As was the case in 2001, this past year was not kind to the printing and printing ink industries, as the U.S. economy grew a bit but never picked up momentum. As a result, prices and margins remained tight. However, demand for new technologies remained strong.
For suppliers of waxes, solvents and additives, 2002 was a slight improvement over 2001, but still offered no clear economic trend to point to for the near future. However, there appears to be an increasing interest in value which may bode well for the ink industry and suppliers in the coming years.
2002 and Beyond
Key suppliers of waxes, solvents and additives found that 2002 offered some growth over 2001, but the industry remains volatile.
“In 2002, Eastman Resins was able to gain and maintain market share above what we enjoyed in the previous year,” said Dr. Hermant Dandekar, Eastman Resins’ general manager. “In spite of the overall economy, we are still doing well.”
“Business in 2002 has been steady,” said Rick Krause, marketing director, printing and packaging at Johnson Polymer. “Companies continue to stress cost control and spending constraint in light of ongoing economic uncertainty. We foresee business to continue to be steady in 2003 and are optimistic that the overall economy will return to a more typical steady growth environment.”
“While the industry had a slow start in 2002, we have seen good improvement year-to-date over the same period in 2001,” said John Starkweather, global marketing manager, graphic arts at Rohm and Haas Company. “There were some fits and starts, but we have seen periods of good activity. A key factor for Rohm and Haas, specifically, is our commercialization of the new Lucidene 4000 PLUS technology. The future picture remains unclear. However, we are hoping for recovery by mid-2003.”
While pricing remains a serious concern, there are signs that ink manufacturers are starting to successfully make the case for judging inks by the cost of running a print job as opposed to price per pound.
“While ink maker overcapacity and the slow economy have driven share-focused activity by some resin suppliers, we have seen signs that ink makers are not only focused on raw material costs,” Mr. Starkweather said. “Many are looking for ways to differentiate their offerings by providing lower cost-in-use inks to their customers.”
“Bringing value to end-use customers in a way that truly brings value is our challenge,” Mr. Krause said. “Cutting costs is one way and a necessary ongoing requirement. But I suspect our customers and customers’ customers are looking for new innovative products to solve broader end-use needs.
“Every company is facing competitive pressure which has grown more intense during this current and recent period of economic stagnation,” Mr. Krause continued. “That said, however, we see everybody raising prices and/or facing ongoing consolidation within the ink industry and industry value chain.”
Although no one likes to think abut it, higher prices are a possibility, especially if the Middle East erupts into further violence.
“Raw material costs for suppliers continue to escalate and we anticipate the ink industry wrestling with higher raw material costs,” Mr. Krause said. “Petrochemical-based raw materials continue to be at elevated levels, particularly given the uncertainty in the Middle East. Styrene costs have increased more than 50 percent. And everyone is facing higher costs related to health care benefits and personnel costs as well as ongoing regulatory compliance costs.”
“In spite of significant increases in raw material costs, most suppliers have absorbed these costs, expecting the economy to recover,” Dr. Dandekar said. “The extended downturn in the economy is putting the supplier industry in a position where they have to rethink that strategy.”
Packaging inks are an area that has shown some growth, and suppliers are being asked to develop new products for this segment.
“While change is taking place throughout the entire industry, it is evident that packaging stands out as the sector accelerating at the highest rate,” said Nasry Rizk, Ph.D., director of marketing and business development for Carroll Scientific. “In addition to enjoying the healthiest overall growth rate, the sector is showing extensive new activities in the area of developing innovative packaging products and materials.”
“We continue to focus our efforts and resources on our core business: printing and packaging,” Mr. Krause said. “As a polymer supplier to the printing ink industry, we plan to continue to develop new products that will bring value to both our customers and our customers’ customers – and do so in a collaborative manner. Our new line of fully FDA-approved polymers – Joncryl DFC; our line of high performance dispersion resins – Joncryl HPD; and our line of heat resistant polymers – Joncryl HR; are just a few examples of the effort we are making to bring value to the ink, OPV and packaging markets.”
Ink makers are also facing other challenges as they head into 2003. Dr. Dandekar believes that a return to profitability, controlling costs, and repositioning products to find new applications are the most difficult challenges facing the industry in the coming years. Mr. Starkweather sees imports and overcapacity as critical concerns.
“Ongoing overcapacity, growing imports, and aggressive pricing activity continue to plague ink makers,” Mr. Starkweather said. “This has continued to make it difficult for resin manufacturers to pursue much needed profitable growth strategies.”
Ultimately, suppliers must offer service and innovation to its customers.
“Our manufacturing improvements over the last several years have positioned us well to fund new technology that will drive our value added and profitable growth strategy over the long term,” Mr. Starkweather said. “Our new Lucidene 4000 PLUS product line provides not only improved ink quality, but also much needed efficiency gains by the printers. We have recently commercialized this five product series with tremendous market response, indicating a real demand for something different.”
“Carroll Scientific is responding to the challenges by moving rapidly into becoming a full range additive and vehicle supplier while continuing to offer our customers superior service and innovative technology,” Dr. Rizk said. “Being a subsidiary of a fluid technologies giant such as Lubrizol helped us develop unique ink additives. For example, our Colorburst pigment dispersants are helping our customers get the most out of their pigments by maximizing color development in inks.”
For suppliers of waxes, solvents and additives, developing new value-added products to help their ink customers differentiate products offers potential for growth in the coming years.