Resins are a critical component of inks. When ink manufacturers seek to improve performance, they go to resin manufacturers to see what can be accomplished.
Whether it is higher resolubility, offering more barrier properties, improving adhesion or better resistance to heat, emphasizing environmental issues or handling faster press speeds, resin manufacturers are working together with their customers to develop new products.
According to many resin manufacturers, the need for better performance is overtaking the emphasis on price. These manufacturers note that a number of ink companies are willing to pay more to get better performance, which they say is a welcome trend.
A serious concern for ink manufacturers is the trio of major acquisitions in the resin industry that have occurred in the past six months. Akzo Nobel purchased Ascona Resins; International Paper, parent company of Arizona Chemical, purchased Union Camp; and Eastman Chemical just announced plans to acquire Lawter International. How this will affect the market has yet to be seen.
Most experts say the resin market is growing at about the gross domestic product. Dan DeLegge, technical director, resins at Lawter International, is one person who said customers are rewarding improved performance.
“The market is doing well,” said Mr. DeLegge. “What is very good is that for the first time in many years, the market is more interested in performance than in price. This is ideal, because there are a lot of exciting developments in resins.”
Melanie Sanchez, market manager, graphic arts at Air Products Polymers, L.P., said her company is noticing that its customers are willing to pay for performance, and are looking to buy from fewer suppliers. “Customers are telling us they’re willing, and their customers are willing, to pay for additional performance parameters,” said Ms. Sanchez.
“Our customers are aggressively seeking to consolidate their raw materials, and are not looking for multiple suppliers,” Ms. Sanchez said. “I think that’s a good trend, as they are looking to form partnerships with their suppliers.”
“The resins market for us is doing fairly well,” said Del Rector, business market manager, inks and pigment business at Eastman Chemical. “We’re up in volume from last year.
“One of the big things that people are looking for is reducing cost,” said Mr. Rector. “There’s been a lot of consolidation, and everyone is looking to reduce costs. On the flip side, nobody can afford to lose performance.”
Quality and consistency are also critical to resin customers. “Quality, doing it right the first time, and consistency are pretty much a given, as is consistency of supply,” said Mr. Rector. “You’ve got to have those before you come to the table.”
“The acrylic styrene resin business has been very strong,” said Suzanne DeCoursey, market manager, printing and packaging polymers, SC Johnson Polymer. “Acrylic resins have been very popular due to their consistency and uniformity. Additionally, raw materials pricing for these types of resins for the past few years has made their use very cost-effective.”
However, ink profits have been on the decline, which does present some concerns for resin manufacturers.
“One of the trends in the industry is that profits in the ink industry were down in 1998, and I see that reflected in pressure on resin prices,” said Kees Riphagen, marketing manager for Akzo Nobel Resins. “The ink market should be doing well, since the economy is strong and the printing market is up, but quite a few customers of ours are complaining of slow business so far this year.”
For many resin manufacturers, working with their customers is the best way to develop improved products.
“Whenever our customers are open to the idea, we’re trying to work in very close technical partnership with them,” said Francois Gallouedec, marketing manager, ink resins & additives for Henkel Corporation’s Coatings & Inks Division. “Our Applications & Development lab can help our customers work better by analyzing the physical chemistry of their ink and overprint varnish formulations and their method of application.
“This type of cooperation ends up being very beneficial for our customers, because our expertise lies in the knowledge of the relationships between molecular structure and physico-chemical properties of the resins,” Mr. Gallouedec said. “Once we know which property a customer wants to enhance, we can modify the resins to provide the expected performance.”
“Everything we do is customer-driven,” Mr. Riphagen said. “I don’t see any other way. We have three levels of research: local plants where we make the resins; the corporate level, where we do innovative research; and our technology centers within our corporation.” Mr. Riphagen noted that these centers focus on specific developments, such as rheology and pigment wetting.
“We do a lot of tailor-made products for our customers,” Mr. Riphagen continued. “Our customers come to us with a particular need, and we solve their problems. Our slogan is ‘Creating the Solution Together.’”
“New product development at SC Johnson Polymer is customer and market driven,” Ms. DeCoursey noted.
“One of the issues that comes up is the idea of strategic advantage,” Mr. Rector said. “Customers want a product that is customized to them, which will allow the customer to differentiate themselves in the market. It’s necessary for suppliers and their customers to partner, whether it’s formal or informal. The technical communities of both companies can sit down and discuss what they need, and then can go back to the labs.
