In 1979, Ed Redman found himself faced with the classic choice between career and quality of life. Having been transferred to Morganton, NC by Inmont in 1972, he was being reassigned to the company's Chicago operations. However, he had fallen in love with the area, and envisioned it as a perfect place to raise a family and enjoy the outdoors. Against the advice of his colleagues, Mr. Redman decided to go into the ink business on his own, forming Environmental Inks and Coatings (EIC). Further displaying his unique approach, he went strictly into the water-based ink market, a novelty in the late 1970s.
Today, Mr. Redman's vision has proved prescient: water-based inks have grown into a major force, particularly in the flexo market, and EIC has grown into an estimated $40 million company with 230 employees and eight branches, including its newest facility in Sneek, Holland. The future looks bright indeed for EIC.
Commitment to Water-Based Inks
Mr. Redman began his career in printing ink with Interchemical and Inmont, where he rose through the ranks, moving up from technical manager in its Lodi, NJ facility to plant manager in Charlotte, NC.
"At the time, I accepted a transfer from Lodi to the business products division in Morganton, which produced water-based products for the wallboard industry and solvent systems for furniture," said Mr. Redman, who remains president of the company he founded. "I liked Morganton so much that I did not want to accept another transfer."
Water-based inks were by no means an established product in the late 1970s, but Mr. Redman knew its day was coming more than a decade before, as interest in the environment became stronger.
"I wanted the world to be safe for my grandkids' grandkids," Mr. Redman said. "We have to clean the air up and make our world a better place. It was evident that something had to happen back in 1966, when California passed Rule 66. People realized that putting volatiles in the air wasn't such a good idea. The 1974 oil embargo further made the future of water inks clear. When the embargo was over, people went back to solvents, but to me it was evident that water would play a big role.
"The need for a non-flammable, non-polluting narrow web ink led to the founding of EIC," Mr. Redman said. "OSHA issued rules that limited the amount of flammable liquids that were allowed to be press side, and the major ink companies were not responding to this need. Subsequently, VOC regulations by the EPA forced printers to consider more environmentally safe printing solutions; two of these were water-based inks and radiation curable ink. The flammability of solvent-based inks were also a concern to printers because of increased insurance rates.
"There were two companies, ourselves and Werneke, that were involved in water inks," Mr. Redman continued. "When Environmental Inks started, we were the only company that had concentrated on water-based ink solely, which helped us become a strong company. If we wanted to do business, we had to make water inks work."
In particular, Mr. Redman saw opportunities in the narrow web label market, which rapidly become one of EIC's first important segments. The lessons learned while responding to narrow web market needs helped the company to quickly analyze wide-web printing needs and formulate its highly regarded water-based inks for flexible packaging, folding cartons and display corrugated.
"The narrow web label business was excellent to get started in," Mr. Redman said. "The owners were entrepreneurs, looking to get things done. We were the first company to service the small narrow web label manufacturers. We would go into their pressroom and would show that our inks would not slow down production. The water inks started to fit in, and we could design inks that worked."
During the 1980s, the quality of flexo printing was noticeably poorer than offset and gravure. The major improvements in water-based flexo inks being developed by EIC and other innovators, combined with advances in presses and aniloxes, quickly helped to pave the way for the gains that have been made in the quality of flexo printing. Today, flexography is now rivaling the other major printing processes.
"EIC's presence on the printing ink market enabled the industry to grow out of commodity-type 'rubber stamp' printing into more high quality profitable markets," Mr. Redman said. "The entire printing industry can point with justifiable pride at the quality attainable with flexo printing. The ability to achieve fantastic quality with environmentally friendly printing inks from EIC helped make this possible. Our technical sales representatives and R&D chemists working in concert with industry leaders have pushed the printing frontier to unbelievable levels. Flexography would not have considered competing with offset and gravure, until EIC and others developed the high strength, fast drying inks. This ink development worked hand in glove with high quality anilox and printing press developments. EIC's consistent quality and service have helped the converting industry in being able to have consistent products."
