Energy-cured inks are continuing to experience growth in 2005, and ink companies Ink World spoke with expressed optimism that this growth will continue into 2006. Overall, the worldwide use of energy curing inks appears to be growing at a rate of about 4 percent, according to Tony Bean, marketing manager, folding carton, Sun Chemical.
In some local markets, that number may be in the high single digits, but he pointed out that is because energy curing still accounts for only a small part of the market.
“Printers worldwide are seeking opportunities to offer high-value products and services,” Mr. Bean said. “They know that having the capability to do UV or EB printing can give them a competitive edge. That’s why so many new presses are being ordered with UV curing lamps.”
INX International Ink Company officials reported 8 to 10 percent average growth for the past decade.
Indications are that UV ink usage has continued to expand in a variety of markets in 2005. Flexible packaging is an opportunity for growth, most notably because of its strong visual appeal.
“The use of UV and EB inks will continue to grow in the flexible packaging market,” said Dr. Subh Chatterjee, director, advanced technology group, Sun Chemical.
“Other trends include increased usage of UV/EB-curable conductive inks in the electronic and security industries, continued growth in the UV-curable inkjet market, and the likelihood that UV curable screen inks will lose share to UV flexo inks due to printing speed limitation of the screen printing process,” Dr. Chatterjee said.
“Existing markets such as direct mail have continued to expand in UV as they continue to invest in equipment and switch over to UV,” said Pat Carlisle, president, Joules Angstrom U.V. Printing Inks.
According to Mr. Carlisle, there are opportunities for growth in applications, within reason. “Printers see the advantages of using UV, such as quick cure, which allows for quick turnaround,” he said. “UV finds niches in every printing application out there. We haven’t seen it in a gravure yet, but we see more growth in the commercial side, direct mail industry, food packaging for indirect or incidental contact. There are many opportunities for growth for UV. We just have to educate the customers on the advantages.”
“We’ve seen growth in the range of 6 to 7 percent in the UV sheetfed market,” said Kathy Marx, vice president and chief marketing officer, Flint Ink. “Because of the strong graphic impact of energy-cured inks and coatings, they are most widely used on cosmetics, healthcare and media packaging. POP displays and publication covers also take advantage of both the appearance and durability properties of UV.”
According to Gale Waller, UV/EB segment support specialties, INX International Ink Co., UV flexo, clear coatings with exterior durability, combination UV printing-rotary screen, flexo, offset and adhesives are markets that present the most opportunity for growth in UV inks.
“Printing on plastic, ink is instantly dry, no powder, no offsetting, no racking of loads on sheetfed presses,” added Jonathan Graunke, UV/EB technical director, INX International Ink Co. “It is also considered a green technology that may offer large benefit over forced hot air ovens running on natural gas.”
Dr. Chatterjee said that increased concerns about global warming might lead the printing industry to consider using energy-curing inks, coatings and adhesives as an alternative to conventional products that contain VOCs.
Because the capital costs of EB units have come down, many packaging converters have also begun looking at using EB for the web printing of folding cartons and flexible packaging.
According to Mr. Balmer, EB’s growth is limited to expansion within existing applications. “There has really been little movement into new applications,” he said.
“EB is prevalent in the food packaging industry, especially for frozen food, ice cream and cereal packaging,” Ms. Waller said.
“Prospects are excellent for the future as new beam technology may lower overall equipment cost, including maintenance,” said Mr. Graunke. “Lack of PI and degree of cure really helps lower migration levels for food packaging.”
EB is faring well worldwide. “It is growing. Europe is by far the largest user of this technology with Japan, Asia and South America increasing,” said Ms. Waller.
The most notable benefit of using energy-cured inks, coatings and adhesives is the instantaneous drying, which speeds the manufacturing process and allows faster finishing and shipping. The instantaneous curing improves job turnaround, allows quicker secondary conversion which reduces inventory, and reduces print job re-runs since final print quality is known instantly.
