UV light cured ink (UV ink) is widely used in offset and flexographic printing throughout the world. The growth rate for UV ink is more than 10 percent per year and is surpassing the growing rate of general inks.
In China, UV ink products are typically found in screen inks. High quality offset UV ink and flexographic UV ink are still mainly imported, although China is producing its own offset, flexographic, CD and photoimaging inks.
A Growing IndustryIndustry officials say the trend is one of growth for UV inks in China.
“The Chinese radiation curing industry has achieved rapid growth at the rate of more than 20 percent for the past five years,” said James Wu, market manager of radcure, UCB Shanghai’s representative office. “The growth is not only in applications but also in R&D and raw material production.”
Mr. Wu expects that this growth will continue in coatings and ink.
“This momentum will be maintained in the following couple of years,” Mr. Wu said. “Electronic ink will be the key factor for the growth. The focus on industrial coating will move forward to quality improvement and product upgrade.
“Printing ink is another market with high growing potential,” Mr. Wu continued. “The driving force behind the growth is rapid growth of the electronic industry, housing program, auto industry and printing industry, as well as environmental concerns about VOC (volatile organic compounds) emission.”
Major UV Producers
UV ink products from leading multinational companies such as Toka, Toyo, Dainippon, Akzo Nobel and others can be purchased in the Chinese market. But the UV ink market is still not mature in China, so many companies are working to get a good position quickly in the market.
Hangzhou Toka Ink Chemical Co., Ltd set up its UV ink plant at the end of 2000, and uses T&K Toka’s formula to produce UV ink in China. The company is trying to acquire its raw materials domestically as soon as possible so that the cost can be reduced and the company can increase its output. The demand for Hangzhou Toka and Shanghai Toyo Ink’s UV ink products are always exceeding supply in the market.
Meanwhile, Akzo Nobel Guangzhou Co., Ltd can provide UV ink for different print applications such as letterpress, flexographic, screen and offset. The UV ink products, especially the products used for food and pharmaceutical packaging, are mainly controlled by foreign companies.
Following environmental concerns, the radiation curing technology is becoming a new developing focus in China. In 1993, China established its RadTech China organization.
RadTech China now has over 180 members, 70 percent of which are enterprises and the rest are institutes and universities. According to the statistics of RadTech China, there were 19 UV ink producers in 1999 and 23 ink producers in 2000. The UV ink output has also increased from 1,320 tons in 1999 to 2,069 tons in 2000. The growth rate is 57 percent, and there are specific areas of opportunity.
“Electronic ink is the market of highest potential,” Mr. Wu said. “China is becoming the biggest electronic appliance manufacturer in the world. PCB makers are moving their production to China. This brings the demand for electronic ink. International ink manufacturers should have local production so as to be close to the market and save costs. On the other hand, local ink manufacturers strive to compete with multinational corporations through upgrading their products and improving quality. All these enlarge the market size in China.
“Paper varnish, CD coating and wood and plastic coating are all fast growing markets in China,” Mr. Wu added. “The development of the packaging and publishing industries are creating high demand for paper varnish. The popularization of VCD and DVD generates the demand for discs, and therefore for VCD and DVD coating and ink. Wood coating is still of high potential as UV coating is in line with people’s environmental request. There is a long way to go for automotive coating though some auto parts are coated with UV coating.”
Production of Key Supplies
The monomer area is developing very fast. Now China can produce generally used monomer products such as TEGDA, DEGDA, PETA, TMPTA, TPGDA, NPGDA, HDDA, PDDA, EOTMPTA and others. Last October, UCB China held the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of UCB’s first monomer plant in Asia. In line with UCB’s global strategy for the graphic arts and industrial coatings business, the Shanghai monomer plant is designed to have the largest production capacity of all UCB sites worldwide and is intended to be the main source for its Asia market.
More than 30 percent of the investment is dedicated to waste treatment (environment) and material containment (safety).
According to UCB, it will upgrade the Shanghai production site to a world-class level, with a positive impact on other production units as well. Furthermore, in its various aspects, this ambitious project shows how UCB’s resources worldwide can work successfully together: construction, administration and regulatory aspects being managed in China; process and environmental concepts being developed in Europe and extended training of personnel being carried out in the U.S. The plant will promote the production and product series of monomers and oligomers in China.
In June 1999, UCB started the manufacturing of polyester resins for powder coatings in its new plant, Shanghai UCB Specialty Chemicals Co., Ltd, which is located in Fengxian, Shanghai. The plant’s capacity is 11,000 tons per year.
Products from the international chemical companies such as Sartomer, ISP and others are also in the market now. Taiwan producers, such as Changxing, are also suppliers of monomer products for UV inks in the mainland.
Photoinitiator products are growing very fast in recent years. China has become the main photoinitiator production and export country in the world. There are more than 10 kinds of photoinitiators produced in China now. In 2000, China exported 6,000 tons of photoinitiators, with a total value of $30 million.
Oligomer production is still lacking in China. There has been no large-scale specialty oligomer production factory until now. Most of the UV ink and coatings factories have their own oligomer unit that provides products for their own use.
The domestic raw material producers are depending on the technology or expertise from universities or institutes, and although the raw materials for UV ink are developing very quickly, it still has some distance to travel compared with western countries. For example, there are few kinds of resins for UV ink producers’ selection.
Because the demand for paper coatings, metal coatings, CD and optical fiber coatings, photoimaging ink, can ink and packaging ink will grow very quickly in China in the future, the UV ink and coating market will still have big developing potentials in the future in China.