A key indicator as to whether ink manufacturers are optimistic about the economy can be found by speaking with equipment manufacturers. If there has been improvement in terms of capital expenditures during the past year, that is a clear sign that the economy is rebounding.
According to some leading milling manufacturers, there remains uncertainty about the economy, particularly in the U.S. However, there are gains being made globally, and with the increased interest in process improvement, milling manufacturers are becoming increasingly involved with their customers.
Some milling manufacturers see encouraging signs coming from the ink industry, either from new orders or from indications that present production is increasing.
“We have seen some significant investment in capital equipment from the ink industry in the past calender year, not only in North America but globally,” said Harry Way, Netzsch’s technical director. “We attributed this to not only an improving U.S. economy but fundamental programs to improve efficiency due to programs like Six Sigma.”
“We have seen an increase in activity from the ink industry in both new equipment and parts purchased,” said John Sneeringer, technical sales for Premier Mill. “ There has also been an increase in quotes for future equipment.”
Bob Schilling, sales manager of Union Process, said he is seeing growth outside of the U.S.
“We have not seen much improvement in the domestic sector, but have seen improvement in the international ink market,” said Mr. Schilling.
There are indications that demand for ink is increasing, which should bode well for milling equipment providers.
“Generally new capital expenditures have been fairly slow in the ink industry,” said Todd Kritzer, vice president of Kady International. “However, our parts and service business has increased significantly. This is typically indicative of a recovering economy and increased demand for ink. Machines currently in the field are back in a full production mode.”
“There has been some activity in the printing and ink industries,” said Korkmaz Oz, sales engineer at Draiswerke, Inc. “However, companies are still not willing to go ahead with capital expenditures to buy equipment. They are trying to keep up with the demand with their existing capacity either by increasing working hours or by adding more people. I believe it will take some more time before we see real activity as far as purchasing new equipment goes.”
“We still consider the printing industry as very slow here in the U.S.,” said Kerstin Grosse, sales manager and industry specialist for Buhler Inc., USA’s grinding and dispersing division. “We haven’t seen a significant increase of inquiries just yet. Investors are still careful. With the ongoing globalization, there is still an overload of equipment on the market. The most requests we received were primarily for submicron or nano-fine grinding products like ink jet inks or flexo ink applications. We also received a few requests for UV inks from the low to high viscosity range. Larger investments seem to happen in China, Korea, South America or India.”
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There is tremendous interest in process improvement, whether it is Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing or other systems that look to improve consistency, efficiency and ease of use. Milling manufacturers are working to help ink companies meet their goals.
“Our sales engineers and technical people have been asked to sit in on Six Sigma meetings to help in this process improvement,” Mr. Way said. “In fact, we are using this as a sales strategy to show how our circulation grinding process improves efficiency by using process control methods of energy consumption to predict batch completion time, multiple pass high flow grinding to achieve consistent particle size distribution with the result of less waste, greater batch conformity, faster and repeatable cycle time and energy savings.”
“Many of our customers get involved with process improvement programs such as Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing and others,” Mr. Oz said. “They give us their requirements for the programs they are in and we try to accommodate their needs. We need to be up to their expectations and quality standards.”
Milling companies have added a number of new technologies.
“All of our new machines and many of the older ones can be equipped with ‘BView,’ the unique data acquisition system developed by Buhler,” Ms. Grosse said. “It started with our lab mill K-8 and helps to scale-up and monitor the production data for higher efficiency.”
Premier Mill’s Navigator automatic process control system is designed for ease of use and consistent and repeatable operation of the equipment.
“The Navigator system monitors critical process variables and automatically adjusts milling conditions to maintain optimum conditions,” Mr. Sneeringer said. “This control concept can be applied to older equipment already in the field.”
Mr. Kritzer said that to best help ink makers, milling manufacturers have to work closely with their customers.
“We are not just equipment salesmen,” Mr. Kritzer said. “We are problem solvers who offer a great deal of process experience and expertise to our customers. We learn as much about our customers’ entire operation so we can offer cost effective solutions. If we can’t help make a process more efficient, we can provide the names of other equipment manufacturers that can.”
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In order to meet the needs of ink manufacturers, milling manufacturers have developed technologies for the wide range of products their customers formulate.
“Customers are looking for improvements in process instrumentation, which we are meeting,” Mr. Schilling said. “We are also very committed to making significant improvements in small media milling techniques and equipment.”
“Media mill manufacturers are continuing to enhance performance with subtle design modifications,” Mr. Kritzer said. “Manufacturers continue to focus on the whole process. Great emphasis is being placed on a better quality premix, which can ultimately save a great deal of milling time.”
“Using new construction of materials for better cooling capability and less metal wear and improving the cooling capability of the mill are the new trends in milling equipment,” Mr. Oz said. “To be able to use smaller beads is also important.”