Energy curable products contain no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and, therefore, converters can avoid adding incinerators and permits required to maintain or expand their operations, Dr. Chatterjee said. Total energy consumption is less than thermal drying, which can save converters on their costs.
Energy-curing inks offer much improved protection of the printed product, reducing the needs for coating or laminating the products. Dr. Chatterjee said UV/EB coatings can offer very high gloss, which increases shelf appeal. Recently these coatings have opened up a new opportunity to simulate a “lamination look” for packages, instead of an actual film lamination. This improves productivity and economics further.
Energy curable flexo inks offer improved print quality for process printing due to improved dot sharpness since the high viscosity inks do not spread as much compared to low viscosity conventional inks, and dries instantly. The UV flexo inks do not require any on-press adjustments, such as viscosity.
There are some special considerations to be made when working with UV/EB technologies.
“Because energy-curing products employ a different chemistry, energy cured products have an associated learning curve for any new converter,” Dr. Chatterjee said. “The acrylate ester raw materials used in the formulations can irritate skin, so training and safety protocols must be implemented. Packages coated with UV/EB coatings that simulate film laminations can have difficulties when they go through end users’ filling lines.” He explained that thickness of the coating used, and their surface and mechanical properties may be different than the actual film used for lamination. Therefore, the coated packages must be carefully checked for its use in these machines. Adhesion on low surface energy substrates continues to be a challenge for UV/EB products and therefore, surface energies must be carefully adjusted.
“Another concern is that, on the surface, the per-pound costs of EC products are higher than conventional water- or solvent-based inks and coatings, which may surprise a new converter,” Dr. Chatterjee said. However, he pointed out that EC products are 100% solids, without any loss due to evaporation and, therefore, mileage per pound is significantly higher than conventional inks.
Printers look to UV inks to provide a cost-effective, high-quality result.
“Printers are always looking for ways to save money, and they want inks and coatings that help them do that,” said Rod Balmer, director of research and product development, Flint Ink. “Our job is to balance cost issues against performance, and this includes formulating inks with the best cure for faster press speeds and productivity improvements.”
“With UV technology, it’s always a matter of balancing economics against performance,” added Mr. Balmer.
According to Ms. Waller, printers are looking for better visual properties than water-based materials, that can provide enhanced shelf appeal, adhesion to a wide variety of synthetics, better overall runnability of the UV ink and significantly improved end-use resistance properties.
Gaining FDA compliance offers new avenues for growth for energy curing.
“Sun Chemical has been proactively helping the industry ensure that energy-curing products will be compliant with FDA requirements for direct contact with foods,” said Dr. Chatterjee. “In the 1980s, Sun Chemical developed EB offset inks suitable for printing milk cartons. To penetrate the food packaging market with UV/EB products during the 1990s, Sun Chemical pioneered the use of water in UV/EB product formulations instead of acrylate monomers. These patented products do not require any additional drying to remove water prior to curing them with UV or EB. This helped reduce odors and skin irritation associated with UV/EB formulations, and residual extractables associated with UV/EB products after curing – all required factors for food packaging applications.”
Sun Chemical has an EB coating that is FDA-compliant for direct food contact. However, Mr. Bean noted that it cannot be used as a barrier, but can only be applied on top of inks that are already FDA-compliant. He said some manufacturers may fail to inform converters that although a coating is FDA-compliant, its use does not create a barrier that allows it to be used over non-compliant inks.
“We are working on getting energy curable products approved and accepted for direct food contact usage,” said Mr. Graunke. “Measuring the data will continue to be a challenge that only companies with very good analytical capabilities will be able to pursue.”
Despite its continued growth, UV/EB inks, as is the case with the rest of ink market, face escalating raw material prices as well as shortages.
Recent increases in raw material prices have been steep and have come very quickly, according to Chris Morrissey, Sun Chemical corporate vice president, marketing. Under these conditions, it is virtually impossible to raise the price of finished inks quickly enough to match the rising materials costs. He said Sun Chemical has implemented a modest price increase and continues to do everything it can internally to mitigate rising costs.
