The Sheetfed Ink Report
Sheetfed ink manufacturers had a solid year in 2006, and see opportunities for growth in 2007.
By David Savastano
This past year brought good news to sheetfed ink manufacturers, as the market showed some signs of
Heidelberg Speedmaster CD74.
The U.S. sheetfed market has had its best year since 2000, said Mark Levin, president, Sun Chemical North American Commercial Group. Recent reports from print industry groups are somewhat conflicting, but generally show that revenues grew about 5 to 6 percent for the first nine months, with signs of slowing in the last quarter as U.S. economic growth began to cool.
Mr. Levin said that although printing revenues grew, there was not a matching rise in ink sales volume based on pounds shipped.
“The sheetfed market has seen a general rebound in 2006,” said Birgit Backofen-Rothacker, director, business development & OEM relationship management at Flint Group. “Printers in today’s environment face several key challenges. They must produce and work cost-effectively, with quick turnaround times, and find new ways to add value for their customers. Many of them have implemented necessary changes to compete in this mature market.”
For the most part, sheetfed ink manufacturers were able to get much-needed price increases to help offset higher raw material and operational costs. Still, there are concerns.
Bryce Kristo, senior vice president, chief financial officer for INX International Ink Co, noted that while pricing improved with industry-wide price increases, overcapacity remains and the general condition of the commercial sheetfed market segment remains improved but marginal.
“Business has been good,” Dennis Curtin, vice president of Press Color and president of Print Suppliers Group, said. “We are going to continue to take pressure from distributors but independent small ink manufacturers will make strides because of their service.”
Sheetfed ink manufacturers in most regions posted good results in 2006, and noted that their customers are expanding their operations.
“We’ve grown tremendously this year, and we’ve seen a lot of new presses being installed,” said Roger March, production manager, Graphic Ink Systems. “I believe the market has rebounded.”
“Sheetfed is our bread and butter,” noted Rick Harden, president of Southern Ink Company. “Customers are buying presses left and right.”
“The market has been picking up quite a bit and is pretty strong,” said Bob Olech, president of Gibbon Ink. “We’re up for the year. I’ve been seeing new printing companies starting up.”
“It’s been pretty good down here,” said Barney Lenhart, president of JKM Ink. “People continue to move to Florida, and there are more businesses starting here. Printing has grown more than 45 percent in the past year according to the Printing Association of Florida, and that’s the first time printing has grown in a few years.”
“The sheetfed market in 2006 was better than the past three years, but I don’t think it will ever be what it was before 9-11,” John Nessmith, general manager of Florida Ink Manufacturers Co. (FIMCO). “A lot of new equipment went into our area due to capital expenditure laws changing in 2007.”
“We’re doing well,” said Joe Hannon, president, Midwest Ink. “We just opened a new plant in Minneapolis. The big ink companies are shrinking their operations and closing plants, which offers great opportunities for independent companies like us that specialize in service and quality. In the sheetfed market, there are less ink players out there, and hands-on printers don’t necessarily like to work with supply houses.”
In some regions, sheetfed printers are still struggling.
“We’ve had a shakeout this year, with a lot of consolidation,” said Rick Redwine, president of A/R Ink & Supply. “The Denver market for sheetfed is a strange market. We’re pretty specialized.”
“Northern Ohio has been a difficult market for printers,” noted Bernie Van Camp, sales manager, Rainbow Inks. “There have been a lot of closings. Manufacturing is leaving this area, such as steel, tool and die, bearings, auto. Being that we can manufacture when our customers need it keeps us busy, not a lot of people can provide that service.”
New products are driving growth for ink manufacturers.
“During 2006, Van Son launched two new additions to its commercial sheetfed offering,” said Joe Bendowski, president, Van Son Holland Ink Corp. “Already successful with the Vs5 Series, the Van Son Ink Council, currently made up of more than 20 regional independent ink companies, requested the availability of an additional formulation with a wider range of post-press applications. As such, we responded with the introduction of Vs3, a truly universal ink offering all of the features and benefits today’s press operators desire and require. For the traditional graphic arts dealer serving the smaller to mid-sized printer market, Van Son introduced Quickson PRO.”