A New Focus in Europe
Water-based inks are not only gaining market share in the U.S.; there is also increasing interest in water inks in Europe.
"There has been a move toward water products in Europe," Mr. Redman said. "For example, the Benelux countries say that by 2005, they intend to have no more solvent emissions. The printing market in Europe is moving away from solvent inks to radiation curable or water-based inks, and to a lesser degree from rotogravure toward flexo. We expect a significant market to develop for radiation curable and water-based gravure inks. Many packages, labels and envelopes that are currently being printed with solvent inks in Europe are beginning to be printed with more environmentally friendly inks."
EIC has had a system of licensees distributing its products worldwide, and in 2001, EIC began manufacturing its inks in its new Sneek, Holland facility.
"The facility in Sneek, the Netherlands is finished and production is ramping up," Mr. Redman said. "EIC is in the process of training new employees in EIC methodology, in the lab, office and production. Supply lines are continuing to be established so that products will use the same chemistry as the established products in the states but the materials will be predominately from Europe.
"EIC opened this facility to manufacture water-based inks that are not available in Europe," Mr. Redman said. "We acknowledge that EIC's competitors have done an admirable job in helping those converters that have changed from solvent to water systems. We think we can do better, as we have all of the experience of 25 years in the market. Since EIC was one of the first companies in the world to be entirely water-oriented (and later UV), EIC technicians feel very capable to help others change."
Moving into UV
Over the years, EIC built its reputation on water-based inks, initially in the narrow web market and later in the wide web market. Another key trend in that segment was the tremendous interest in radiation curing, and Mr. Redman saw an opportunity to branch out into the growing field of UV ink.
To facilitate its R&D and production, EIC recently opened a new 12,000 square foot facility in Morganton for the development and production of UV inks and coatings. The new facility is entirely dedicated to EIC's UV product lines, including inks and coatings for flexo, letterpress, rotary screen and flatbed screen applications.
"It was the right time to give our UV technical and production people the dedicated space and facilities to concentrate on these products and prepare for future growth," Mr. Redman said. "We want to be able to be a one-stop shop for water and UV inks. The packaging and label industries recognize EIC as a leader in environmentally friendly printing solutions. As the market shifts away from solvent fluid, screen and offset paste inks, a need develops for inks with particular end-use requirements. Some of these end-use and product resistance requirements can only be met with UV or EB inks and coatings. At the same time, UV inks are very stable on press with many positive printing implications. Electron beam curable inks and coatings offer the same benefits. EIC senses continued growth in radiation curable inks and coatings."
The new UV facility gives EIC's R&D chemists state-of-the-art equipment to further develop new products to meet its customers' needs.
|Ed Redman enjoys some time in the outdoors of North Carolina.|
"EIC continues to step up the R&D efforts and prepare for increased production in the UV center," Mr. Redman said. "We have added R&D staff to the laboratory this year. The laboratory is staffed with excellent chemists who understand the needs of the printer. The laboratory has room to accommodate more R&D staff as the market grows.
"Our R&D chemists developed UV inks that print flexo, rotary screen, and letterpress in various combinations on the same printing press," Mr. Redman continued. "This creates exciting possibilities for printers to take advantage of the strengths of the different print methods when creating labels in particular. EIC increased the strength of the inks while lowering the viscosity, particularly in the process flexo inks. New screen inks have been developed for adhesion to some of the more difficult film applications."
As a result of its new dedicated center for radiation curing inks, EIC is able to focus its efforts on developing new UV products.
"The R&D chemists are free to concentrate on radiation curable products exclusively," said Mr. Redman. "They create new printing solutions more quickly and creatively. All of the raw materials are closer to them and not part of the other inventories. The same is true for production. This creates internal efficiency and product consistency. All UV and radiation curable products are created and manufactured in this dedicated UV center. The entire UV team works closely together, shortening the lines of communication and resulting in improved quality, consistency and order response time."
The People of EIC
Mr. Redman emphasized the importance of having great people working with him to create the best possible inks for EIC's customers, and he noted that many key people have been with EIC through much of its 22-year history.
