The energy-curable inks and coatings market has been a source of much good news in recent
Banta Specialty Converting received a TLMI first-place award in 2006 for Flexography, Line & Screen/Tone, Non-Prime Label for this label, which was printed with UV flexo inks.
During the past year, ink manufacturers have continued to thrive in the UV and EB markets.
“Energy-curable inks and coatings in the packaging market continued to experience growth in 2007, as they find their way into more segments due to the technology providing productivity increases, enhanced print quality and excellent environmental performance,” said Martin Spatz, marketing manager, Sun Chemical North American Packaging. “The benefits gained from these technologies make them an ideal candidate for converting operations that require high performance.”
“Energy-curable inks and coatings for commercial applications have grown by at least 6 percent in North America in 2007,” said Jim Bishop, product manager, sheetfed technology at Sun Chemical. “Many printers are beginning to utilize UV more because of the need to ship jobs faster. Converting conventional presses to hybrid UV is becoming simpler and we see an enormous amount of printers taking this route. Many printers who have used hybrid for years are now committing to full UV because of success gained.”
“Energy-curable sales continue to grow domestically and at a greater rate than conventional,” said Rod Balmer, Flint Group’s director of global research and product development – sheetfed inks. “I would qualify this statement by explaining that while the market share for conventional inks is greater, their market is a mature one and as such, is not continuing to grow as fast as that for energy-curables.”
“Our last fiscal year was a good growth year with sales growing more than 7 percent,” said Daryl Collins, vice president of national sales and regional operations for Wikoff Color. “Our growth in energy-curable inks and coatings was above-average. The packaging market, including both folding carton and flexible packaging, is especially strong. UV hybrids also are growing well.”
“It’s been another year of favorable growth for energy-curable inks and coatings,” said Mike Keegan, vice president of sales for Toyo Ink America. “In Toyo’s case, we continue to see double-digit growth in this area.”
“We’ve seen outstanding growth in the commercial specialty and packaging markets, as continued demand for improved high-effect coatings and turnaround times remains high,” John Copeland, Toyo Ink America’s president, added.
In terms of strong growth, Jonathan Graunke, director – energy curable systems for INX International Ink Co., cited EB for packaging and the packaging label market specifically as plastic printing continues to gain in mold labels and bottle wraps.
Brij Nigam, managing director and vice president of sales and marketing for IdeOn LLC, which is entering its second year, reported that the market remains strong. “We’re seeing lots of projects, and we are doing very well,” Mr. Nigam said. “We are seeing a lot of new presses, including the VSOP from Drent Goebel, and combination presses are also moving along nicely.”
Market growth for UV and EB inks was worldwide in 2007. Outside of North America, Mr. Graunke sees steady growth in Asia, with markets maturing and becoming more cost competitive. Europe also has solid growth, as current UV printers are looking for better ink technologies.
“In 2007, the European market for energy-curable inks and coatings remains strong with growth at 5-7 percent overall,” said John Adkin, European product director, sheetfed and UV, for Sun Chemical. In particular, Mr. Adkin pointed to strong growth of energy-curables in Poland.
“Geographically in Europe, growth is particularly strong in Poland,” Mr. Adkin said. “In terms of market sector by printing process there is significant interest and growth in the printing of non-pervious and plastic film substrates both by narrow and mid-size web printing on work such as sachets, labels and sleeves. With the introduction of the very large format (VLF) 2m wide (80 inch) sheetfed offset presses capable of printing paper, board, plastics and laminates, the sheetfed UV market has seen a real boost. These presses are used to print point of purchase displays and posters. Much of the work being done with this high resolution and productive process was previously produced by screen or digital processes.”
“UV/EB technologies are well established technologies in Europe,” said Michelle Hearn, director of marketing, Sun Chemical North American Packaging. “Over the past year, we have seen the European market embrace the advantages of technologies such as Sun Chemical’s WetFlex for use in flexible packaging end-use applications.”
“Generally speaking, in most parts of the world where we market printing inks we have seen outstanding growth for energy-curable products,” Mr. Copeland said.
“Energy-curable inks and coatings still prove to be the strongest and the preferred technology for sheetfed packaging applications within Europe,” Mr. Balmer said. “This being said, Europe is a much more mature market than the U.S. in regard to printing with energy-curable inks and coatings, hence growth is slower except in newer areas such as Eastern Europe where UV and EB is increasing. With new investments made by western companies in Asia, a continual growth is occurring, particularly within China. This is particularly true in packaging and non-time-sensitive commercial print.”
The packaging market is an excellent segment for energy-curables.
“In the packaging market, UV/EB technologies are seeing growth in those segments where the demands on packaging cannot always be met with conventional ink systems,” said Ms. Hearn. “We are seeing the adoption of EB-cured technology into the flexible packaging end-use applications because of the advantages seen with the curing of heavy coating weights and the low migratable levels. We are also seeing growth in folding cartons and labels with the introduction of higher performance EB-cured ink systems.”
“Printing of plastics for display and card applications is the fastest growing sector,” Mr. Bishop said. “Growth is also being realized by the use of specialty UV gloss and strike-through coatings. Commercial printers are also using UV inks and coatings on clear and holographic type substrates to create new market opportunities.”
