy here.

Unfortunately, doesn't exist one product to suit all printing presses. Press dampening systems design differ from press manufacturers to press manufacturers, and developments are subject to printing results. Since introducing Alcohol-free F.S. in the industry, critical studies have demonstrated that most scientists agreed that dampening performance will remain consistent and reliable if controlled key printing variables.

Personal experiences with Alcohol-Free F.S.

After numerous press trials in the early nineties at Komori Canada showroom in Milton, Ontario, and observations at customer's facilities, I recognized that controlling some parameter presses wouldn't have issues maintaining the ink and water balance. The Komori Lithrone press showed superior press printing stability, minimum dot gain, and consistently smoother printed solids with alcohol-free fountain solutions. From the start-up to ramp up production speed, printed solid appeared smooth without defects such as rollers streaks, mechanical ghosting, and hickeys.  

For the press trials and capabilities studies, my main interest was understanding alcohol-free fountain solution interactions with environmentally plant-based inks that substituted petroleum-made inks with vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean, or corn oil.   

Press trials data gathered impressed John Mac Phee, whose career spanned over 50 years, and he authored over 50 research papers, some of which presented at the T.A.G.A. Conference. John Mac Phee co-invented two of Baldwin's most successful products: the cloth/pressure-pad type of automatic blanket cleaner and the Delta Dampener.    

Later, when I joined Quimica Chile with Gloria Gutierrez Nuñez and her team of chemical engineers, we developed one-step alcohol-free fountain solution products for sheetfed. In controlled press trials, we noticed superior printing stability and comparable results with Manroland presses. We also introduced F.S. products with great success in newspapers and many web offset commercial printers. Customers appreciated the noticeable differences, sharper black text and drier back ink in newsprint recycled stocks.

The dampening system maintenance.

Gears and bearings should be in good condition and well lubricated. Roller's hardness, mechanical adjustments, consistent conductivity, temperature control of Alcohol-free F.S. supported by chilled rollers in the ink train and maintaining constant primary water source parameters are essential for optimum performance of this new generation of F.S. 

More sophisticated equipment provides a zonal cooling system that will control each printing unit independently to support at the same time waterless and dry offset inline applications.   

Dampening systems rollers' contact points are critical, and accurate adjustments using the Contact Zone Measuring System NIP CON from PIT SID. This instrument is the best way to check the contact pressure between rigid and rubber rollers, and it is fast and easy. It is necessary to check the contact point at the ends and the center of the dampening rollers.

Auxiliary press equipment

Press manufacturers supported this transition standardizing the F.S. recirculation systems by introducing temp, pH and conductivity measuring instruments to obtain consistent readings at the mixing stage and the main return tank reservoir.   

With the introduction of recycled alkaline stocks and vegetable oil-based inks, printers noticed that stock fibres, surface dust and ink residue leached out alkaline compounds mixtures that contaminated and destabilized the critical balance of the F.S. The contamination prompted countermeasures to prolong the life cycle of Alcohol-free F.S.   

Presses equipped with a Doyle Sheet Cleaning Systems help remove surface dust from the stock. These are practical steps that considerably helped to maintain the Alcohol-free F.S. fresh and at the correct concentration.

Most press and auxiliary equipment manufacturers introduced a shallower F.S. storage tank to help maintain a stable temperature and promote a faster renewal of freshly made Alcohol-free F.S.

Fountain solutions components and measurable parameters.

Fountain solution contains an acid or base, gum (Arabic or synthetic), corrosion inhibitor to prevent oxidation, surfactants to improve controlled wettability, lubricant to reduce piling, fungicide, calcium Inhibitors, defoamer, and drying stimulators. Each ingredient has a particular function, and blends in the right proportion provide stability for consistent offset printing. The critical optimum concentration balance between F.S. concentrate and alcohol substitute allows fast start-ups without waste.   

The right balance of ingredients maintains the correct Alcohol-free F.S. strength. It is essential to check the established conductivity as venturi-dosers in recirculation systems tend to stray away from the original settings by wear or residual deposits over time.   

With Alcohol-free F.S. is essential to check the conductivity periodically during production. When the concentration of Alcohol-free F.S. fails to reach the ideal proportion or replenishing is inconsistent will cause printing issues.    

In the case of lower concentration, the extended and starved gum content and oxidation inhibitor would leave the plate surface exposed, causing unwanted plate surface sensitivity or, in some cases, micro spots.    

When the Alcohol-free F.S. concentration is much higher, the plate surface gum dispersion will interfere, and it might slow down ink adhesiveness to plate image areas. This phenomenon is known as blinding, is one of the most common occurrences experienced with F.S. substitutes.

One-step vs two-steps fountain solutions.  