“The sheetfed ink market has been pretty good for us,” said Bob Arzilli, vice president of manufacturing and technical for Three-Dimensional Chemical. “That may be due to our new stay-open ink. It will stay open up to 30 days, and dries really well. It was hard to convince me, but I’m impressed. We can’t seem to make enough of it.”
Pat Carlisle, president of Joules Angstrom U.V. Printing Inks, has seen the UV sheetfed market grow in 2006, and he noted that customers are adding new presses with UV capabilities.
“Indications show printing is picking up,” Mr. Carlisle said. “Printers seem to have a strong outlook for 2007. Let’s hope it comes through that way.”
Opportunities in Packaging
Sheetfed printers focus on two areas: commercial printing and packaging. Generally, commercial printing is a much larger segment of the sheetfed market than the packaging market, Mr. Levin said. However, since there is printing overcapacity in the commercial market, a number of printers are exploring how they might use their presses to produce both commercial and packaging work. Mr. Levin pointed out there might be limited growth opportunities in the packaging arena since offset-produced folding cartons often use energy-curing inks and coatings and face competition from the flexo process, too.
Ms. Backofen-Rothaker sees good growth opportunities in packaging.
“According to a recently conducted global PRIMIR Study (by Pira), packaging represents the largest element of the North American print market and has been growing at an annual rate of 4-5 percent since 2001,” said Ms. Backofen-Rothacker. “Many sheetfed printers have pushed into the larger format market to pursue the growing packaging business.”
“Packaging has always remained steady while the commercial segments has more volatility,” Mr. Kristo added. “More commercial printers are exploring the packaging side.”
Consolidation Among Printers
Consolidation among sheetfed printers remains active. The industry trend continues with a number of small and medium printers closing or selling their operations, Mr. Levin explained. Meanwhile, the large printers just keep getting bigger. In many cases the large printers are expanding their networks, but they also might be trying to remove excess printing capacity from the market. The effect this would have, he said, would be to bolster pricing for printing, which has been impeded by the intense competition to keep cash flowing during recent difficult years.
“There is a lot of private equity money seeking commercial and package commercial printers looking for roll-up opportunities,” Mr. Kristo said. “There remains a large enough acquisition target base of strong regional players that will continue to attract outside money in an attempt to roll-up companies to sell to larger established printing organizations.”
“We believe that the consolidation trend will continue in 2007,” said Ms. Backofen-Rothacker. “The print market overall is shrinking and, according to recent reports by the NAPL, will continue to do so throughout 2010. Opportunities for organic growth are limited for printers and trying to growing market share on price is a lost game.”
New Press Technologies
New press technologies are impacting printers, and ink manufacturers are developing solutions.
“There are several technological developments that are affecting ink manufacturing. One of the biggest factors has been the development of high-speed perfecting presses,” Mr. Levin said. “This creates the need for special inks that can dry quickly to reduce marking as the substrate passes through press after one side has been printed.
Mr. Levin added that many presses now include other in-line processing such as coating and die cutting, which place special demands on the inks. Another emerging factor is the development of large-format sheetfed presses, used for posters and other big print jobs, which might require increased lightfastness or other qualities.
“With the increased width and speed of these new presses we have had to improve the robustness of our inks and develop compatible fountain solutions to deliver the improved quality and performance requirements,” Mr. Levin said.
“The press manufactures are facing the same challenges their customers face,” said Ms. Backofen-Rothacker. “How do you differentiate in this business? How do you increase profitability and market share? They realize they have to serve the demand for maximum productivity and flexibility for their customers’ customers. Sales of UV-equipped presses are booming. New technologies are flourishing, including in-line foiling, die-cutting and various new coating techniques like haptic and optic effects with drip-off coatings and glossy dispersion.”