“We do have a process,” Mr. Rector continued. “Eastman has spent a lot of time identifying customers’ needs, allocating resources and developing solutions for those needs. One of our big emphasis areas is polymers for water-borne inks and coatings. We have a large research group, more than 40 people, whose sole responsibility is to develop new water-borne products and technologies in that area. We see it as an important direction for the industry in the future.”
“Developments are done in concert with our customers,” Mr. DeLegge said. “At Lawter, we also have our ink vehicle department, where we can test our new ideas to help solve our customers’ problems. It shortens the time of development significantly. It’s a three-pronged approach between our customers’ input, our R&D input, and our ink vehicle development group, and it provides for rapid, accurate development, which is an absolute necessity in the ink business.”
“We also like to work closely with customers that have special polymer needs,” said Holly Hartschuh, senior market manager ink vehicles – worldwide for Morton International. “By partnering and designing a polymer with our customer’s input, we can create a custom emulsion or solid resin that will create new opportunities for growth.”
“Everybody’s ink formulation for films are a little bit different,” Ms. Sanchez noted. “More often than not, we’ll send samples, and they’ll test them in their formulations.”
“Many formulators tend to put all the performance demands on the resin, while the resin often is a very small part of the total formulation,” Mr. Gallouedec noted. “There’s a lot that a formulator can do to improve both the ink end properties, and, at the same time, have an impact on the application. The right additives or slight modification in the solvent blend choice or ratio can go a long way.”
“You have to classify products by application to make the formulators job easier,” added Dr. Sobhy El-Hefnawi, technical manager at Henkel Corporation. “You build relationships between suppliers of raw materials, filmmakers, formulators and the end user/printer, and you modify products based on the needs specific to each contributor to the printing chain.”
Resin manufacturers must respond to customer needs in many areas. One area of particular interest is the increasing press speeds in the printing market.
One area of development for resins is the need to be able to create products that can be run on faster presses, and on substrates that are of lesser quality. Jack Baarends, vice president of R&D at Lawter International, said that heatset presses are now running at a rate of 3,000 feet per minute, and may go up as high as 4,000 feet per minute in the next few years.
Sheetfed is also looking at quicker press speeds: Mr. Baarends noted that the present sheetfed presses can produce up to 15,000 sheets per hour, and may increase to 20,000 sheets per hour in a few years.
“At these high speeds, there’s a lot of energy that is developed, which causes collapse of rheology and leads to a higher water pickup,” Mr. Baarends said.
“The first and primary development is the new variety of hybrid resins with improved rheological stability and improved water-balance properties,” Mr. DeLegge said. “Improving these two characteristics have been a primary goal for resin manufacturers, and the introduction of new chemistry has allowed us to increase the structure and solubility of resin systems.
“These hybrids are a combination of hydrocarbon resins and rosins,” Mr. DeLegge continued. “As press speeds increase and paper quality declines, resin performance becomes critical.”
“We’re working on polymers that are really focused in on press performance, such as the new Lucidene 4000 series of neutral pH resins and latexes that will have long-term press stability, less odor and better rewet,” said Ms. Hartschuh.
“Today’s press speeds and finer screen counts require more versatile resin systems,” Ms. Hartschuh added.
Improving overall resin performance is occurring through R&D efforts on a number of important properties.
“There are a number of objectives in offset R&D on rosin-based resins,” Mr. Riphagen said. “Number one is high molecular weights, high viscosity and high dilution. A lot of our development work is focused on that area. There are also niches, such as lower color.”
“As far as new resin development is concerned, most of our technological innovation is based on what our customers ask us,” Mr. Gallouedec said. “Our approach to product line extension is definitively market-driven, and a lot of recent effort has been concentrated on thermoplastic polyamide resins for flexography and gravure.
“Solvent-based inks seem to remain healthy, despite increasing pressures from water-based technology. Therefore, our customers are often asking for slight improvements on existing products,” Mr. Gallouedec said. “Our customers come to us asking if we can push the performance envelope a little bit further, and also allow them to have a slightly wider window of use, such as better solubility. They are comfortable using today’s resins, so they are not asking us to reinvent the wheel, just to provide something that is slightly better and help them fight off the competition.
“At the same time, we have to be prepared to meet the future water-based needs of today’s polyamide solvent-based customers,” Mr. Gallouedec said. “Therefore, we are actively working on high molecular weight polyamide water-based dispersions that will be introduced to the market place in the weeks to come.”