"All our people play an invaluable part in the success of EIC," Mr. Redman said. "All of our employees, including the batch maker carefully building the ink and the office personnel accurately processing paperwork, are crucial to building customer satisfaction and the future of EIC. Very few people have left us, and we're giving out lots of 20-year watches."
Technical sales support and QC are key aspects of EIC's success, as satisfying the needs of customers ensures they will remember EIC for future requirements.
"The technical sales representatives work with industry leaders to recommend the right products for their applications, make their operations more efficient, to conquer more profitable markets and create the next level of printing quality," Mr. Redman said. "Without great QC people, we could not realize our potential. Our customers rely on our QC people to take the ink variable out of their printing operations. We have product consistency with all of our branches. The customer service people work tirelessly to fulfill orders and raise customer satisfaction."
Having a strong relationship with suppliers is also important to Mr. Redman. "The nice thing about EIC is that we have an excellent relationship with our suppliers," Mr. Redman said. "We will bring new materials in to take a look at it, rather than have it sit on a shelf. Customers recognize when you have high quality products and we work on getting better materials."
R&D has been critical in EIC's development of its ground-breaking water inks. Today, aside from the company's new emphasis on UV inks, EIC has also introduced a variety of new products in 2001.
"We're continuing our strong emphasis on R&D," Mr. Redman said. "R&D will continue to discover the printing solutions that fill these needs and create the future for the printing industry as well as our company."
Mr. Redman started out in the technical side, and he still enjoys that part of the business. "I was a resin chemist, and I still get into the lab," he said.
Among the company's most recent developments are water-based inks for heat shrinkable PVC film labels, which provide excellent scratch and crease resistance. EIC also is offering new water-based fluorescent inks that are stronger in color and print cleanly, as well as more brilliant metallic inks.
EIC has also developed inks for six- and seven-color process printing, multi-imprintable inks, inks for multiple substrates such as paper, board and some films, lower viscosity UV inks, and higher strength UV flexo process inks.
Meanwhile, EIC is working internally on new processes to further increase its production and consistency. "We've been striving to be vertically integrated," Mr. Redman said. "For example, we run our own dispersion units because we believe we can do a better job."
EIC has clearly succeeded in the goals that Mr. Redman set back in 1979. "We hired a consultant to see where we were going," Mr. Redman said. "You fear the answers, but 95 percent of the responses we got back were all very positive. Still, we have to earn our business every day."
EIC in the Community
Mr. Redman's love of the Morganton area has further blossomed, and he has been an extremely active member of the community. He has been named Burke County's 1991 Small Business Person of the Year and Morganton's 1998 Man of the Year .
He has served on the board of directors for Grace Lifecare, the Burke Council on Alcoholism and Chemical Dependency, Grace Hospital and Western Piedmont Community College Foundation. He currently serves on the board of directors of South Mountain Children's Home, Foothills Airport Authority, and the Literacy Council. He is chairman of the Morganton Planning and Zoning Commission, recently agreed to serve on Burke County's Strategic Planning Committee, and is active as an elder in the First Presbyterian Church. He also serves as trustee of his alma mater, Thiel College.
EIC isn't just focused on environmental issues in its efforts to be a better community member. EIC has earned the Golden Key Award for Business Efforts from the state of North Carolina for its encouragement of parents to become more involved in schools, and created an incentive program for students that rewards them for grades and perfect attendance.
Outside of EIC, Mr. Redman enjoys the recreational opportunities in the region. He is an avid fisherman, and he also enjoys flying his Cessna 210 plane. He and his wife Abigail love the region, and their two children, Catherine Thomas, EIC's in-house attorney, and Todd, the operations manager at EIC, have remained in the area.
Looking back now on the decision he made to stay in Morganton and go on his own, it is clear that Mr. Redman did indeed make the perfect choice.
"It's just a great place to be," Mr. Redman concluded. "The people are wonderful, and the recreational activities are tremendous. It's paradise."