Despite the pressures that rising raw material prices have placed on the ink market, the radiation-cure market continues to offer ink manufacturers and suppliers alike opportunity for growth.
“Sun Chemical Performance Pigment expects the energy curable market to continue to grow in the coming years,” said Maurice Carruthers, general manager, North American ink business, Sun Chemical Performance Pigments. “We have seen strong growth in the flexographic market and expect the offset market to mirror this demand. As the industry becomes increasingly more conscious of cost cutting measures and environmental regulations, energy curable bases attend to both of these requirements. In terms of environmental consciousness, Performance Pigments expects this awareness to continue, the regulations to tighten and the elimination of VOCs to become increasingly more important.”
“The UV/EB industry is an important specialty portion of our business and it continues to grow,” said Joon Choo, vice president, marketing, Shamrock Technologies. “Shamrock Technologies expects growth of our additives in this market segment with these new technologies.”
“Clariant Division PA, with its well established pigments range as well as with the new developed products, also participates in the radiation curing ink market, which we recognize as still growing (in terms of quantities),” said Dr. Harald Boner, head of marketing printing business, Clariant. “Price issues are relevant for UV inks too.”
“Sales of Noveon additives to all industries have been strong, especially so to customers manufacturing radiation-cured inks and coatings,” said Jeff Norris, tactical marketing manager, hyperdispersants, Noveon, Inc. “We have a number of active development programs in additives for radiation curing, which is a target market for 2006 and beyond. We expect 2006 to be better than 2005.”
“The radiation cure market continues to show a high growth rate and this is particularly true for producers of specialty oligomers like Bomar,” said Joe Leen, general manager, Bomar. “The outlook for the next three to five years is good and I expect that sales will be double the average growth rate.”
According to Keith Condon, technical manager, Dynamic Color Systems, energy curable represent a major portion of the company’s growth and future opportunities. “We work very closely with our ink maker customers in order to ensure that the products they buy will help them effectively pursue new business opportunities,” he said.
Raw Material Prices Continue to Rise
As has been the case with the entire ink industry, raw material prices continue to be a major issue for the UV/EB ink market.
“Our raw material pricing has increased in line with the industry increases last year, driven by the increase in raw material feedstocks and energy costs,” said Mr. Choo. “We have passed along a small portion of the increases as best as we can.”
“Raw materials do seem to be on the rise,” said Mr. Condon. “However, we continue to seek only the highest quality and most reliable raw materials available. Sometimes we may have to pay a slight premium for these raw materials, but both in the short and long term, it is clear that our products help our customers get positive results.”
“Our raw material costs have gone up which is understandable in light of the recent run-up in oil prices,” said Mr. Leen. “However, we find it is more difficult to pass along those increases to our customers. The bottom line is that our profits are getting squeezed.”
UV/EB Expands Into New Areas
Despite the challenges faced by rising raw material prices, UV/EB is expanding into new areas.
“The strongest growth for the UV/EB industry has been in the area of specialty coatings,” said James Goodrich, senior applications chemist–graphic arts, Sartomer Company. “Applications that are growing include coatings for electronics, such as cell phones, and the developing optical display market.”
“We are excited about the expansion of energy curable technology to other printing segments, including sheetfed offset printing,” said Mr. Carruthers. “In addition, the industry is moving towards providing hybrid UV systems, which allow ink manufacturers to blend conventional UV bases and run them on a conventional press with a UV lamp. Hybrid systems offer printers the advantages of energy curable printing and cure speed but reduce the costs from straight UV systems.”
“We see continuous penetration of thin film UV/EB curable inks into the flexible packaging market,” said Mr. Choo. “Our customers are looking for new and unique products. Tightly controlled powders and nanotechnology additives are more frequently requested by our customers.”
Energy curable technology continues to grow in flexographic and digital printing and narrow web tag and label applications. “In addition, printers are increasingly using UV digital technology for wide format printing, such as billboards, to enable faster speed to market for these advertisements,” said Mr. Carruthers. “All of these markets understand the advantage of rapid cure speed and embrace the low VOC emissions associated with energy curable technology.”
Opportunities for Growth
There are a number of areas for further growth for UV/EB inks. According to Joe Leen, general manager, Bomar, the trend is definitely up for UV inks. “I expect continued conversion of traditional flexo and litho products to UV inks spurred on by improvements in productivity and properties,” he said.