To better serve customers FlintGroup has developed a new sheetfed product called Novavit F918 BIO. This product eliminates the misting problems usually seen with high-speed presses. “As these presses are rapidly moving into the market, we wanted to help our customers with an extremely press stable product, low in VOC and best in class for ink/water balance,” Ms. Backofen-Rothacker said.
Liberty ink is one of Sun Chemical’s newest sheetfed products, which is having considerable impact on the sheetfed market, Mr. Levin said. “Liberty inks were recognized this year with an InterTech Award given by the PIA/GATF for an innovative product likely to have strategic market impact,” Mr. Levin said. “Liberty inks use a proprietary formula to create stay-open qualities, ultrafast drying and quick-to-color performance.” Mr. Levin added their use is growing in double-digit figures as printers increasingly find that use of the premium inks has a measurable return on investment.
Digital technologies are finding more opportunities, and ink manufacturers are moving into the market. For example, INX International Ink formed Triangle INX, a joint venture with Triangle Digital Ink.
“Digital inkjet will continue to find market space and we have adapted our infrastructure to being a player in this arena,” Mr. Kristo said. “Although the digital application is not the predominant means of printing it will steadily gain ground especially as speeds improve.”
Many commercial sheetfed printers have begun adding digital presses to their offering, Mr. Levin said, because it allows them to capture some niche business in which sheetfed printing was not as competitive. For instance, some have added presses like Kodak’s NexGen or the Hewlett-Packard Indigo in order to capture the short-run and variable-data opportunities. On the other hand, he said, some have begun adding large-format digital presses that can be used to print signs all the way up to billboard size or larger.
“There are several drivers and barriers to the success of digital printing,” noted Ms. Backofen-Rothacker. “Driven by the current market dynamics, digital printing is moving into the commercial print shops on all levels, regardless of employee size. Historically we have seen this trend more on the Quick Print side or smaller print shops but due to the demand of target marketing (personalization and variable content), shorter run length, faster turn around times, and low or no inventory, digital technology has moved into all size print shops. “
The growth of digital printing is one reason Sun Chemical recently launched a line of inkjet inks to be sold in the fast-growing North American “after-market” for wide-format digital printing. Sun Chemical will market these inkjet products under the Streamline brand. These inks, both solvent and water-based, can be used for digital proofing, P-O-P signs, murals, banners, vehicle graphics and billboards/outdoor display applications. Streamline inks can be used with confidence on wide-format digital printing devices from most major manufacturers.
Printers Seek Faster Speeds, More Customization in New Presses
By Bill Esler, Editor in Chief,
and Tom O’Rourke, Project Editor,
Graphic Arts Monthly
Commercial printers are seeking to differentiate their offerings and grow closer to their customers. A shortage of skilled labor and the shifting economics of the print business – shorter press runs, quicker turn times and online order systems among them – are driving printers to retool sheetfed pressrooms with automated machines. The latest presses deliver sheets twice as fast – 15,000 to 18,000 per hour – as the machines they are replacing, frequently with reduced staffing.
Revisionist thinking in the pressroom means that formats of sheetfed presses are also changing. Printers are specifying more customized offset press configurations, with coating units – sometimes using flexo-based applicators – integrated at various points along the line, followed by curing units, then more printing, coating and curing – so sheets reach delivery ready to finish.
The 40” press is being supplanted or supplemented by 29’’ presses in many shops. Others are making a move to larger format machines, looking for economies of scale or added diversity of output. In the 40” arena, printers are debating the merits of running long perfectors, which may necessitate a slowdown from running machines flat out, but deliver two-sided product in a single pass.
The tradeoffs are the demands for careful mastery of the press and the ink tack settings, to avoid marking after the sheets have turned over on the automated perfector, and head for their second pass through. In general, about a one-third of recent North American 40” installations are perfectors, according to figures presented by Heidelberg during a Graph Expo roundtable.
Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that once a printer adopts perfector work, his press will remain in perfector mode. Also, evidence seems to suggests that where printers receive orders online, they sometimes adopt nimble presses in four-page and six-page formats, or move to digital output.
At Graph Expo the latest developments in 6-up press lines were presented by firms specializing in this segment: Akiyama, Sakurai, Ryobi, xpedx and Shinohara. This is in addition to offerings in the 6-up arena from firms also supplying 40” presses.
Studies show more than 40 percent of printers have adopted some form of web-based ordering systems that simplifies the print buying process, at least for more routine jobs. Such online utilities also assure print buyers make “expert” orders, because they walk them through the specifications. Just like buying consumer goods online, these applications don’t permit the purchase to advance to the next step until all the specification questions have been answered along the way.
Commercial printers are also diversifying into new areas, such as light folding carton work, adding presses that can flexibly move between thinner and thicker stocks. For some operations, new markets are leading printers to adopt presses that are longer, wider or both.
Finally, the new generation of printing presses are so automated and so easily integrated into prepress operations that the business case for adding new equipment becomes incontrovertible. Perhaps that is why sheetfed press sales have risen a dramatic 70 percent in 2006.
Keys to Differentiation
Jesse Williamson, COO, The Williamson Printing Corp., Dallas, said his firm’s many Speedmaster platforms have been tailored to create unique offerings, incorporating specialized ink formulations and application methods as part of the firm’s unique branded packages – “liquid foil,” etc. Handling run lengths from 3,000 to 4.5 million, Williamson uses proprietary irrational screening technology and inks blended in-house to create “liquid embossing,” a unique raised surface achieved through UV and flexo printing applications.
“All inks and coatings are mixed in our facility,” Mr. Williamson said, which is essential is getting the viscosity and tack just right. He also described a unique paint finish color selector Williamson Printing developed for the automotive industry.
“We have developed a patented process for printing paint chips for the automotive industry that save them millions of dollars,” Mr. Williamson said. By using a flexo/offset combination, the application eliminates the need to apply matched paint chips to selector cards.
Fetter Printing, Louisville, announced in December that it would shift its focus to target two major customer groups, labels and customized sales materials in specific markets. After 118 years in business, the company has completely overhauled its management structure and market strategy.
Fetter plans to concentrate primarily on two markets: creating information management systems integrated to label printing, and providing logistic solutions for the paint and coatings industry. The company reports it is the number-two national supplier in this market with 15 percent market share. The company manages 25,000 SKUs and is on track in 2006 to process 63,000 separate orders and ship 140 million labels.
Fetter will also create, print and distribute customized sales materials for the health insurance industry. Both markets, say company officials, require the specialized tools and software the Fetter has developed.
“In the future we will not be everything to everybody but something special to those who choose to partner with Fetter. We intend to become the market leader in printing and packaging supply chain services for the paint and coatings industry, in particular,” says Terrence Gill Jr., Fetter’s president and COO since September.
Presented at Graph Expo
Sheetfed press makers Heidelberg, KBA, Komori, MAN Roland and Mitsubishi all announced or demonstrated a number of innovations at October’s Graph Expo. Advances seen on the 40” and 41” 8-up models anticipate, or in some cases follow, developments in the 6-up lines.
Higher speeds, on-board spectrophotometric measurements, innovative makeready start-ups, options for printing non-porous substrates, more perfectors, more units and “inline everything” are trends that apply to both press classes.
Heidelberg notes that common demands from printers have brought many of the features originally used on the full-sized 40” presses into the 29” lines. The most recent example of technology crossing platforms is Heidelberg’s development of Peak Performance Packages for its 29” press line.
New for Heidelberg’s 29x41” Speedmaster XL 105 is a fully automatic feeder-conveyer option with standardized U.S.-sourced pallets that allow non-stop production of thicker substrates at the press’s full, 18,000-sph production speed, eliminating pile changes every few minutes and maintaining the same maximum pile height.
