Top Companies Report

2. Flint Group


North American Administrative Offices
14909 North Beck Road
Plymouth, MI 48170-7194
Phone: (734) 781-4600
Fax: (734) 781-4699 

Sales: €2.2 billion ($2.9 billion); North America Ink Sales: 
$1 billion (Ink World estimate). 

Major Products: Coldset and heatset web offset, sheetfed offset, flexographic, gravure and UV/EB inks; coatings for publication, packaging and commercial applications. A wide range of inks and coatings for narrow web tag and label applications. Photopolymer plates and sleeve systems for flexographic applications; highly engineered printing blankets and sleeves for offset applications, pressroom chemicals and supplies. Dry, flushed and press cake pigments, chips and resins for ink and other applications, aqueous dispersions, hyperdispersants and additives for the colorant market.

Key Personnel: Charles Knott, chairman and acting president, Packaging and Narrow Web; Antoine Fady, CEO and interim president, Print Media Europe; Michael J. Bissell, executive VP and CFO; William B. Miller, president, Print Media Americas; Brent Stephen, president, Asia Pacific; Claudio Labbe, president, Latin America; Dr. Thomas Telser, chairman, Packaging Segment; Mario Busshoff, president, Flexographic Products; Craig Foster, president, Flint Group Pigments; Jan Paul van der Velde, senior VP, procurement; Russell Taylor, senior VP global HR & communications.

Number of Employees: Approximately 7,300 worldwide.

Comments: The past few years have been challenging for the printing and ink industries. In general, the publication printing segment has been impacted by the global recession as well as the shift to newer technologies, while packaging has held steady. Meanwhile, the ink industry is coping with unprecedented raw material price increases as well as disruptions in supply.
All things considered, Flint Group was able to withstand the recession relatively well. “2010, like the recent years before it, was difficult for the printing industry,” said William B. Miller, president, Print Media Americas for Flint Group. “There were ups and downs as demand – and consumer confidence – ebbed and flowed. In the end, nearly all printers continued to feel the lingering effects of the recession. Naturally, graphic arts suppliers felt the impact as well. Still, Flint Group performed commendably under those circumstances.”

With an eye toward the future, Flint Group made key management moves as well as a major acquisition. In January 2011, Antoine Fady succeeded Charles Knott as CEO of Flint Group, with Mr. Knott becoming Flint Group’s chairman. Mr. Fady has more than 20 years of global specialty chemical experience, most recently serving as general manager, Akzo Nobel Decorative Paints-Europe, and prior to that, as CEO of ICI Packaging & Coatings.

“For Flint Group, the most notable leadership event was the appointment of Antoine Fady as CEO,” Mr. Miller said. “Antoine has already made great strides in getting to know our organization, products and people. His chemical and industrial background – including years with Akzo Nobel Decorative Paints and ICI Packaging & Coatings – gave him a running start at understanding the kind of business we’re in.”

The February 2010 acquisition of Torda Ink, a leading manufacturer of printing inks for the packaging markets in Northern Europe, the Balkans and the Middle East with a substantial presence in Eastern Europe, has had a positive impact on Flint Group’s product range in packaging, and the company has added to its capabilities with innovative new products such as its Premo Film ETS ink, which offers enhanced flexographic printing performance at economical cost for printers of merchandise bags in North America.

“There were other exciting events as well, including the acquisition of Torda in Europe and product launches here in North America,” Mr. Miller noted. “Water flexo inks for the North American T-shirt bag market are one example, as well as eco-friendly sheetfed inks, as well as non-ink launches by our blankets, pressroom chemistry and Flexographic Products groups.”
For the ink industry, raw materials are perhaps the largest concern. The rapid increase in prices on most ingredients is one matter, especially considering the difficulty in passing along those higher costs to printers, many of whom are not in the position to take on much more additional costs.

However, the availability of certain key raw materials is a major issue for ink manufacturers. In some cases, suppliers are pulling their products out of the ink industry to focus on other industries, while consolidation is eliminating other suppliers. Flint Group has been working closely with its customers and suppliers alike to try to lessen the impact of these changes.

