The global recession has impacted the entire printing ink industry, but some areas have fared better than others. In particular, energy curable inks are enjoying some slight growth in a few segments, such as packaging, while other markets are down.
EB units play a key role in the Wet-Flex process on the new Comexi FW1508 press. (Photo courtesy of Energy Sciences, Inc.)
“The UV ink market is growing but at a slower pace,” said John Copeland, president and COO of Toyo Ink America. “UV has been outpacing sales of conventional sheetfed ink.”
“Our business in UV/EB inks and coatings has shown very slight growth during the last year,” said Don Duncan, director of R&D at Wikoff Color. “There is continuing, growing interest in using UV/EB for food packaging, and this is taking a little business away from other print technologies. UV/EB printing has all the complexity of normal litho or flexo, with the addition of an in-line polymerization process. This brings a few more technology issues to UV/EB printing, and makes a high-service customer support strategy particularly effective in gaining customer confidence for the move to UV/EB. As high service is a foundational principle for Wikoff, UV/EB plays to our strengths.”
Grant Shouldice, director, product management of energy curable inks, North American Inks, Sun Chemical, said that the tightened credit situation has hindered energy curing, as companies looking to invest in capital equipment find money to be tight.
“While there has been a lot of discussion around the efficiency afforded to energy curable (EC) ink users, the poor capital/credit positions of those interested did not allow interested parties to switch to a more efficient EC printing process, which we think contributed to overall negative growth rate,” said Mr. Shouldice. “The result was consolidation, and in some cases, bankruptcy and/or financial distress of EC press manufacturers. It is thought that those who had already bought into the EC process fared better.”
Rod Balmer, director of global research and product development, Flint Group – Print Media, North America, said that the economic downturn witnessed over the last 12 months has affected everybody involved within the printing industry, and the market for UV inks has certainly not been immune to these difficulties. “The energy curable market is down in relative proportion to the printing and ink industry and the economy in general,” Mr. Balmer said.
Dr. Peter Heimerzheim, director, corporate communications for Siegwerk, and Dave Cox, vice president narrow web – U.S. and Canada for Siegwerk, reported that the European and North American markets had suffered some declines.
“The economic downturn has certainly been reflected through the UV markets as a whole, some obviously more than others,” said Damon Geer, vice president sales and outside facilities, Zeller+Gmelin, North America. “The niche markets are thriving better than the commodity segments while food packaging remains fairly strong. Every market has felt the effects of the reduced demand, and none has escaped unscathed.”
UV and EB technologies have long been seen as environmentally friendly approaches; the earliest selling point for energy curing was its low VOC content. After a while, UV and EB technologies drew increasing interest due to the improved properties it imparts on print, but with the renewed interest in the environment and sustainablility, UV and EB ink manufacturers feel they have a great story to tell customers.
“There is an increased interest in environmentally friendly products, and many printers are making inquiries into how they can improve their operations,” said Mike Sajdak, senior R&D chemist for INX International. “A common conclusion for several of these printers has been the use of UV and EB curable inks and/or coatings. Not only do they provide no or low VOC and HAPS, but they offer production efficiencies as well.”
“The green/sustainable movement is a good fit for UV/EB,” Dr. Duncan said. “While every ink chemistry has strong points and weak points in this area, the balance is on the plus side for UV/EB. The strong points are the very low VOC content, low to no emissions, low-energy curing/drying (vs. ovens for flexo or heatset), and the ability to cut, glue, fill and ship packaging right off the press (vs. letting sheets sit in a climate-controlled warehouse for days to dry). The weak point of UV/EB is that the energy-curable chemicals used to formulate the inks are mostly petroleum-derived and they are difficult to make. This gives them a larger carbon footprint in manufacturing, but it is balanced by a lower carbon footprint in curing/drying.”
“There is indeed continued interest in environmentally friendly green and sustainable solutions regarding printing applications,” Mr. Geer said. “In addition to the inherent characteristics of increased mileage and specific print properties, the use of UV ink also eliminates the cost factors associated with emissions control and VOC elimination. With these beneficial qualities, UV inks provide practical solutions. The markets we’re involved in are pursuing green alternative solutions, and Z+G has positioned ourselves to offer them through new UV ink technology, incorporating performance and sustainability with renewable and recyclable resources.”
Ink companies are reporting increased customer interest in UV and EB inks.
“The brand owners and suppliers to brand owners are strongly indicating a need to satisfy sustainability requirements,” Mr. Shouldice said. “EC inks help the market to meet the demand for environmentally friendly products by conserving energy and reducing the printing process carbon footprint.”
“The increasing awareness of environmental issues and potential for new regulations has resulted in an increased interest by Siegwerk’s customer base to understand the benefits and potential disadvantages of radiation curable technologies,” said Manuel Rivas, director of technology – U.S. and Canada at Siegwerk.
