Energy curing technologies have been a growth area for ink manufacturers in recent years, driven by its advantages in terms of production and performance. That growth in UV and EB curing continued during the past year, particularly in the packaging and narrow web segments.
Tony Renzi, vice president, product management packaging inks, North American Inks, Sun Chemical, said that Sun Chemical saw growth in the UV/EB market in 2013 compared to 2012.
“UV inks for commercial sheetfed were up marginally, with most growth coming from the packaging market, especially UV flexo, narrow web, tag and label, folding carton and other emerging applications in flexible packaging,” Mr. Renzi added.
“Toyo Ink America has seen significant growth in the UV market over the past few years with no sign of anything slowing down,” said John Copeland, president and COO, Toyo Ink America, LLC. “The markets with the strongest growth are high end commercial, label and packaging.”
“Environmental Inks – a member of the Siegwerk group has experienced growth in UV as compared to the overall market of UV and water-based products in the narrow web market,” Chris Booher, head of narrow web CUSA for Siegwerk, said. “UV is twice the size of the water-based market and continues to grow.
Throughout the U.S. and Canadian market, Siegwerk sees more applications and installations to the UV processes to support this growth trend.”
“Wikoff Color has experienced growth this past year from the addition of several UV and EB printers, and a large portion of our current customer base are enjoying a good year,” said Daryl Collins, vice president – sales and regional operations at Wikoff Color.
Brij Nigam of IdeOn LLC said that IdeOn has seen growth in UV/EB inks and coatings market during 2013, mainly driven by ease of usage of the technology.
“Industrial applications, label and some flexible packaging continues to be the primary growth areas,” Mr. Nigam said. “At present, IdeOn’s primary focus is to develop new curing printing technologies, which could be utilized in a wide applications for flexible packaging.”
“We’ve experienced growth in the UV market over the past year, but nothing compared to pre-2008,” said Damon Geer, vice president sales, Zeller+Gmelin USA. “Small gains in some markets is now a measure of success. Unfortunately the days of UV web press manufacturers selling four to five new machines each year into the North American market are all but gone, and as each year passes, another older UV press is taken off the line without being replaced.”
“CRI has seen significant growth in UV coatings for corrugated,” said George Sickinger, president and CEO at Color Resolutions International (CRI). “Wine boxes and micro brewery boxes use a lot of these coatings as do other big box brands. Corrugated and narrow web label are the strongest growth areas for us.”
In particular, packaging and labels are key areas for growth for energy curing.
“The food packaging markets have demonstrated consistent growth particularly in the area of low migration solutions thanks to improved end user awareness,” said Kris Walsh, market development manager – narrow web CUSA at Siegwerk. “In-mold labels, as well as shrink sleeve business, are also increasing market segments.”
“Wikoff’s growth in energy cure inks and coatings have mainly been in the packaging, label and digital markets,” Mr. Collins noted. “We have had a considerable amount of interest in supplying EB litho inks and coatings into the flexible packaging market and gained new business from successful product testing. Additionally, energy curable inkjet is a rapidly expanding business segment for Wikoff.”
Mr. Geer said that inkjet and food packaging are areas of growth for UV.
“Based on equipment sales, UV inkjet looks to be the fastest growing market out there,” said Mr. Geer. “Low migration inks are a requirement for many European food packaging printers who have plants in North America, so interest in this technology should increase over the next five years.”
In recent years, raw materials have been a challenge for UV and EB ink manufacturers, as key materials have seen prices rise and availability fluctuate. For the most part, price and availability of these critical raw materials have stabilized.
“The supply and pricing of monomers and oligomers have stabilized, as have the prices of photoinitiators and most pigments,” said Kirk Franklin, vice president technology – narrow web CUSA at Siegwerk. “Economic forecasts are warning of potential price increases in 2014 though it’s not certain how significant any increases might be. Environmental Inks is definitely monitoring the situation closely.”
“In 2013, UV/EB raw materials faced cost pressures early in the year due to higher acrylic acid values, but in general, the feedstocks for UV/EB raw materials have seen a period of relative stability,” said Ed Pruitt, chief procurement officer, Sun Chemical. “More recently, the cost of some photointiators has come under pressure due to efforts by regulators in China to address industrial environmental concerns. This development will bear close watching in 2014 and could potentially result in further cost or supply risks.”
“The raw material market is fairly stable at the moment,” Mr. Copeland said. “However, we try to keep an extra pulse on the core materials for energy curable products.”
“Raw material supply and cost has stabilized somewhat but will remain a concern as the acrylates and pigment industry continues to change,” Mr. Geer said.
“Material costs have been stable with few supply issues,” Mr. Sickinger said. “However, lead times can be extended for specialty items that are sourced overseas.”
Ben Price, Wikoff Color’s director of purchasing, said that Wikoff Color has experienced raw material supply and price stabilization in the energy cure area.
“According to our suppliers, there really aren’t any materials that are a cause for concern at the present time,” Mr. Price added. “We have been informed that prices for some of our suppliers’ key raw materials, such as acrylic acid, have crept up in recent months. However, we have not seen these higher costs flow through, primarily because of an oversupply situation for our raw materials.”
The Growth of UV LED
One area of interest within the UV market is UV LED curing. During the past few years, UV LED has expanded from a niche technology to a success story.
Stacy Hoge, marketing communications at Phoseon Technology, said that the interest in UV LED continues to grow in inkjet and screen printing, and now flexo and offset is following.