The fountain solutions come in one step and two steps. In the one-step, the concentrate and the substitute additive come together. In this case, it is only one dilution and far more critical than two-steps Alcohol-free F.S.

The one-step must be precise as adding more concentrate will make the Alcohol-free F.S. much wetter. In other words, the higher wettability could interfere with the emulsification process.   

Traditionally, process control engineers and operators will measure and monitor pH and alcohol content in the fountain solutions. With the new generation of Alcohol-free F.S., the only critical measurable parameters are the total dissolved solids T.D.S. assessed by measuring conductivity and temp. The pH readings no longer are as relevant as stable buffered keep pH constant, no matters the concentration.     

The new generation of Alcohol-free F.S. must blend and emulsify with conventional vegetable oil-based inks or varnishes and U.V. inks and deliver to the plate without creating misting or residual ink build-up, known as a picture frame in blankets and impression cylinders.  

It is highly advisable to dump weekly and mix a fresh batch of Alcohol-free F.S. for presses in operation 24 hrs, seven days a week. Make sure to clean and change filters and rinse the entire recirculation system.

Critical interferences for fountain solutions.

Mechanical and chemical interferences identified in dampening systems can escalate and become unmanageable. Hard rollers with an asymmetrical diameter or surface damage can cause erratic, inconsistent, and unpredictable dampening flow.

In some cases, intertwined chemical and mechanical interferences are challenging to resolve. Most Alcohol-free F.S. has a lower viscosity and demands an increase of the metering roller's speed to deliver the F.S. volume required for printing. This step would cause water banding if the metering roller shore hardness were higher than 25.

Roller hardness and transferability are some of Lloyd DeJidas' subjects analyzed in his paper "Alcohol-Free Printing."

To match the Alcohol-free F.S. with the alcohol density, we could only do it by lowering the temp, risking print mottle and dot loss in the entire reproduction range due to ink thermal stress with vegetable oil-based inks. In the case of U.V., inks are even more critical, as shown in the picture.

The best results are for presses equipped with temperature control in printing units to blocked the cooling line to the ink fountain roller to avoid additional condensation.

Chemical contamination is the leading cause of ink and water balance issues. The dampening systems contamination with residual roller wash and plate cleaners interferes with the chemistry of Alcohol-free F.S, causing random colour variations.

Environmentally friendly roller washes have surfactants to reduce the flashpoint and V.O.C. content. Chemical residues in rollers will affect the Alcohol-free F.S., dynamic surface tension.  


But the invisible enemy of stable ink-water balance is the calcium deposits in rubber rollers. Unfortunately, this build-up is slow and gradual and barely noticeable until printing colour variations are visible. In some instances, it can reach a point of ink stripping.    

I have tried many products and learn that even though deglazing pastes are an excellent roller treatment, they sometimes are difficult to remove from the roller surface structure. If not completely removed from the ink train, they linger and change the ink-water balance stability.   

Deglazing roller treatments are doing poorly at removing calcium from the roller surface. They don't resolve the calcium problem.   

To my knowledge, only one product can effectively eliminate the calcium build-up from the roller surface: the Calcium Slayer and Flush.                                                                                       

Calcium elimination in UV Hybrid press with Calcium Slayer and Flush


I successfully conducted a Calcium Slayer and Flush press trial with great success at a U.V. press that experienced extreme colour variations in Mexico City due to Calcium build-up in rollers.   

First press trial of Calcium Slayer and Flush in Mexico at Gama.


I encourage press operators who are still using alcohol to consider the advantages of using Alcohol-free F.S. They are very stable. The evaporation rate is so much lower than F.S. using alcohol. They allow to print sharper, and inks dry faster and render a higher pictorial strength. In addition, they extend the life of the rubber dampening rollers.   

This article concludes three technical papers: The Achilles Heel of Printing Presses (February 2021), followed by The Printing Blanket Remains at the Core of Offset Lithography (July 2021).

I trust readers enjoyed this article, and I hope the technical information shared is valuable and helps maintain the highest possible quality with the lowest material waste.

Jan's first-hand field experiences expand several years in process optimization, waste reduction, and operator's training. He is bilingual in English and Spanish and a G7® Expert. This article intended to reach the graphic arts industry company's owners, directors, managers, technicians, mechanics, maintenance professionals, press operators, Q.C. technicians, process control of raw materials and supplies managers, or anyone directly involved in the printing process interested in process optimization, quality, and waste reduction.

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Mike Mortell

Jan, What an informative article. Never knew how subs came about. Necessity is the mother or invention. With all the shortages the printing industry and others are facing, I am sure we will soon see new and innovative ways and products to substitute for what we can't get. I also like you bringing attention to the pressroom menace known as calcium. It is a problem that, in my opinion, is not fully understood or taken seriously enough by many. Any weak link in the chain makes the printing process harder. Good work, Jan. Thank you.

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