Photo courtesy of Color Resolutions International
Energy curing technologies continue to enjoy growth, particularly on the packaging side, and ink manufacturers are developing new technologies to meet the needs of their customers.
The market for energy curable technologies continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments for printers and ink manufacturers alike. As a result of the advantages in terms of performance as well as environmental benefits, ultraviolet (UV) and electron beam (EB) curing has made gains at a time when other printing technologies have stagnated or declined.
Ink manufacturers noted that for the most part, they saw growth in energy curing products.
Anthony Renzi, director, product management of liquid inks, North American inks, Sun Chemical, said that Sun Chemical saw some slight growth in the UV/EB market in 2012 compared to 2011, particularly on the packaging side.
“UV inks for commercial sheetfed was up marginally, with most growth coming from the packaging market, especially UV flexo, narrow web, tag and label and folding carton,” Mr. Renzi added.
Tom Hammer, product manager, packaging and narrow web at Flint Group, said that Flint Group continues to see steady growth and interest in the radiation-curable markets.
“Not only do we see growth across all segments in the narrow web label industry, but we also see increased interest in UV technologies for wide web and food packaging applications,” Mr. Hammer said. “Energy curable inks provide higher quality and better consistency in print; these inks perform excellently during press runs – presses are running faster and very little press-side maintenance is required. Wide web printers are seeing increased productivity and better quality and functionality when using UV inks.”
Mr. Hammer said that interest in UV ink for food packaging is on the rise.
“There is also an increased interest in UV inks for food packaging applications, as printers and brand owners desire the quality in print achievable with UV inks,” Mr. Hammer noted. “With the availability of high quality, low-migration inks designed specifically for food packaging, printers can use these inks and still be in accordance with current legislation and regulations. Energy curable inks are more functional and provide higher product resistance; costs are reduced due to higher consistency and quality with lower press side maintenance, thus generating less waste. Productivity is increased as a result.”
Norm Harbin, business director, news ink at Flint Group, said that UV curing for the news ink market has also seen growth. “The UV news segment continues to grow as a tool for newspaper printers to expand their business opportunities,” said Mr. Harbin.
Renee Schouten, corporate marketing manager for INX International Ink Co., reported that for the last several years, INX International has experienced excellent growth in the energy curing market.
“The energy curable market for inks and coatings continues to be strong, especially in the packaging segment,” Ms. Schouten said. “Our international sales growth remains steady as a result of the UV flexo market.”
“We’re seeing increasing optimism and growth in packaging, especially folding carton food packaging, in labels, and in some UV sheetfed commercial printing,” said Geoff Peters, president and CEO of Wikoff Color. “The web printing processes, EB litho and UV flexo, both seem to be very active. Coming out of drupa, there was a lot of interest in EB litho for flexible packaging. When the presses capable of that technology become readily available, it could also be a big area in food packaging.”
“There has been significant growth of UV overprint varnishes in the corrugated market, as more 7- and8-color presses are being installed by the post-print corrugated converter,” said George Sickinger, president and CEO, Color Resolutions International (CRI).“Also, more narrow web presses are being used to print with UV exclusively because of the enhanced quality and process efficiency.”
“In the UV web market, we have seen no growth since 2007,” said Damon Geer, vice president of Zeller+Gmelin, North America. “In our estimation, this market has shrank by at least 25% since the recession. This industry was not only affected by the recession, but also the move towards paperless technology, which impacted both the direct mail and business forms segments.
“The companies that survived the difficult times were the ones who had the capital to invest in new technology and the ability to diversify their business portfolio; many tried to just weather the storm and a large number didn’t make it,” Mr. Geer added.
Mr. Geer noted that the growth Zeller+Gmelin saw in UV sheetfed towards the end of the last decade has tailed off, with fewer new presses entering into the market, but flexo remains a strong market for UV.
“The niche element for UV sheetfed is printing on plastic, the key being UV inks ability to adhere and cure without the use of heat,” Mr. Geer said. “In our estimation, sheetfed printing utilizing UV inks has declined slightly since the recession, but could regain some momentum if the economy begins to improve in 2013.
“Flexo remains the only UV market where we are seeing continued growth, and the food packaging industry is where most of that growth can be found,” Mr. Geer said. “In Europe, low migration low odor inks are becoming more prevalent as environmental regulations there continue to change. It stands to reason that in the near future, the U.S. will follow Europe’s lead and the same requirements will be expected of American printers.”
John Copeland, president and COO of Toyo Ink America, LLC, said that Toyo Ink America has seen significant growth in the UV market during 2012 with double-digit growth, but the EB market continues to move slowly without much impact for us at this moment. He added that the cost of EB curing systems still stand in the way of expansion for the use of EB.
The thin film market has its own needs, and pulsed light is a technology that has seen growing interest. Xenon’s Sinteron 2010 system is ideal for curing on thin film substrates.
“In the last year, interest has doubled, with specific focus on displays,” said Lou Panico, CEO of Xenon Corporation.“Pulsed light has the ability to provide very good thermal management for heat sensitive processes and drive chemistry to completion with high peak energy. Higher energy, less heat and greater flexibility is responding to the direction of technology towards heat sensitive substrates and complex processes.”