“The polyamide technology is well established,” added Robert LieBerman, business director, coating resins & additives at Henkel Corporation. “There hasn’t been a lot of unique developments in thermoplastic polyamide ink resins in the past few years. We try to do more application work on how to optimize the use of the existing resins, and we work very closely with our customers in order to help them use the resins properly. The true potential of these resins has not yet fully been explored.
“Solvent systems are here to stay,” Mr. LieBerman continued. “We recently launched some new resins with improved performance and we’re working on high solid systems for polyamides, which will be able to formulate lower VOC (volatile organic compounds) products, depending upon market requirements. We are concentrating R&D efforts on new resins which can be used in either flexo or gravure applications. Technologies include polyamides as well as the polyurethane area for solvent and water applications.”
“There are some limitations to the use of polyamides in certain areas and substrates,” said Dr. El-Hefnawi. “Our new resins are designed to improve these areas, such as better bond strength and performance on some specific substrates.”
“Some of our products introduced last year, such as Vancryl 965 styrene acrylic emulsion, combine good resolubility with early water resistance,” said Ms. Sanchez.
“Vancryl 990 is a styrene acrylic with a unique monomer that provides excellent adhesion to films, and is a vehicle for extrusion lamination,” Ms. Sanchez continued. “The Vancryl 2980 is for the corrugated market and low foaming applications. We have a different stabilization package so it doesn’t foam as much.
“Several customers have said that styrene acrylic resins have done a great job, but they are getting into more barrier properties,” Ms. Sanchez said. “They are more interested in looking at alternative chemistries, which is good for us.”
Temperature is another area of interest to resin manufacturers. For example, Mr. Gallouedec said polyamide resin tends to yellow when exposed to excessive heat. As a result, Henkel is working on improving polyamide ink resins heat resistance. At the other end of the spectrum, solvent-based inks exposed to cold temperature can gel, often without any hope of recovery, so Henkel has taken two of their most popular polyamide resins and created two new products with improved gel resistance and increased solubility.
Gloss and blocking are another area of importance.
“Gloss and non-blocking is essential for resins being used in the OPV market,” Ms. DeCoursey said. “OPVs are used over litho inks to minimize offset and must develop properties quickly because the printed materials are immediately converted or die cut and the OPV should prevent the ink from marring. High gloss OPV is one area where blocking has been an issue for resins in the past because of the high content of resin in the formulations. We have recently introduced Joncryl ECO 684, which is a solid resin with a low molecular weight. The Joncryl ECO 684 can significantly increase gloss and provides substantially better block resistance.”
“We’re also developing and enhancing our core competency in solid resin technology,” said Ms. Hartschuh. “We always have R&D going on for resins with improved color strength development, unique compositions and universal usages. While continuing to focus on high gloss and resistance properties, we are also impacting improved press performance with such polymers as the neutral pH products.”
“We’re pairing up our new developments to specific customer needs,” Mr. Rector said. “Acrylic emulsions and sulfopolyester hybrids are a first step.”
“These hybrids have better compatibility with the present dispersions and better economics,” said Gary Bond, Eastman Chemical technical representative.
Mr. Baarends also spoke of certain health, safety and environmental issues associated with resins, such as the replacement of mineral distillates with natural products like esters of vegetable fatty acids. New resins had to be developed to provide rapid drying and setting without the use of mineral distillates. In addition, these resins must have the ability to run at high speed without misting and provide excellent water balance.
“In particular, there is also emphasis on environmental issues,” Mr. DeLegge noted. “For example, Lawter has introduced the Ultra-Rez 400 series, which are phenol formaldehyde-free resins for more environmentally friendly ink, while performing the same as traditionally used modified phenolics.”
“There’s a lot of interest in our compliant products, such as Eastek’s water-borne technology,” said Mr. Rector.
Ms. DeCoursey said SC Johnson is working on developing environmentally friendly products, and meeting the demand for better non-blocking properties, color development in pigment dispersions and viscosity stability in finished inks.
“The Joncryl ECO line was developed because more and more printers and packaging companies are working to reduce VOCs and the use of glycol ethers,” Ms. DeCoursey said. “The major advantage of having glycol ether-free products is that customers can participate in the tobacco and confectionery areas, as well as insure low residuals for any food application. Another advantage is compliance with the ultra-low HAPs (hazardous air pollutants) levels required by the EPA’s new Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) regulations. The demand here has been very strong.”
Ultimately, working with customers to create improved resins will benefit both the ink manufacturers and resin suppliers. That cooperation holds the key to improved formulations and new developments that will propel the industries forward.