New Press Technologies
One of the keys to this growth is the development of new press technologies. Dr. Don Duncan, director of research, Wikoff Color, noted the addition of UV lamps to existing litho presses to allow printing of UV inks, and the introduction of new, very flexible litho web presses such as those from Drent Goebel, as important gains. In particular, Drent Goebel’s new VSOP (Variable Sleeve Offset Press) allows printers to create hybrid presses.
“EB printing for bags and thin substrates traditionally printed flexo are now available through the VSOP press, which offers great cost savings with less waste due to minimizing the gap in printing,” Mr. Graunke noted. “Longer perfecting presses in sheetfed almost mandate UV, as printing both sides of sheet in-line is possible. Servo-driven flexo printing is allowing for much faster press speeds, increasing the need for instantaneous drying which may be easier to achieve in UV.”
“In the sheetfed UV arena, press manufacturers are focusing on much larger and wider-format presses,” Mr. Balmer said. “Press manufacturers who have typically dominated the 40-inch commercial sheetfed market are now entering this arena. Such presses are nearly all equipped for UV and may have multiple flexo coaters inserted within their configuration, for application of unique effects in addition to UV coatings. The typical trend is that presses are getting bigger and faster.
“In the web arena for packaging, great success has been seen with the introduction of the Variable Sleeve Offset Press (VSOP),” Mr. Balmer continued. “This press has been very successful in the introduction of flexo and gravure units into what is otherwise a lithographic printing press. The utilization of these presses, whether they be equipped with UV, EB or both, is growing, and in some cases can be seen to encroach on printing that was a more traditionally an application of liquid packaging inks.”
“The growth in UV use can be seen in the equipment being installed,” Mr. Copeland said. “All of the major press manufacturers have improved their press offerings with UV curing units. We’ve also seen improved materials and increased knowledge about rollers and blankets for UV applications. Such improvements make it easier, cost- and technology-wise, to move into this printing business.”
“Technical innovations in printing presses almost always represent opportunities for ink suppliers,” Mr. Spatz said. “For example, in 2007 we have seen the market acceptance of offset presses designed to print on web substrates, such as polyolefin and PET films. This innovation in offset press technology represents an opportunity for the growth of energy-cured lithographic inks and coatings designed for flexible packaging applications. In addition to technological improvements, cost is another important factor is speeding up the growth in UV/EB use. The declining costs of EB and UV equipment is making energy-curable printing systems more affordable.”
As gains continue to be made by press and ink manufacturers, it is likely that UV and EB will find more applications in graphic arts, which should continue to drive further growth in the coming years.
New energy-curable ink technolgies are also helping to drive growth.
Mr. Balmer noted that Flint Group have seen tremendous growth in many areas, including its Arrowlith UV, an energy curable ink which was awarded the PIA/GATF Intertech award for innovation. This ink is designed to run on coldset presses equipped with UV lamps., allowing coldset printers to print on
coated substrates, which previously was not possible, thereby enabling these printers to diversify their portfolio and enter new markets that were previously limited to heatset. Flint Group has also enjoyed success with Arrowstar EB, an EB curable ink for folding carton applications.
Sun Chemical has been acgtive in energy-curables, notably with WetFlex, patented wet-on-wet flexographic printing process, which is designed, along with the patented UniQure ink system, to meet the needs of the flexible packaging market for the highest level of print fidelity and food product safety, along with the required durability to protect the package integrity and improve printing efficiency, according to Ms. Hearn.
"The UniQure ink system is formulated without volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) minimizing a converter’s impact on the environment," Ms. Hearn added. "With WetFlex, Sun Chemical has made available a technology that supports the market’s need and desire for creating sustainable packaging today and into the future. With Sun Chemical technologies, we are seeing the adoption of EB cured technology into the flexible packaging end-use applications because of the advantages seen with the curing of heavy coating weights and the low migratable levels."
Another new technology is SunCure Display, a range of UV curing offset inks for the large and very large format (VLF) offset sheetfed display printing market which offers excellent adhesion on non-absorbent stocks and boards as well as a variety of specialist materials, including plastic and composite substrates.
Jim Bishop, product manager, sheetfed technology at Sun Chemical, said that Sun Chemical Commercial Group, through Kohl & Madden and Rycoline, introduced Synergy at Graph Expo 2007. The Synergy concept consists of products that are matched chemically to provide excellent UV press performance, increase productivity and promote ease of use. Synergy is the first product offering that combines UV ink, coating, press conditioner, wash and fountain solution chemistries all formulated to simplify UV printing. These products are specially formulated to speed make-ready and reduce start-up waste.
Brad Schrader, chief marketing officer, Sun Chemical, added that Sun Chemical recently pioneered a new UV formula that prints at more than twice the web speed of conventional UV inks on newspaper presses. This new ink called UniWeb Sunray, is now being used at Herold Druck in Austria, the only newspaper to date in the world that prints newspapers and magazines at 11 meters per second on a MAN Roland Colorman Press. The appeal of converting to a high-speed UV coldest printing press may become a growing trend for newspaper printers mainly because it saves space and energy by not using heatset dryers.