In recent years, raw material availability and pricing had a major impact on energy curing technologies, as key ingredients such as acrylic acid and feedstocks were in short supply and prices dramatically increased. The good news is that the availability of many of these materials has stabilized, and costs have become less volatile. For example, Mr. Sickinger noted that CRI has had little concern with supply.
“Supply and pricing has stabilized in the marketplace; assuredness of supply is less of an issue today than it was in 2010 and 2011, when the market experienced dramatic cost increases across many raw material categories,” Mr. Hammer said. “By comparison, 2012 appeared more stable with some material availability improving. Costs continued up, but at a slower rate. Other than some pigment supply concerns, which are used in all ink chemistries, there have been no major concerns specific to UV material supply. Of course, we are all burdened with rising energy, transport, and packaging costs – these things will continue to affect everyone in our industry supply chain.”
“Even though there has been some relief in monomer and oligomer availability and pricing over the last year, pigments have become the latest problem,” Mr. Peters said. “Several manufacturers are discontinuing products, and we have seen shortages and back orders for even some of the more common pigments. It appears that pigment manufacturers are trying to rationalize product lines to maximize profit, but in the process, they are reducing options to the formulator and to printers.”
Mr. Copeland said that the supply of raw materials doesn’t seem to be an issue at the moment.
“The prices are certainly a concern as some raw materials, mainly photoinitiators, are climbing in price rapidly,” Mr. Copeland noted. “There are other concerns with regulations of photoinitiators being used in Europe versus domestically.”
“Raw material prices had continued to go up through 2011 but have stabilized some recently. UV ink prices have basically remained the same since the end of 2011 as ink companies are holding their prices in fear of losing business in stagnant markets,” Mr. Geer said. “On occasion we will hear of increases out in the field, but it’s almost always in market segments where pricing had already hit rock bottom and had no place to go but up. Certain pigments such as TiO2 have had increases, which ink companies could not absorb and had to be passed along to the consumer.”
“Although we have not experienced this year the widespread shortages and allocations that plagued the industry two years ago, the raw material supply chain is a continuing concern to Sun Chemical,” Mr. Renzi said. “A sharp uptick in demand from the emerging markets or developed economies could quickly put products like titanium dioxide, nitrocellulose, carbon black and some pigments in very tight inventory positions. We also need to be mindful of the potential impact of global weather conditions on such raw materials as gum rosin, ethanol and vegetable oils.”
Photo courtesy of Phoseon
With ink manufacturers enjoying growth in energy curing,it is no surprise that R&D teams are coming up with new technologies for the market.
“Our high sensitivity inks and coatings are producing some beautiful print pieces,” Mr. Copeland said. “This technology is helping printers create a lot of needed marketing buzz for the printing industry.”
Mr. Hammer said that Flint Group Narrow Web has had some very exciting developments in UV technology, launching products to address sustainability and the hot topic of low migration inks for packaging and label applications.
“Flint Group Narrow Web has introduced a series of ink technologies for UV LED curing under the EkoCure brand” Mr. Hammer said. “EkoCure is the first-ever, commercially available UV LED inks for narrow web combination printing. EkoCure was developed specifically to cure with UV LED lamps – providing both economical and ecological benefits. The inks made their global debut at Labelexpo Americas running live in press demonstrations on a Mark Andy P5 and P3 press.”
Mr. Hammer also noted that Flint Group introduced Flexocure ANCORA, a low migration UV flexo ink designed specifically for food packaging applications; BioCure F UV flexo inks, which are made from bio-renewable resources; and Flexocure XS shrink sleeve inks.
“These inks ensure the final packaging construction passes the most stringent migration tests with excellent press performance,” Mr. Hammer said. “BioCure F UV flexo inks are made using bio-renewable raw materials. In response to global market demands, Flint Group developed inks in accordance with sustainable ideals that also maintain key properties and the same performance available in other UV flexo ink systems. In order to address the fast growing shrink sleeve market, Flint Group Narrow Web has launched the Flexocure XS brand of custom opaque white inks to meet the demands of this highly decorative and functional application.”
“SunJet recently launched EtiJet LM UV, a new low migration UV curing ink range for the digital label market,” said Peter Saunders, sales and marketing manager, SunJet. “This new platform inkjet technology is suitable for all types of piezo print heads and can demonstrate migration levels of <10ppb in inks cured in air with standard mercury lamps. All of the ink components appear on the European positive lists, Swiss Ordinance and EuPIA, and the inks do not use materials specifically excluded in the Nestle list, meaning the inks meet the highest industry standards for food packaging.
“Our OEM customers are keen to ensure their equipment has the widest appeal to converters in labels and packaging, meaning that they want to offer low migration inkjet technology as an option,” Mr. Saunders added. “Utilizing Sun Chemical’s extensive knowledge and experience in low migration technology and regulatory compliance, including a certified testing laboratory, we are in a position to support our customers throughout the packaging design and production process. We are excited about the new opportunities this new ink technology can deliver.”