“Packaging applications offers the main growth area for UV/EB inks,” said Joon Choo, VP marketing, Shamrock Technologies. “The ability to differentiate the product by different ink surface modification to attract the consumer is the main driver for UV ink. That is why Shamrock Technologies continues development of additives to protect the UV ink from abrasion, with a strong focus on matting additive. The latest are the largest growth as well as one of our greatest challenges.”
Clariant reports that according to customer feedback, sheetfed UV offset is a significantly growing areas. “EB curing inks are increasing from a very little share,” Dr. Harald Boner, head of marketing printing business, Clariant. “They do not contain any photoinitiators that may cause migration or smell problems, so EB inks are recommended for food packaging.”
“We really see opportunities through the eyes of our ink maker customers,” said Keith Condon, technical director, Dynamic Color Systems. “I would say that energy curable inks for even higher-end plastic substrates and UV inks for low end paper applications, including UV news, seem to be the trends.”
UV/EB raw material suppliers are busy developing new technologies to meet the demands of this growing industry.
“In this time of increased energy costs, many converters are looking to UV/EB as a lower cost curing technology versus gas or electric ovens,” said James Goodrich, senior applicators chemist–graphic arts, Sartomer Company. “UV lamps have an energy usage that is only fractions of that for ovens.
“UV/EB curing has taken advantage of many new backbones that have been developed,” said Mr. Goodrich. “These backbones, in turn, have allowed the UV/EB industry to create new raw materials with unique sets of properties.”
Sartomer is developing new systems that combine lower cost chemistry with high performance. “Formulators can than achieve the performance they had with the older technologies at a lower price point,” said Mr. Goodrich.
“Our technical developments are focused around combining successful product lines and creating superior performing products,” said Jeff Norris, tactical marketing manager hyperdispersants, Noveon. “For example, here at Noveon we are fortunate enough to be able to utilize our hyperdispersant technology to improve our energy-curable natural-wax dispersion, CC-7655. By combining the two technologies, we are able to increase both the dispersion's stability, reducing the chance of separation, and its ease of incorporation into an energy curable coating. Our Solsperese hyperdispersant technology is widely used in pigmented UV cured applications and a focus in this area is improving performance of silica and modified silica matting agents through improved dispersion and suspension. Solsperse 7100 was recently introduced for this application, adding to the existing line of successful hyperdispersants offered for UV-cured applications-including Solsperse 32000, Solsperse 36000 and Solsperse 39000.”
For the growing demand in matting effects, Shamrock Technologies introduced a new line of additives: TexMatte 6000 Series and the new micronized powder X-7331. Shamrock Technologies continues to focus on new nanoFLON PTFE (sub-micron PTFE) dispersion in monomer/oligomer. “The nanoFLON PTFE dispersion provides a controlled sub micron particle size distribution,” said Mr, Choo. “The UV/EB industry has well received this new technology, which allows formulation chemists to explore new opportunities in their application. Shamrock Technologies also focuses on offering new additives for controlling different level of gloss for UV/EB coatings.”
Performance Pigments will soon unveil an extension of its patented energy curable line that is formulated specifically for sheetfed offset printing. “These products deliver excellent transfer with minimal blanket swelling and achieve optimal performance on press with faster cure speeds. Using dry milling techniques, these new sheetfed energy curable dispersions prove more economical than conventional flush dispersion techniques,” Mr. Carruthers said.
“New plastic substrates seem to be introduced everyday,” Mr. Condon. “We have been successful in helping our customers develop inks that accommodate these new substrates. As far as the pigments are concerned, we have been able to develop flushes using pigments that traditionally have only been available in dry color from. This makes it easier for our customers to expand their offerings to their printer customers.”
“We are developing high performance pigments for high valued fields of applications serving the area of radiation curing inks too,” said Dr. Boner. “These are mostly projects directly linked to specific customers and therefore confidential. Further developments for UV systems inn the area of low cost pigments like diarylide yellows, rubines, phthalo blues are not planned yet.”
“In general, we continue to believe there is plenty of opportunity to develop new oligomer backbones with totally new property sets,” said Mr. Leen. “Another area that is intriguing to use is grafting of photoinitiators onto oligomers. We are seeing that the grafted photoinitators behave differently, that is, they are more reactive and superior film properties are achieved. The grafting process significantly reduces the possibility of photoinitiator migrating out of the cured film and this suggests that they should be useful for UV cure food contact inks.”