|The Graphic Arts TechCell at RadTech’s e|5 UV & EB expo displayed UV and EB technologies used in a variety of consumer items.|
According to Thor Jondahl, project chemist, INX International Ink, the UV ink market was estimated to be $360 million in 2002. This includes all types of UV printing inks. Screen UV printing has the largest market share at 40 percent, with sheetfed litho and letterpress combined equalling 38 percent of the total.
As more and more printers invest in combination presses, the UV market will continue to expand.
“The UV market has continued to grow in the past year,” said Ron Zessack, Environmental Inks and Coatings’ (EIC) UV product manager. “This is due to higher quality demands in the flexo market along with more and more new presses being introduced to the market with UV capabilities. This has continued to increase the role of UV. The new combination presses are being designed with better lamps and curing units, allowing better quality at higher press speeds.”
“The market for UV products is growing as witnessed by the deliveries of new presses with UV capability,” said Don Matthiesen, the director of marketing and communications at EIC. “UV inks are press stable and therefore lend themselves to increased printing productivity – the key to making money today. UV inks are inherently more durable for most applications. Combining the printing speed of flexo with the opacity of rotary screen white creates high impact labels efficiently.”
“We see the market expanding,” said Steve Lundahl, product manager, narrow web and energy curable group, SICPA North America. “We not only see it through current and potential customer inquiries but we then validate it when we see added capacity come online as press manufacturers continue selling more equipment.”
“Printers are converting conventional presses to hybrid, ink jet, combination printing,” said Gale Waller, UV/EB product manager, national sales, INX International Ink Company.
Areas of Growth
There are a number of opportunities for growth in UV printing in label, folding carton and commercial segments.
“There are some segments of the UV market that are experiencing growth. For example labels, plastics, hybrid sheetfed and adhesives are all seeing nice growth,” said Chris Morrissey, vice president of marketing for Sun Chemical. UV coatings are also seeing growth in the flexible film market for non-food products, according to Mr. Morrissey.
“Folding carton, which makes up the largest portion of the UV market, is facing significant competition from the flexible packaging and plastic container market, both of which do not utilize UV products,” Mr. Morrissey said.
“We continue to see strong growth in prime labels,” said Mr. Lundahl. “We see very good opportunities within the health and beauty areas as well as an increase in UV products being utilized on wine labels.”
“The UV market continues to show growth potential in the areas of health and beauty products, high definition process printing, shrink sleeve applications and the thermoform sleeve product applications,” said Mr. Zessack.
According to Mr. Matthiesen, prime labels and transparent labels in particular are becoming a bigger piece of the label market.
Increased production speed, improved product properties, enhanced quality, environmental compliance, lower applied cost, cool curing on heat sensitive substrates, reduced energy requirements, less waste, reduced space requirements and enhanced product resistance to chemicals such as solvents or cleaners have all contributed to gains in UV technology, according to Ms. Waller.
As UV technology finds wider acceptance, the technology has begun to make gains in the mid- and wide-web markets. “UV will make gains in the film label segment of label printing,” Mr. Matthiesen. “UV inks will be finding wider acceptance into the mid-web and wide-web markets.”
“We expect to see the strongest growth areas in the packaging market, including pouches, folding cartons and shrink sleeves,” said Mr. Lundahl.
EB technology appears to be growing into new areas, including flexible packaging with coatings and adhesive applications, according to Mr. Morrissey.
According to Ms. Waller, EB comprises 12 percent of the energy market. “EB is growing slower than UV, but the volume of EB chemistry is considerable. The best opportunities are still in the food market area,” she said.
The use of UV products has continued to grow throughout Europe, the U.S. and Latin America, according to Mr. Zessack. “Europe has embraced the use of UV for some time and the biggest growth potential we believe will be in the U.S. and Latin America markets.”
“Much of the gains are now being seen in North America, as we were lagging behind many other parts of the world,” said Mr. Lundahl. “Moving forward, we expect this trend to continue.”
Developing countries are going directly into UV and bypassing solvent and water, according to Mr. Matthiesen.
What do Customers Want?
Valued for its visual and tactile impact as well as its durability, users of UV/EB technology demand UV inks have properties such as good cure speed and adhesion.
“Our customers continually tell us the three most important physical properties of our inks are adhesion, trapping and cure speed,” said Mr. Lundahl. “Implied within those properties is very tight batch-to-batch product consistency. The days of simply providing a ‘stick and shine’ product are ending. The main focus for the printer of the future is to reduce down time, thus reducing total cost.”
There are a number of UV properties that interest printers today. They include quality of print, high definition printing in screens and solids, higher opacity, higher gloss, significant environmental advantages and being very operator friendly, according to Mr. Zessack.
A common misconception about UV/EB inks is that they cannot be used in food packaging because of odor issues. The fact is that currently they are being used for tobacco and chocolate packaging with FDA approval for direct contact expected.
“Besides obvious performance enhancements, printers would also like to see inks and coatings which can confidently be used in food packaging applications or in non-food applications that will deliver lower odor levels,” said Ms. Waller.
“Improved productivity is the main driver for utilizing energy curable products,” said Richard Pettifor, vice president, North American packaging inks, Sun Chemical. “Improved product performance–adhesion, scuff resistance, consistent CoF, gloss–is also very important.”
“Environmental concerns play a role, as EB/UV is an alternative to water-based technologies for reduced or no VOCs,” said Mr. Pettifor. “This may become a much more significant factor as new programs and policies are enacted.”
Rising Raw Material Prices
By far the biggest challenge to the UV/EB printing ink market are rising raw material prices and even shortages of those raw materials.
“The challenges for UV in the coming years will be in the area of supply. There are and will continue to be shortages on key raw materials such as acrylic acid,” said Mr. Zessack. “This could limit the inventory of some UV product available to the market.”
“In the very near future, the increase in raw material prices will be a challenge,” said Mr. Lundahl. “Going forward, the bad health and safety reputation is still prevalent. Also, if the U. S. National Toxicological Program (NPT) study on TMPTA shows the material to be carcinogenic, we could be in for some real struggles.”
“The entire printing ink industry is now forced to review pricing,” said Mr. Matthiesen. “The shortage of acrylic acid will cause acrylic acid- based formulations to become more expensive. UV inks are more petrochemically based and therefore the cost of crude has a higher impact on UV inks as compared to water-based. Printers have been very understanding about price increases given the increases in substrates and other raw materials. Reasonable price increases are being tolerated. The is a good chance that raw material prices will level off when one of the acrylic acid factories comes back on stream in the first quarter of 2005 and if oil prices retreat into the $30-$40 per barrel range. Raw material prices are not likely to go down soon.”
“Energy curable inks and coatings have faced the same pricing pressures as conventional solvent- and water-based products,” said Mr. Pettifor. “The recent shortages and cost increases have had a significant impact on our EC products.”
“As with others, we are concerned and are monitoring the situation very closely,” said Mr. Lundahl.
According to Ms. Waller, prices have so far remained stable, but INX doesn’t know for how much longer. “We have had at least two raw material increases from our vendors this year alone. Another is coming and we may have to react with our customers,” she said.