While the pigment industry has been seeing some improvement in the economy in recent months, there remain many serious challenges to be dealt with, running the gamut from raw materials and regulations to increasing demand for R&D. Of course, the economy is the most important concern.
“The projected slow growth of the overall economy is the biggest challenge we foresee,” said Darren Bianchi, president of Brilliant Group, Inc. “We’re focused on new product development such that our own growth exceeds that of the marketplace.”
Raw material price and supply remain major concerns.
“First, the price of raw materials increased at an unprecedented rapid pace in 2008,” said Mehran Yazdani, vice president, marketing, Performance Pigments, Sun Chemical. “It was then followed by a rapid decline in demand starting in the fourth quarter of 2008. While some of the pressures have eased since then, true year-to-year improvement will not be achieved until all of these inventory effects completely work their way through the supply chain. It will take some time to recoup the magnitude of the increases that pigment suppliers absorbed in 2008 and we are now starting to see the price of raw materials go up again.”
“We purchase our raw materials in a manner that is most economical so that we may keep our prices low and give our customers a price reduction when our efforts are fruitful,” said said James Bee, president of Aarbor International. “The biggest challenge in this market is pricing, quality and service. Prompt service and adequate inventory with quality control is critical in this industry.”
Martin John, vice president global marketing and sales printing business for Clariant, said that product safety and changes in the regulatory environment are one of the largest challenges but also opportunities for the pigment industry.
“REACH is still one of the top priorities for us in this area, and Clariant continues to work on it with a team of dedicated specialists,” Mr. John noted. “Beyond this, we see increasing consumer awareness for food packaging applications as one of the major trends. This will be underlined by new, specific legislation and emerging standards, such as the Swiss Ordinance for consumer goods which will likely impact markets outside Europe as well. We see us and our product portfolio very well positioned to respond to these challenges by providing high transparency and remaining a reliable partner to our customers.”
“For Europe, REACH is starting to gather pace, and through coming months those committed and those not will start to become more apparent,” said Phillip Myles, operations director for Union Colours. “We are positioning ourselves to join the appropriate consortiums to help us through the registration process. The Chinese supply chain consolidation will continue to be driven by governmental environmental targets. It is to our credit that we have already invested in an effluent treatment system, but we are only one part of our supply chain, and we continue to audit our suppliers to ensure they approach environmental controls to the same standards as we do.”
Meanwhile, ink manufacturers are looking for improved pigment performance while reducing cost, which is a challenge for pigment companies.
“Trust Chem is working to help the ink industry control cost and improve quality to better meet our customers market requirements,” said Rick Campbell, president of Trust Chem USA.
“Most pigment suppliers struggle to be reliable both in terms of on-time-delivery and product variability, with some even performing very poorly in this regard,” said Frank Lavieri, executive vice president and general manager for Lansco Colors. “Our U.S. technical center has qualified staff to assure the quality of each lot of our pigments and works with customers to achieve technical solutions to new opportunities. We regularly launch new products that offer real value to customers and carry ample stocks to support their needs.”
“The need to stay competitive and at the same time be able to comply with increasingly more stringent environmental and regulatory matters will be critical,” said Don McBride, COO of Heucotech Ltd., a Heubach company. “The excess in capacity for many pigments will keep pricing in check and consistently challenge the bottom line for the foreseeable future. Heubach’s commitment to innovation through technology for pigments and preparations was evident in 2009 despite the economic conditions. We launched two entire product lines after considerable R&D in NAFTA and the development of a new line in Europe has been started in 2009. There will be further product introductions shortly from Heubach GmbH in Europe, Heubach Colour in Asia and from the newest Heubach company, Hangzhou Heubach Pigment Co., Ltd. in China. The Heubach companies will continue to supply our customers and markets with quality products and global technical support to address their colorant needs.”
`”Consolidation of the traditional western producers has given us an opportunity to launch a new range of performance pigments for packaging inks,” said Mr. Myles. “Many Asian producers still have insufficient technical capabilities to serve this sector well, and it is an area where Union Colours is quite strong.
The metallic market faces similar mandates from ink companies.
“Even without economic challenges, the metallic market is continuously pressured to create more advanced effects and be more cost effective against alternative decorating choices,” Craig Reid, global head of marketing and business development (graphic arts) for ECKART GmbH. “New manufacturing capabilities in manufacturing metallic flake are just beginning to deliver the next generation to the market, so we expect a great future with these technologies.”