“Digital printing is the most broadly accepted for UV LED,” Ms. Hoge said. “Flexographic and screen printing are rapidly adopting. Last, offset will move to UV LED as the chemistry improves to take advantage of UV LED capabilities.
“Today, UV LEDs are finally taking their place as a mainstream curing technology,” Ms. Hoge added. “Labelexpo provides the proof. At Labelexpo 2011, there were 10 UV LED lamps on display. Labelexpo 2013 had 78 UV LED lamps on machines and display, an 8x increase.
“In 2006, very few types of ink were compatible with UV LED technology,” Ms. Hoge noted. “In 2013, more than 20 inks and material vendors touted their support and ability to formulate for LED. New resins, monomers, oligomers and photo-initiators have been under development. Not only inks, but also coatings and adhesives are now widely available that are either specially formulated for LED or work with both LED and traditional mercury sources. Specifically, UV LED flexo inks been formulated in combination with UV LED lamps, offering a viable solution for flexo printing.”
Ink manufacturers are also seeing an increase in interest in UV LED curing.
“There has been a lot of talk about LED systems and inks for the last six or seven years,” Mr. Copeland said. “Toyo Ink Group has a number of customers in Japan that have installed LED systems and are running successfully. Recently there is movement in the U.S. towards LED. The activity is deliberate and happening, but on a much smaller scale than UV. Advantages include less heat and printed distortion along with lower power consumption.”
“There appears to be a lot of interest in the area of UV LED,” Mr. Nigam said. “IdeOn presently is working actively to see how best to address technological challenges associated with this technology. The key challenges appear to be speeding up the surface and through cure as well as identifying new raw materials for formulation.”
Peter Saunders, global business manager, digital, Sun Chemical, said that Sun Chemical expects big things from UV LED curing in the inkjet field.
“The improvements in the power output of UV LED lamps has improved achievable line speed and has allowed us scope to develop inks more suitable for applications based on speed and single pass technology, as used in labels and narrow web,” Mr. Saunders noted. “We continue to develop our full range of UV LED solutions for wide format, label and other industrial applications such as tampo print replacement and decor.
“There is certainly a lot to gain from the developments in UV LED,” Mr. Saunders added. “LED lamps are especially useful for heat sensitive materials like plastic or film. Unlike mercury lamps which require chilled rollers to reduce effects of heat on substrate, LED doesn’t require those because its infrared–free output has the ability to deliver energy to cure and keep things cool at the same time. Additionally, UV LED has a longer lifespan than mercury lamps and there is dramatically less drop off in performance over time.”
“Since the stalled introduction in 2007-08, Environmental Inks is seeing a resurgence of the interest with the market recovery,” Mr. Booher said. “On a global scale, Siegwerk recently demonstrated its new line of UV inks at Labelexpo 2013. Interest in the field has increased in the past few months. As more R&D is invested over the coming months and years, product ranges will increase and raw material costs will decrease.”
“We are seeing more interest in UV LED technology, especially within the inkjet market,” said Dr. Don Duncan, director of research at Wikoff Color. “We expect to see increased interest from end users as LED curing capabilities advance.”
“LED is making inroads as its ability to expand the curing parameters continues to increase; it’s only a matter of time before LED finds its niche in applications such as flexo,,” Mr. Geer observed. “The biggest obstacle initially is the cost of the system, but that’s changing as the semiconductor technology increases in what is still a small market segment for them.”
Ms. Hoge noted that LED curing is earning recognition from industry, adding that the Label Industry Global Award for Innovation was jointly won by Mark Andy and Flint Group Narrow Web. Flint Group was honored for its Ekocure UV LED ink technology, while Mark Andy was honored for its complementary ProLED ink curing technology.
“As the number of ink and commensurate resin, polymer, and photoinitiator suppliers increases, the industry continues to come up with new innovative ways to use UV LEDs,” Ms. Hoge said. “Examples such as braille, bottle, composites, displays, electronics and other segments are showing rapid growth.”
Advantages of UV and EB Curing
There are numerous advantages for energy curing, such as performance, production and regulatory matters, and ink manufacturers say that this is helping drive new business.
“There are a number of advantages, including immediate handling, textured affects, nearly VOC-free emissions and various specialty applications,” said Mr. Copeland.
“Key advantages are solvent-free resulting in lower insurance, high level of product resistance, ease of usage and flexibility to accommodate various sizes and variety of print jobs,” Mr. Nigam said.
“Energy curable technologies’ advantages include quick turnaround, durability, low energy consumption and enhanced visual effects on specialty coatings,” said Beau Snider, field manager – corporate technical services at Wikoff Color. “Also, electron beam technology allows food packaging printers to have a significant technological advantage because of its high level of curing.”
“Many of our customers are increasingly reviewing the potential benefits of UV/EB solutions as these technologies present value-added advantages impacting operational efficiencies and process simplification,” Mr. Renzi said. “Some of these include printed product aesthetics of high gloss and special effects, application flexibility and use across a wide range of substrates, and enhanced resistance properties.
“UV/EB printing and coating can reduce total production costs by instant drying through the curing process, allowing for additional processing and finishing immediately, and in many cases, in-line with the printing process,” Mr. Renzi added. “UV inks also give our customers another way to be eco-efficient, and deliver economically competitive goods and services that satisfy their customers’ needs and bring quality of life, while progressively reducing their ecological impact and resource intensity throughout the life-cycle. The UV inks allow customers to conserve energy in their printing process and use products that are manufactured with little to no volatile organic compounds (VOCs).”