Flint Ink recently announced a price increase of 10 percent on all UV products. “In addition, we stipulated a 4 cents per pound surcharge to cover the current high cost of transportation due to recent hikes in fuel prices,” said Ms. Marx.
While the price of raw materials continues to rise, ink manufacturers face an ongoing battle to get ink price increases through.
“Pricing has not held up,” said Mr. Carlisle. “This is a frustrating situation for me as a result of the raw material shortage last year and rising crude oil prices. It’s frustrating because even with shortages and raw material we still see companies lowering prices. They treat it as commodity and it is not. It is a highly technical product, which requires formulating and expertise to come up with a good product. Ink companies need to wake up and see it is not a commodity product.”
“A major challenge is how to be profitable when raw material prices increase, when fuel increases and yet you see your competition lowering prices,” said Mr. Carlisle. “This is an ongoing battle. We have to bring integrity back in the industry and I believe UV is the place to start. By minimizing the importance of UV ink, it just makes tougher challenges to all of the ink industry. Printers look at us for all the answers to solve their press-related, ink related and paper-related problems. We are in a high tech industry, we should treat it as such.”
Ink companies have developed a number of UV ink products for use in a variety of applications.
Flint Ink recently introduced a coldset UV product which enables coldset printers to expand their offerings by printing on higher-end substrates. “Here the benefit of UV technology is not so much ultra-high-end graphics as the ability to maximize press utilization,” said Kathy Marx, vice president and chief marketing officer, Flint Ink Corp. “The product has met with good success, exceeding our expectations.”
Flint Ink recently introduced Arrowstar UV 7700 and EB sheetfed inks. “The inks utilize similar resin and photoinitiator technology to that which recently earned Flint Ink the PIA/GATF InterTech Technology Award for excellence in innovative technology,” said Ms. Marx.
ArrowStar UV 7700 formulations offer increased productivity to a range of printers, including commercial print, direct mail, folding carton, label, and business forms producers. The inks low-viscosity provides excellent transfer even at the highest press speeds, according to the company. Tests have demonstrated outstanding press stability and excellent print quality at speeds of 18,000 iph for sheetfed applications and 15,000 fpm for forms. “The ease of use and runnability of ArrowStar UV 7700 is comparable to conventional inks, with top performance on the most demanding dampening systems,” said Ms. Marx.
According to Gale Waller, UV/EB segment support specialist, INX Ink Company, the firm has been working on hybrid technology, which allows the printer to run on a conventional press that has been retrofitted with UV lamps and reflectors. “He can then run hybrid inks and conventional inks without changing out rollers and blankets. He can then UV coat in line without undesirable effects. Also, some coldset web printers are converting their presses with lamps. This is primarily for the newspapers advertisements,” said Ms. Waller.
INX International Ink Company offers a number of new products for the UV ink market. The company offers Fusion Hybrid, a next generation hybrid ink as well as INXCure UV Ad Insert for the newspaper industry for printing advertisements. INXFlex 2000 is the company’s next generation flexo ink.
Sun Chemical also has a number of new products for the UV/EB market. SolarCat, a new range of cationic UV inks for flexo applications offers high speed printing on very thin films with superior adhesion and the ability to continue curing until a complete cure is achieve. Curing of free radical UV inks stops when the inks are no longer exposed to UV energy. This ink is only offered in Europe at this time, but Sun chemical expects to introduce it soon in North America.
Sun Chemicals WetFlex printing process with UniQure inks is a relatively new wet-on-wet printing process with proprietary flexo inks that allows EB printing without the use of interstation drying.
Sun also offers SunBeam LE EB coating for direct food contact; K&M Bryte hybrid inks for sheetfed printing with instant drying; UV inks for newspaper printing; M-Cure class of UV photoinitiators for UV inks with very low odor and residual extractables; and FastJet digital printing technology using UV-curable ink jet inks for high speed process color printing on corrugated.