“As competition is increasing, everyone is trying to streamline operations to provide the highest levels of quality at the most competitive price,” said Craig Tompkins, vice president of manufacturing and engineering for Sun Chemical. “We don’t look at milling as strictly one operation, but as a segment of the entire process, and it is essential to optimize milling as a part of the overall manufacturing process. We want the highest level of quality and highest throughput, and we’re looking for the ease of use that comes with high levels of automation. Any significant improvements here translate into better quality and economics for our customers.”
For ink manufacturers, getting the best value from their equipment is essential. Mill manufacturers realize this, and are working to develop new products, particularly in the field of nanotechnology, which will allow ink formulators to develop innovative products for the marketplace.
Netzsch’s LMZ-25 Zeta II Mill.
State of the Industry
The past few years have been difficult for the printing ink industry. As a result, equipment companies have noticed that there has been an overall reduction in capital expenditures.
There is a feeling that the improving U.S. economy indicates that 2004 may signal the start of the recovery for the printing industry, which would, in turn, help the ink industry.
Some mill manufacturers are noticing an improvement in capital expenditures, while other companies are waiting for quotes to be approved.
“Generally, we look to our parts and service department for positive spending trends first,” said Todd Kritzer, Kady International’s vice president. “In the past, an increase in service expenditures indicates that our customers’ orders are up and machines are back in full time production. This is also a good indication expenditures on capital equipment will follow. Fortunately, this has been the case over the last couple of months. Back burnered projects are now becoming a priority. Things are really shaping up for 2004.”
“We have seen an upswing in capital expenditures, not only for media mills but for dispersion equipment like our Dispersators and in-line Max Shear,” said Stewart Rissley, national sales manager, Premier Mill, A Unit of SPX Process Equipment.
“There seems to be an increasing interest for updating or expanding existing manufacturing equipment,” said Kerstin Grosse, sales manager and industry specialist, engineered products division for Buhler Inc.
Mill manufacturers are hoping that an increase in inquiries signals possibilities for the future.
Buhler Group’s Drais Cosmo 5 stainless steel lab mill.
“Capital expenditures in the ink industry remain soft, although inquires have accelerated and verbal response indicates plans to purchase are on track in 2004,” said Denny Stidham, vice president of CB Mills.
“It is true that there has been some activity in the ink industry (mainly ink jet inks) within the last eight to 10 months,” said Korkmaz Oz, sales engineer at Draiswerke. “However, this is mainly budgeting or scheduling some purchasing for the year 2004 and the following years.”
“Business at Netzsch in the ink industry has been steady,” said Randy Smith, Netzsch’s national sales manager. “There hasn’t been any significant improvements.”
Because of the economic challenges in the past few years, many ink companies have chosen to acquire rebuilt machinery.
“Our experience has been that the ink industry has gone into a holding pattern due to the severe downturn in business,” said Herman Hockmeyer, president of Hockmeyer Equipment Corp. “Producers are thinking more on how to keep their factories busy with the equipment they currently have rather than adding in additional capacity. There is some interest in rebuilt machinery, but again the problem is orders, not the ability to produce. But in the down market over the past two years, some producers prefer to purchase used machinery if the technology is no different than that of new machinery.”
“Rebuilt and used machinery is a quick fix for stressed capital budgets,” Mr. Rissley said.
“Our refurbished equipment sales has been a key factor in lean economic times,” said Mr. Kritzer. “We view this as a real positive thing for Kady because our machines are in production rather than sitting in a warehouse waiting to be sold.”
“There is some interest in rebuilt machinery, as when a customer is expanding existing production that requires mirroring an existing process,” Mr. Stidham said.
“There is always an interest in rebuilt machinery,” Ms. Grosse said. “Buhler offers the possibility to trade in old equipment when purchasing new. We also have excellent refurbishing capabilities in our plant in Minneapolis.”
Premier Mill’s QMAX.
Ink Industry’s Needs
As Mr. Tompkins noted, streamlining the milling process to become more efficient and thus more competitive is essential to ink companies.
“Customers are looking for higher productivity per square foot of factory space, higher output per employee and ultimately reasonable profitability,” Mr. Hockmeyer said.
“Customers want an equipment supplier that can solve their problems, improve yield and quality and have the knowledge and reputation in industry as a quality equipment supplier,” Mr. Rissley said. “And they all want this at the best price.”
“One key requirement that our customers are seeking is durable, long lasting equipment that is capable of producing excellent product quality,” Mr. Smith said. “They are also looking for machines that utilize energy more efficiently.”
Versatility is also important to printing ink manufacturers.
“Our customers are seeking equipment that can handle viscosities from highly pasty down to liquid, that have low temperature limits and no product contamination,” Ms. Grosse said. “They are seeking reduction of particle size to submicron or nanometer range, are easy to operate and clean, and are affordable and have low maintenance and a long lifetime. They want a complete product range from lab-size to high-capacity machines, and prefer short lead times.”