Toyo Ink America has also been active in R&D.
“It’s been another year of favorable growth for energy curable inks and coatings,” said Mr. Keegan. “In Toyo’s case, we continue to see double-digit growth in this area. The big seller in our UV ink line is UV Pst Kr2 Opaque White, which has superior flow characteristics while providing excellent opacity and adhesion on a wide variety of substrates. Press operators have found this product useful in overcoming adhesion issues they experience with white sticking to foil and plastic substrates.”
The Digital Market
Inkjet is a hot spot for UV technology.
“There are new opportunities for UV growth in wide-format digital printing,” said Hidekazu Takahashi, Toyo Ink America’s vice president of strategic marketing. “Currently, most wide-format digital presses use conventional solvent-based systems. We’re seeing a shift to UV-based platforms as more printers realize the production and environmental advantages of using this technology.”
John Law, managing director, digital, for Sun Chemical, noted there are a variety of opportunities in the digital and printed electronics markets for UV ink technology.
“In fact, many of the latest inkjet printers being launched into the graphics and industrial markets utilize UV ink technology and Sun Chemical is a leading provider of UV inks to this digital print market,” Mr. Law said. “For example, SunJet, Sun Chemical’s inkjet ink group, is a leading provider of UV inkjet inks to major printer OEMs in the graphics and emerging industrial print markets.
“In addition, Sun Chemical Digital provides a variety of UV digital printer solutions designed to meet the changing needs of packaging, label and optical disk printers,” Mr. Law continued. “SolarJet, Sun Chemical Digital’s newest UV inkjet printer designed specifically to benefit the growing short-run, narrow-web labels market was recently launched at LabelExpo 2007 in Brussels.
“Sun Chemical Digital has announced the FastJet high speed press for the corrugated print market. Designed primarily for corrugated packaging applications, this digital printing machine approaches production speeds of 6000 square meters per hour. Project 37™, a single pass UV inkjet printer, is designed to offer CD/DVD duplicator and replicator companies an even more affordable digital system for the decoration of optical discs. All three printing systems use UV inkjet inks developed by SunJet.”
“Sun Chemical is also actively involved in the fast-growing printed electronics market where we believe UV technology will have application in this market in the future,” Mr. Law said.
Raw Material Pricing and UV/EB Inks and Coatings
The printing ink industry has been buffeted by price increases from seemingly all sides in recent years, beginning with high crude oil prices impacting feedstocks. Now, with the elimination or reduction of China’s VAT tariffs on pigments and intermediates, UV and EB ink manufacturers are bracing themselves for higher prices.
“In the past two years, we have seen instability in the supply of certain base raw materials needed to produce acrylates (acrylic acid). This has led to both price increases and availability issues,” Rod Balmer, Flint Group’s director of global research and product development – sheetfed inks, noted. “This can be attributed to a limited world capacity and the fact that acrylic acid is used in areas more profitable than graphic arts, such as super absorbent polymers used in diapers. Increasing capacity has somewhat resolved the availability issues, although pricing remains high. Furthermore, recent changes made by the Chinese government in relation to VAT (Value Added Tax) and, more importantly the environment, have the potential of increasing the cost of raw materials produced in China, conventional and energy-curable, alike.”
“Like much of the business world today, there continues to be price and cost pressures in the ink market and UV/EB ink systems are not an exception,” said Richard Pettifor, president, Sun Chemical North American Packaging. “Sun Chemical strives to offset these pressures by working closely with our supply chain partners, continuing to improve our internal operations and developing new value-oriented product.”
“The costs of energy-curable resins used for UV inks and coatings will continue to grow due to shortages of acrylic acid,” added Jim Bishop, product manager, sheetfed technology for Sun Chemical. “The demand for this key raw material in the Far East is increasing for a wide variety of competitive applications. Pigment prices are increasing also, as well as the raw material costs for photoinitiators.”
Jonathan Graunke, director – energy curable systems for INX International Ink Co., said that continued price pressure in raw materials, including the elimination of VAT in China, is having a major impact on costs. Pricing of acrylic acid and other core feedstocks remain a concern, while transportation costs are having a large impact on overall cost.
These higher prices aren’t just a North American issue.
“Raw material prices for energy curing products in Europe continue to increase,” said John Adkin, European product director, sheetfed and UV, Sun Chemical. “The market for raw materials is truly global and global demand is increasing strongly, especially with the growth in energy curing printing in Asia.”
Passing along these higher costs is not going to be easy for ink manufactures, as their customers are also feeling the impact of higher prices.
“We are still seeing pressure from foreign and domestic raw material sources for higher pricing,” Dr. Don Duncan, director of research, Wikoff Color, said. “This is putting a severe squeeze on ink makers to remain healthy. Passing these costs on to printers is difficult.”
“Raw material pricing has drastically gone up over the last couple of years,” Toyo Ink America president John Copeland said. “It continues to be difficult to raise pricing to printers, despite the raw material situation.”
– David Savastano