Milling equipment manufacturers must innovate to stay ahead in these challenging economic times.
Milling equipment manufacturers continued to feel the impact of the economic downturn in 2011. As a result, milling equipment manufacturers have been focusing on developing new technologies that will differentiate themselves and give them an edge over their competitors.
“The ink industry has been shrinking in some respects since the late 1990s, with increasing competition from toner-based digital printing and the additional challenge of a lagging economy,” said Shawnacy McManus, lab/customer service technician at Hockmeyer Equipment. “Major ink producers have seen much in the same in recent months. Export rates have increased, and production models have shown slight increases from year to year; however, the trend remains an overall downward slope.
“This trend puts unique challenges on ink manufacturers and creates a market that demands innovation to thrive,” Mr. McManus continued. “Over the course of recent years, Hockmeyer’s customer testing and R&D lab has done substantial developmental work resulting in major changes in how inks are produced. Although the ink industry as a whole may be struggling, we saw the largest influx of orders ever from ink manufacturers. These sales, driven by new technologies and the challenges of a new economy, show a renewed vigor in the ink industry to see maximum return on their investments.”
Rene Eisenring, GD sales account manager, Buhler Inc. USA, said that 2011 was better than 2009, but not as good as 2010. “We are seeing some improvements now at the end of 2011, and expect that 2012 will be again better, like 2010,” Mr. Eisenring said.
“We feel that it will be more and more important for the future to stay ahead,” Mr. Eisenring added. “ Today we are selling 80% of our products that are less than five years old.”
“Our business in the ink industry has been steady,” said Dave Peterson, president, Engineered Mills, Inc. (EMI).“Equipment purchases were steady in 2010 and showed an increase in 2011, and we anticipate company purchases in 2012 will continue as there is still a demand for new technology that will help in product research and production.”
“The ink industry seemed to concentrate on efficiencies and eliminating secondary processing,” said Jerry Tippett, president of Schold Machine Corp. “Capital expenditures for 2011 were somewhat flat, and 2012 seems to be a wait and see status.”
“From our recent experience, we’ve seen increased activity in the area of specialty inks,” said Christine Banaszek, application engineer, Charles Ross & Son. “The majority of our sales to the ink industry are still the standard workhorses: High Speed Saw-tooth Dispersers and High Shear Rotor/Stator Mixers. We also supply Multi-Shaft Mixers for formulations that are under a high viscosity peak - above 50,000 centipoise.”
“We had a significant increase in activity both domestically and internationally,” said Cathy Strahan, marketing director, Myers Engineering, Inc. “We are currently following a number of projects that will lead into 2012.”
Key Areas of Interest
Milling equipment manufacturers Ink World spoke with reported several areas where there is strong interest for their products, notably in UV/EB, digital and inkjet markets and nanoparticle reduction. For example, Mr. Eisenring reported strong interest in packaging and digital ink, while Mr. Tippett noted that UV and waterborne inks are areas of interest for Schold’s customers.
According to Mr. Peterson, the strongest interest is in the digital and inkjet markets. “The trend in milling has been to investigate the use of media sizes less than 0.3 mm diameter to produce dispersions with greater strength, improved properties and doing so in shorter process times,” he noted.
“We’ve been active in printing inks in a number of different markets but in volume of inquiries, the flexographic products are running ahead of most others,” said Ms. Strahan.
Mr. McManus said that based on customer inquiries, there is strong interest in high viscosity media milling of inks, particularly UV and EB.
“Interest has steadily grown in nanoparticles for inkjet and electronic ink production,” Mr. McManus said. “The latest trend for nanoparticle reduction is being influenced by the ongoing issues created by wide particle distribution bands. Developing equipment with the ability to use small media for nano applications is vital in producing particles in the sub-micron range as well as a tighter distribution band. Nano-dispersed inks and conductive inks are rapidly emerging markets that will provide excellent opportunities in the future for properly prepared manufacturers and equipment suppliers alike.”
Meeting Customers’ Requirements
Ink manufacturers are looking for a variety of performance characteristics from their milling equipment. Key among these features are greater efficiency and lower energy consumption.
“Ink manufacturers are looking for more automation and lower power consumption,” said Mr. Eisenring. “Service and reliable equipment are becoming more and more important with U.S. customers.”
“People come to Myers for the efficiency of our equipment,” said Ms. Strahan. “Most companies are looking for improved performance to help reduce costs or production increase.”
“Our customers are looking for better ways of batching very fine dispersions that could eliminate or lessen the need for media milling,” said Ms. Banaszek. “We have answered this demand by offering our Ultra-High Shear Mixers, which are available in both batch and continuous configurations.”
“Ink manufacturers are looking for new equipment that can provide a wide range of benefits,” said Mr. McManus. “These benefits include faster process times, greater return on raw materials, less operator involvement and lower emissions of VOCs. In today’s slow economic growth, companies must streamline their processes in order to maximize on every economic opportunity. Investment in the proper technology is a key factor in this process. Equally important is service and support. The reduction of equipment down time is a very effect cost saving measure.
“Manufacturers are increasingly looking to equipment suppliers for assistance in this effort,” Mr. McManus noted. “Technology is constantly advancing, and as an industry, we are at one of the best times in recent history to capitalize on the benefits of that advance.”
In order to meet the demands of their ink industry customers, milling manufacturers have brought a number of new products to market. For example, Buhler's most recent product introduction is Automated Inline mixing for applications with large production and low ingredient count, while Schold Machine’s latest offering is UV milling with photo initiator in situ.
Engineered Mills has introduced the Nano Mini Mill to help in the investigation of dispersion with sub micron particle sizes. “The Nano Mini can handle bead sized less than 0.1 diameter which opens up new areas in milling efficiency,” said Mr. Peterson. “To complement the work done in the lab on the EMI Nano Mini Mill is the Microtron Mill that can process production volumes using the information developed from the research."
Ms. Banaszek noted that Charles Ross’ PreMax mixer offers numerous advantages.
"Compared to other batch style mixers including high speed dispersers, traditional rotor/stator mixers and immersion mills, the PreMax delivers more superior particle size reduction," said Ms. Banaszek. "Based on side-by-side test, it can finish viscous dispersions up to six times faster than ordinary high shear mixers. Many standard models are available for laboratory batches as small as 1-2 gallons and production vessels up to 1,000 gallons or larger."
Hockmeyer has two recent new products; the HCPS and HCPN Immersion Mills.
"The HCPS is designed to produce a wide range of products and is particularly helpful in dealing with challenging theologies and viscosities," said Mr. McManus. "The additions of a helical sweep arm and a controlled feed auger to Hockmeyer's existing Immersion mill technology allow the efficient production of viscosity ranges once limited to three-roll mills. Producing these products in a specially equipped immersion media mill has numerous advantages, including faster grind times, a safer work environment, quick, simple maintenance and the ability to reduce VOC emissions. This mill also provides for excellent heat transfer and higher flow rates, thus allowing the production of temperature sensitive inks and thixotropic ink systems.”
The HCPN is Hockmeyer's answer to the increasing demand for nanotechnology. "The HCPN combines a more aggressive media field, the ability to run smaller media and a unique high throughput media containment wall to provide particle reduction below one hundred nanometers faster than ever before,” added Mr. McManus. “Nano dispersion can maximize color development on many pigments as well as reveal new properties that were not evident at larger particle sizes. This provides ink manufacturers with the ability to expand product development to new horizons.”
For more information on The Milling Report, including some of the latest technologies, see the online version at www.inkworldmagazine.