“There continues to be strong interest in reducing VOCs by the industry and society at large, driving printers to look at UV/EB for its environmental advantages,” Mr. Copeland said. “Relative to conventional inks, UV/EB inks dry instantly, allowing printers to print, cure, cut, ship and bill their customers at a faster rate.”
Dr. Heimerzheim sees potential opportunities to utilize renewable resources in energy curable ink formulations.
“We see already some developments to establish renewable raw materials in UV,” said Dr. Heimerzheim. “EB offers a lot of advantages, mainly in the area of films and foils. Thanks to the development of technologies with less energy consumption like UV LED, these advantages will increase.”
“One of the key environmental benefits of energy curable inks is the extremely low or, in some cases, zero VOC content they contain,” Mr. Balmer noted. “Flint Group has also looked at our product formulations as well, not just at the VOC emissions. We maximize the bio-renewable content in our UV products by using replenishable vegetable oils, such as soy and linseed, without compromising cure performance. In fact, a few of our energy curable inks are Soy Seal compliant.”
Best Growth Markets
For Energy Curing
The energy curing market has seen growth in a variety of areas, particularly in the area of packaging.
“In general, we see early signs that EC ink market is picking up in the late part of 2009,” Mr. Shouldice said. “We expect a flat to slightly positive growth rate for the EC ink market in 2010 at a rate similar to the gross domestic product growth rate. The overall packaging segment, although seeing a change in the mix, remained stable/flat over the last 12 months.
“UV commercial printing will remain flat to negative,” Mr. Shouldice added. “However, within that segment, we do see a greater use of EC products in the web business forms and direct mail markets at the expense of other less efficient printing processes. We expect the UV narrow web tag and label segment to have the strongest growth rate over the next few years. This segment and UV digital will be growth rate leaders. We continue to see EC inks in the flexible packaging segments, traditionally using liquid inks and coatings.”
“We’ve seen growth in packaging printing, such as flexible packaging and folding carton,” Mr. Copeland noted. “Our web heatset ink sales continue to climb as printers seek inks to help them achieve improved productivity, less waste and higher quality printing.”
“In the North American markets, there has been a great deal of interest and investment in shrink labels,” Mr. Cox noted. “There has also been an increase in inquires regarding inks for food packaging in general.”
“Labels and flexible packaging in general also continue to remain relatively strong, as these market sectors are predominately driven by food-related end uses which should suffer less during the downturn,” said Jens Zimmermann, director, global marketing and business development, Flint Group – Packaging and Narrow Web Division. “The economic downturn has also had an additional impact on the sales of private label products, which have increased during the economic downturn. Historically, this segment has typically been represented through plain packaging and simple graphics; however, graphic quality has continued to become an increasingly important factor in the acceptance of these types of products.”
“There does not appear to be any one particular market within North America or even Europe that has really taken off at this point in time,” Mr. Balmer said. “However, commercial print and, in particular, business forms and promotional printed items have remained consistent users of this type of technology, as have cosmetics and media such as CD and DVD packaging.”
Dr. Heimerzheim noted that there is strong growth outside of North America.
“Russia and smaller countries in Eastern Europe like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan showed the most growth in the past and will do so in the future,” said Dr. Heimerzheim. “Also, China will do a significant development in the right direction. Central Europe will come back again – hopefully in the first half 2010, possibly in the second half at the latest.”
Dr. Duncan and Mr. Geer said that they believe that most if not all segments will rebound as the industry continues to recover.
“UV/EB is the only major ink technology to show significant improvement over the last year for us,” Dr. Duncan said. “We believe that it is a new world for printing now – some business that has gone away will never return. While we are well-positioned for growth in the future, the baseline for that growth is a much lower number than we thought it was last year.
“We have found UV ink jet to be a significant growth area in the last year, although still small compared to litho or flexo, and we expect that trend to continue,” Dr. Duncan added.
“Some will realize their full potential growth, while others will remain diminished through alternate technology and media driven from the downturn,” Mr. Geer said. “ At the moment and from our vantage point, printing on plastic through sheetfed, web offset and narrow web flexo markets were experiencing varying degrees of growth on the UV side prior to 2008, and we anticipate that they will be among the first to rebound. New UV equipment sales support this outlook, and we feel confident these are the markets where we’ll see the most growth in through 2010.
“The future technologies required for our industry include addressing raw material and global regulation restrictions and their controls,” Mr. Geer added. “Alternative materials and providing low migration systems will address most of the concerning issues with printing inks. Continued development of products for direct food contact approval and faster cure rates with reduced energy will be ongoing. Reduced energy consumption with lower heat alternatives may come from the new LED curing technology. It is still in its infancy stage and only time and continued development will tell if the possibilities are to be realized.”
Ink manufacturers have come up with a wide variety of new energy curable technologies during the past year.,
Sun Chemical; was active, launching SunCure Starluxe, its high performance UV offset product line sold in the European market for several years, in North America. Designed to meet the requirements of the most demanding brand owners, this quality ink system offers reliable and robust press performance on a range of papers, plastics and metalized substrates at the highest print quality.