“Our customers are looking for reliable and versatile equipment,” Mr. Kritzer said. “As the corporate purse strings loosen, customers are looking for a piece of equipment that can be utilized for a number of different applications. It is much easier to justify a capital expense if a machine can be used for more than one purpose.”
Improvements in mill technology are helping ink companies meet their needs.
‘The bead milling technology has seen the biggest improvements,” Ms. Grosse said. “Today, the requirement is for media mills using micromedia and achieving particle sizes in the submicron or nanometer range.”
“Besides subtle improvements in media mill technology, we believe much of the focus is still directed towards the front end of a milling process,” Mr. Kritzer said. “Premilling, for example, will provide a superior predispersion, which in turn will significantly improve milling, ultimately reducing mill passes.”
Mill manufacturers have designed a variety of new products to keep up with ink industry needs.
“We have had tremendous success with our inline/ continuous flow Kady model OCF,” Mr. Kritzer said. “The OCF is an affordable machine that can easily be added to a conventional dissolver/media process. The OCF turns a premix into a premilled base ultimately reducing mill passes and in some cases eliminating milling altogether.”
“As the need to increase yield and quality continues, nanoparticles will be needed,” Mr. Rissley said. “With innovations such as our QMAX and Supermills, Premier Mill gets to the desired nano size required. QMAX is ready to give an ultrafine particle size and tight distribution resulting in better yields and quality.”
Mr. Smith said the Netzsch LMZ-25 ZETA II System was specifically developed for high energy, high flow, multiple pass grinding to achieve very narrow submicron particle size distributions with excellent repeatability. The LMZ-25 system produces a uniform activation of the media and easily handles media size as small as 0.2 mm. Another milling improvement is that the entire rotor can be cooled, unlike before only part of it was cooled.
“Hockmeyer has developed a single station processing system for paste inks that eliminates the need to move ink vats from a pre-mix station to a media milling station to a roller mill,” Mr. Hockmeyer said. “This single station technology has also reduced production time more than 50 percent.”
“The most significant improvement in milling technology from Dyno-Mill has been the ECM Mill,” Mr. Stidham said. “The mill was introduced nine years ago, but current improvements have turbo charged the ECM’s performance. The ECM is exceeding customers’ expectations, with high throughput rates exceptional product temperature control and particle size reduction as low as 30 nanometers.”
Ms. Grosse said that the Buhler Group’s acquisition of Germany-based Drais DM complements the parent company’s line of ink equipment.
CB Mills’ ECM Mill.
“Buhler recently acquired the Drais DM Company in Germany, which means a good completion of the Buhler program of grinding and dispersion equipment,” Ms. Grosse said. Buhler is strong in processing high viscosity products, especially in the printing ink industry. The K-Series line of bead mills with conical grind chambers is an outstanding and the most successful bead mill line for this application. Drais DM is a specialist in micro-wet grinding, and has created its most recent DCP Line, a very unique bead mill that operates with recirculation. These mills are ideally designed to suit the most demanding requirements in the low to medium viscosity range for the printing ink as well as the chemical industry.”
As 2004 continues, ink companies will decide whether it is time to embark again on greater capital expenditures. If the answer is yes, mill manufacturers will be ready with products that will meet the ink industry’s needs.
In recent years, there has been great interest in nanotechnology, which requires that pigments be milled down into sub-micron sizes.
“This is the hottest topic of the last couple years within all the industries, including ink jet inks,” Mr. Oz said.
“Nanotechnology is definitely of interest, especially in ink jet production,” Mr. Stidham said. “Smaller is better and allows our customers to provide an improved product with less pigment.”
“There is a lot of interest in nanotechnology,” Mr. Smith said. “Many companies are discovering the benefits of milling to the nanoparticle size.”
“The tiny science of nanotechnology – the study and manipulation of individual atoms and molecules to make new materials – has been a headline grabber for years, at least seven, actually,” said Dave Pagor, regional sales manager for CB Mills. “But it’s in the coming months that we’ll start to see the impact of nanomaterials on a wide range of market segments. Among them are high-density data storage media for the electronics industry, medical diagnostic tools, transparent sunscreens, enhanced paper and ink, and highly cost-efficient coatings. Just last month, the industry drew a lot of attention when President Bush signed a law authorizing federal research and development subsidies of $3.7 billion over four years, starting in October. The Freedonia research group expects the U.S. market for nanomaterials to explode, topping $1 billion in 2007 from only $125 million in 2000.”
“I think there is a lot of pressure on the pigment manufacturers to produce higher quality pigments that will yield a smaller particles sizes with conventional ink manufacturing processes,” Mr. Kritzer said.
How much nanotechnology will impact the ink industry is uncertain.
“Nanotechnology is the buzzword everywhere,” Ms. Grosse said. “However, most of the real nanotechnology demands exit outside of the printing ink industry.”