This new package of bundled options for the 23”x29” CD 74 press is aimed at printers doing packaging, labeling or long runs. Many features in the Peak Performance Package were pioneered on Heidelberg’s XL 105 press. The options include an 18,000 straight production speed (15,000 on perfectors); upgraded powder spray and anti-static devices; and an upgrade to the dynamic sheet brake, to slow down sheets flying into delivery.
Prinect Inpress Control measures color and register in the quality control strip on the fly, allowing for closed-loop color control on a sheetfed press.
KBA has announced the availability of its QualiTronic II inline sheet inspection system for its 18,000 sph (15,000 sph perfecting) 29”x41”Rapida 105, along with the DensiTronic S.
The QualiTronic II scans the printed sheet with a high-performance color camera that measures more than 16 different colors on the sheet for consistent quality throughout the print run. A computer system developed by KBA compares the picture with a good sheet and indicates any errors on the control console.
Brand new on both the Rapida 105 and on the newly introduced 20x29” Rapida 74G (“G” for Gravuflow, a keyless, short-train inker) is an inline corona tower for treating plastic substrates.
Graph Expo marked the U.S. introduction of Komori’s new Lithrone S29 series in 20x29” format and the announcement of a Lithrone S29 in 24x29” format.
Introduced and demonstrated at Graph Expo, the 16,000-sph 20x29” LS29 incorporates many features that were originally used on the 40” Lithrone S40 press for higher speed production. On the LS29, these and other productivity-enhancing features permitted runs of as many as 17 short, 200- to 250-sheet jobs within a 90-minute time period. Komori calculated an average of less than five minutes per job, including makeready, pre-ink, run-up to color, achieving register, running, wash-up and on to the next job.
Included in the LS29 series is a new Lithrone S29P (perfector) that includes the same speed and fast makeready features.
The new Komori Lithrone S29 in 24?29? format eases six-up production of 8x11” page products and incorporates the new high-speed capabilities of the LS29. The 24” sheet size allows room for a color bar and gripper margin for work-in-turn production to print on the second side of the sheet. Komori also announced a new “double coating capability” for two-sided coating on both the 40” Lithrone S40P and the Lithrone S40SP (super perfector).
For the 41” and 29” press markets, MAN Roland sees coating units as “almost a de facto standard.” UV curing, in the hybrid process especially, has also been identified as a trend that is impacting both press sizes, with the 41” press taking the lead because it has been designed for easy dryer integration.
In another technology transfer from larger format presses, MAN Roland’s 23x29” Roland 500 has added perfecting using the same technology that has been proven on the 41” Roland 700.
MAN Roland emphasizes the capability of its 29x41” Roland 700 presses in 16,000 sph straight or 12,000 sph perfecting models to be custom-configured to help differentiate a printing company. The newest and most successful of those custom configurations – one already judged a “huge hit” by the manufacturer – is the inline cold foiling system on the Roland 700 introduced to the U.S. market at Graph Expo 06.
MAN Roland will continue to concentrate on the long perfector market in the 500 series and is looking forward to 8- to 10-color presses next year.
At Graph Expo, Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses introduced and demonstrated a new image-scanning spectrophotometer, a new plastics printing package and a new automated plate-changing system for its 16,000-sph, 28x40” Diamond 3000LX.
The Mitsubishi Color Control System V (MCCS-V), which is also being made available on the Diamond 2000 23x29” models, is a new system for the control of the print color tone by measuring the entire print image. It is an image-scanning spectrophotometer that records all the image data for a print sheet in a single measuring operation. .
The SimulChanger demonstrated on the Diamond 3000LX at Graph Expo represents Mitsubishi’s latest automated plate-changing technology. It targets the time-consuming steps in press makereadies and eliminates individual positioning of each plate cylinder.
SimulChanger incorporates a newly developed simultaneous cylinder phasing system that makes use of the uppermost and lowermost adjustment settings for registration. Plate cylinders at each unit automatically turn and stop at the optimum positions for changing plates, enabling the plates at all units to be changed at the same time.