Sun Chemical also introduced SunBeam Accel, an EB curing ink system formulated to run on web offset presses. Designed for food packaging applications, the system exhibits low odor characteristics and has shown good results relative to migration testing when properly cured. SunCureCarton inks are formulated to run on high speed web offset and sheetfed presses. These inks were designed to work on paper and board and have shown good adhesion to a variety of substrates - making them efficient forever changing job requirements.
Flint Group launched new UV flexo and LED inks.
“Flint Group has developed a brand new ink series for general narrow web label printing – Flexocure FORCE – a new milestone in UV flexo technology, as it improves color strength, printability and overall efficiency thanks to a better press performance,” Mr. Zimmermann said. “Developed as part of a customer oriented innovation involving leading quality minded converters in the development process, Flexocure FORCE covers everything a label and narrow web printer needs today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable future.”
“UV-LED remains of real interest within the industry while low migration is perhaps the most discussed topic at any seminar or customer visit, particularly in Europe, where governmental health and safety agencies have made this a real ‘hot topic,’” Mr. Balmer said. “Flint Group remains committed to continually improving and driving performance to new levels, and our UV and EB ink technologies deliver proven on-press performance. These include the Arrowbeam 1300 inks, which have been extremely successful when used in shrink sleeve applications, for surface and reverse print. While, Arrowlith UV continues to hit new performance heights on coldset web presses, helping newsprinters compete in new arenas, with our newly developed formulations highly effective on even the highest-speed news presses.
“Flint Group is also focused on formulating state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly products that deliver maximum performance and quality while minimizing potential negative impact to the environment,” Mr. Balmer added. “All Flint Group UV and EB inks have been formulated to emit low-to-no VOCs. Moreover, the Arrowstar UV inks and a number of our EB inks are Soy Seal compliant, while our hybrid ink series, Gemini, is formulated with high levels of bio-renewable materials.”
Toyo Ink also introduced its LED curable ink, as well as UV offset inks.
“We are very excited about Toyo Ink’s latest advances in LED technology. FD LED, our new series of environmentally friendly energy-curable sheetfed ink, is hard-dried using UV rays produced by dedicated LEDs,” Mr. Copeland said. “LED-curing systems generate very little heat and can be operated at low energy levels. By combining these energy advantages with the low-VOC properties of UV inks, LED technologies can contribute in a big way to reducing the environmental impacts of printing.
“Toyo Ink America introduced UV Eco Soy, a new series of UV-curable process inks for commercial sheetfed and folding carton printing, at Print ’09. Made from domestically grown soybeans, UV Eco Soy combines the environmental benefits of UV applications and soybean oil. It has only fractional levels of VOCs. Print ’09 also marked the world debut of UV PowerFLEX flexographic inks. High in strength and low in viscosity, UV PowerFLEX improves color density, printing quality and production efficiency.”
Encouraging Signs for the EB Market
Although it does not seem to get as much attention as UV, the market for electron beam (EB) curing has been steady over time, with the main interest coming in the area of food packaging. Ink manufacturers note that EB has been enjoying growth despite the recession.
Jonathan Graunke, director – energy curable systems, for INX International Ink Co., said that the EB market remains strong, since much of it is in the packaging arena. “This includes everything from folding cartons to pet food bags and plastic labels,” Mr. Graunke added. “The recent installations of Drent presses has helped with the growth of EB. The press offers great versatility in the types of materials that can be printed, which includes shrink films. EB also offers potential advantages for low migration on food packaging.”
Rod Balmer, director of global research and product development, Flint Group – Print Media, North America, reported that prior to the economic downturn, there had been some growth in the EB market, particularly in the North American markets, but the economic crisis has caused that to stall, at least in the short term.
“The market in general has also had to withstand a number of hits during the downturn, with at least one key supplier being hit by bankruptcy, and this did temporarily change its course, although it would now appear that alternative manufacturers have moved quickly to fill the supply gap,” Mr. Balmer said. “We remain optimistic that the EB market will get back on its feet and there certainly appears to be a high level of continued interest in the technology, but it could still take some time to regain lost momentum.”
“Within Europe, the market has witnessed little new investment in EB equipped presses, despite strong interest in this technology,” said Jens Zimmermann, director, global marketing and business development, Flint Group – Packaging and Narrow Web Division. “In addition, the fact that EB technology requires wet on wet printing further limits growth opportunities for EB outside of the litho market. The emerging markets of Eastern Europe do however appear more open to this technology, and there have been some encouraging signs of growth in this area.”
“We have seen a little growth in EB, while UV has been fairly flat,” said Dr. Don Duncan, director of R&D at Wikoff Color. “Both, though, were better in the last year than most other ink technologies. There is more happening in EB right now, with new EB equipment suppliers in the market, with smaller, low-power EB units becoming more common and with EB attempting to penetrate other printing areas beyond lithography.”