“We think one of the most important improvements in milling is that customers are looking to improve the total process, from basic premixing to process control as far as machine automation and data acquisition,” Mr. Way said.
|Among the new milling technologies are, clockwise from top, Union Process’ DMQ Mill, Hockmeyer’s MTS system and Premier Mill’s Navigator automatic process control system.|
“One of the most basic improvements in milling has been ongoing for several years, the use of smaller beads,” Mr. Way said. “I think there was a general feeling in industry that small beads did not really make a significant difference in improving milling efficiency, but I think people are changing their minds now. They realize that they can see significant improvement in strength and transparency by using smaller beads, and the use of small beads in mills is practical as long as the mill is able to efficiently separate them and the premix is properly prepared to prevent blocking in the mill. Finally, I think companies realize that they need to address the dispersion stability issues that arise from grinding finer through the use of additives like surfactant.”
Finer particle size is one area of interest for printing ink manufacturers.
“In terms of product quality, there is a continued push to finer particle size with more narrow particle distribution, which yields color strength, transparency and gloss in certain ink applications,” Mr. Sneeringer said.
“There is clearly a demand for more sophisticated grinding equipment for grinding in the submicron or nano-range,” Ms. Grosse said. “The milling equipment that can handle these demands are bead mills that run an ideal re-circulation process and are able to separate the grinding media from the product effectively, without blocking the outlet. Ultra-fine grinding media smaller than 0.2 mm will become a necessity to achieve the high demands in product fineness.”
Reliability, repeatability and efficiency are critical for ink companies, and milling manufacturers are working closely with their ink partners to meet these needs.
“Customers are seeking reliability and repeatability in their product processing, with increasing output and maintaining a high quality product, while using less manpower,” said George Murphy, national sales manager at Hockmeyer Equipment.
“Customers’ requirements remain reliability and consistency,” Mr. Schilling said. “Part of that reliability is companies that are willing to partner with them to solve their particular problem. This involves a longer term relationship to move a project from the initial stage of development through to production with that same reliability and consistency.”
“The key requirement has been and continues to be more efficient production from the mill, i.e. faster turnaround time on the mill,” Mr. Way said. “In some cases it means smaller batch production, faster, and other cases large batch production on fewer mills with better product quality, but it all boils down to mill efficiency and value.”
Support and service are also very much in demand.
“Technical support and education with current and new equipment and processes is most important,” Mr. Sneeringer said. “Our customers are putting greater emphasis on education on equipment operation and maintenance, controls and process variables in an effort to increase productivity.”
“Customers require fast turnaround service,” Mr. Kritzer said. “Machines are back in production as ink demand is up so they are looking to minimize downtime without overstocking spare parts for equipment.”
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Enhancing performance is essential, and milling manufacturers are introducing new technologies to both improve efficiency and ease of use.
“The new PSI-Mix premixing/dispersing/powder handling machine is the latest technology from Netzsch,” said Mr. Way. “The PSI-Mix is a premixing system that provides automation of the powder handling for premixing, which provides a consistent, high quality premix for a bead milling process. The system can be installed next to any existing premix tank; the benefit of the system is controlled dosing of the pigments to the vehicle.”
“We have introduced our MTS (Multi Tasking System), which is available in 35 and 300 gallon batch sizes,” Mr. Murphy said. “The MTS consists of the dispersion, milling and de-aeration process, all done in a single machine. We can process viscosities typically run on a three-roll mill. We have run various tests confirming that this unit can process paste ink in a third of the time over the industry’s standard process systems.”
“Our improved design of DCP MegaVantis is getting more and more popular with its capabilities such as advanced cooling system, less metal contamination, use of the smallest grinding media, less processing time and producing nano particles,” Mr. Oz said.
“As part of our commitment to significant improvements in small media milling, Union Process has introduced the DMQ Mill for small media milling in the circulation mode,” Mr. Schilling said.
Mr. Kritzer said that Kady’s Continuous Flow Mill can maximize existing equipment without the cost of a major equipment overhaul. “The Kady Continuous Flow Mill uses only eight square feet of production floor and utilizes the kinetic dispersion concept, assuring enhanced tank flow and batch uniformity,” Mr. Kritzer said.
Ms. Grosse said that in addition to Buhler’s own line of products, including its ZR-line of recirculating bead mills, the company also offers the Drais product line.
“Since the acquisition from Drais DM in June 2002, we have incorporated the very successful product line of SuperFlow, Advantis and Cosmo high-energy purl mills into the Buhler program,” Ms. Grosse said. “They are used for all kinds of wet-grinding application in the field of printing inks, ink jet inks, coatings, ceramics, electronics, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.”
Mr. Sneeringer said that optimizing units already in the field is also important in meeting current and future manufacturing challenges. “The combination of our propriety software, patented agitating disks, combined 85-plus years of experience, controls and instrumentation capability and broad product line allows Premier Mill to supply equipment and expertise from premix through milling and let-down to meet all requirements,” Mr. Sneeringer said.
Ink manufacturers are facing greater demands from their customers, and milling manufacturers are striving to meet the present and future needs of their ink customers.
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|Rebuilt Equipment Market Remains Strong|
While there has been some improvement seen in capital expenditures, companies have also seen much interest in rebuilt equipment.