At drupa 2008, UV LED curing drew strong interest as a technology to watch for the future. This prediction is holding true four years later, as LED curing continues to gain momentum.
Stacy Volk, marketing communications at Phoseon Technology, reported that the interest in UV LED curing has grown substantially during the past year, especially in the digital inkjet market.
“A large number of OEMs are building new machines with UV LED technology because of the advantages of the technology,” Ms. Volk said. “For example, at drupa 2012, more than 30 vendors displayed equipment showcasing the UV LED technology, reinforcing the rapid development of UV LED curing systems, In addition, more than 20 ink and material vendors touted their own support and ability to formulate for LED.
“End users are increasingly asking equipment manufacturers for LED options, and the market-leading vendors are responding,” Ms. Volk added. “UV LED curing has moved from a niche technology application to a mainstream solution.”
Ms. Volk said that UV LED curing offers numerous advantages.
“Its advantages include reduced heat transfer to substrate, quieter operation, elimination of ozone and ventilation and economic savings,” Ms. Volk said. “Rapid technological advancements being made in all areas of printing, from digital inkjet to flexo and even into offset, demonstrate the far reaching potential and growing acceptance of UV LED curing.”
Because of these advantages, Ms. Volk said that advances in ink have been significant in the past year, as more than 20 ink and material vendors now have the capability to formulate inks for LED technology.
“In addition to the progress in ink formulation, LED lamps have become powerful enough to cure applications that were not possible before. For example, the Phoseon FirePower products offer up to 16W/cm2, which opens up new opportunities in the flexographic printing market where high speeds demand high-performance curing lamps,” Ms. Volk noted. “Because of the proven advantages of UV LED technology, more and more equipment manufacturers are utilizing the technology to build new systems. OEMs are seeing the long term benefits and advanced capability of transitioning to UV LED technology.”
Mr. Hammer reported that Flint Group is seeing interest in the marketplace for any inks that may provide economic and ecological benefits, such as UV LED inks.
“For example, UV LED inks enable higher print productivity, increased run speeds and increased press uptime due elimination of mercury UV lamp faults, and thus less equipment maintenance,” Mr. Hammer noted. “Additionally, energy consumption is significantly reduced, manufacturing space is increased and there is no mercury bulb replacement or disposal costs. There is also an expanded capability to run heat sensitive materials with less heat management costs on press. Last but definitely not least, energy savings, mercury-free lighting and lack of ozone or IR heat generation improves worker and environmental safety.”
Mr. Peters noted that UV LED is a rapidly growing area, particularly for inkjet and flexo.
“UV LED curing is well established for inkjet, and is beginning to penetrate UV flexo,” Mr. Peters said. “High speed litho printing is not a good fit for the technology as it stands now. The primary advantages of UV LED are that there is much less heat projected onto the printed substrate than with conventional lamps; that they do not contain mercury; and that they seem to have a much longer operational life than conventional lamps. The disadvantages are that curing speeds are typically slower than with lamps because UV LEDs emit UV energy in a very narrow area and energy transfer to the ink is less effective than with lamps. Generally, we do not see UV LED as a competing technology with lamps, but as an additional technology that will allow new things to be accomplished.”
“There is a lot of interest in LED curing, although there are not a lot of installations in the U.S.,” Mr. Copeland said. “There are a number of installations in Japan now. The advantages include lower power consumption and less shrinkage of the substrate as it moves through the press. We expect to see some installations in 2013.”
Ms. Schouten said that the interest in LED is at an all-time high and the market is flush with global ink offerings.
“The energy cost of LED compared to straight UV is the driving force with this technology and the biggest advantage it has to offer,” Ms. Schouten added.
Mr. Saunders said that SunJet was one of the first ink companies to recognize the potential benefits to customers of inks which have the ability to cure with UV LED lamps.
“The key potential benefits include lower heat output and longer life of the emitter compared to UV arc lamps,” Mr. Saunders said. “As lamp and ink technology have advanced, we have developed a series of graphic inks, which fully cure with LED UV exposure. We also have inks for imprinting applications, which use exclusively LED lamps in single pass. In narrow web applications, we have inks that are tuned to either use LED lamps to ‘pin’ drops, for print quality optimization, or can be fully cured with correctly selected lamps. The SunJet UV LED inks are part of the Crystal and EtiJet product ranges.”
Ms. Volk said that as digital inkjet grows, so does UV LED, and flexo will be the next major opportunity for LED curing.
“The need for the inkjet heads to be close to the substrate is a natural fit for UV LED curing,” Ms. Volk noted. “Digital processes continue to gain market share from analog process and UV LED is consistent with that curve. The next market to make the transition is screen printing, where UV LED curing provides increased speeds and improved yields. The next segment expected to transition to UV LED will be flexographic now that the ink suppliers and system builders have powerful UV LED curing lamps at their disposal. The recent Labelexpo 2012 in Chicago was a proof-point of this upcoming transition.”