“The raw materials used to make ink continue to face an uphill battle in terms of cost and availability,” said Diane Parisi, vice president, supply chain management for Flint Group. “Capacity constraints, government policies around the world, environmental concerns, currency fluctuations and decreased production of feedstocks are some of the many reasons.”

As just one example, Ms. Parisi pointed to gum rosin, and its impact on the ink industry.

“One of the major concerns continues to be gum rosin,” Ms. Parisi noted. “Though in North America we typically use tall oil rosin to make our inks, we still strongly feel the affects of gum rosin. Let me explain:

“Capacity of crude tall oil – a by-product of paper production – is down because of the decline in paper demand. Remaining capacity is divided among competing industries, especially bio fuel, as well as industries that traditionally relied upon gum rosin, such as adhesives and road markings. Even overseas ink manufacturing plants that typically used gum rosin-based resins are now using tall oil-based resins,” Ms. Parisi noted.

“Why the mass exodus from gum to tall oil?” Ms. Parisi added. “There are many reasons: China limited gum rosin capacity significantly; crop yields were lower than usual; already-decreased supplies were stretched to the limit when demand increased in industries from rubber to adhesives and even ink; gum rosin has been used as a substitute for other crude-based commodities in short supply.

“We do not foresee any near-term relief of the gum rosin situation and tall oil will continue to be directly affected. The outcome for tall oil rosin, gum rosin and hydrocarbon resins is the same: extremely tight supply and greatly increasing costs through 2011.”

The current situation in the Middle East is a more recent concern, as the global oil supply is being impacted. Crude oil is a major component of feedstocks that are essential to ink.

"Oil is a significant concern,” said Jan Paul van der Velde, Flint Group’s senior vice president, procurement. “Costs of crude oil started to increase in Q4 2010, even before developments in the Middle East accelerated to current levels. For the time being, WTI costs are increasing less than the rest, but Brent crude and many others have shown significant cost increases, which will start to impact the cost of raw materials in the next few months."

Acquisitions will also play a major role in graphic arts.

“Acquisitions will continue to be a major strategy all along the graphic arts supply chain, especially as major players understand that demand will not return to historic levels,” said Doug Labertew, vice president of product management and strategy for Print Media North America. “The acquisition of Worldcolor by QuadGraphics is perhaps the most notable example among printers. “ Suppliers are also actively involved in M&A efforts.

“On the supplier side, mergers also continue to occur,” Mr. Labertew added. “For example, Aditya Birla Group just announced its agreement to purchase Atlanta’s Columbian Chemicals Company, making ABG the largest global producer of carbon black. The risk to the graphic arts industry with any supplier merger is that, with less competition and more global leverage, companies will increase the price of key raw material for inks.

“I’m confident that consolidation will continue among printers, ink suppliers and raw material manufacturers for years to come,” Mr. Labertew concluded.

Meanwhile, Flint Group is prepared to move forward in all of its business areas, by developing innovative products and providing services to help its customers succeed in the packaging and publication segments.

“We are excited about the packaging and label market in 2011 in terms of growing our share of the business in the industry,” said Susan Kuchta, vice president of the North American packaging group. “We have new products and improved products that are providing converters with some throughput advantage. Similar to us, customers will be motivated by optimism for growth, yet still cautious about increasing their cost of doing business. Flexible packaging will continue to lead the packaging market in growth as consumer goods continue the ongoing, long-term shift to this technology.”

“Our sales and service teams continue to deliver on our strategies, bringing value to customers’ pressrooms each day,” said Mike Neroni, vice president sales & service, Print Media North America. “We are well aware of the ongoing challenges of the economy, electronic media and other market elements, but we have everything in place to continue to help our customers stay competitive.”

“There are opportunities in each market,” Mr. Miller concluded. “For example, the news industry – hard hit by electronic media – continues to find new opportunities with UV news inks. Environmentally friendly inks are important for almost all technologies, especially sheetfed. Energy curable inks continue to offer differentiation, and we’re a strong player in that segment. If we continue to focus on creating quality products that customers need – supported by unfailing service and support – we will continue to succeed.”