Inkjet printing has enjoyed excellent growth during the past decade. A look at how the mix between conventional and digital printing technologies has changed at major trade shows such as drupa and IPEX clearly shows this trend. Having taken a large chunk of the screen market, there is every indication that digital will soon take on conventional sheetfed printing.
Major inkjet press manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard, EFI and its subsidiaries VUTEk and Jetrion, Xeikon, Fujifilm, INX Digital and others are making major inroads in terms ofproductivity.
As a result, inkjet ink is a growth area, led by Fujifilm Sericol, Sun Chemical, EFI, Nazdar, INX Digital, Collins Ink and ImTech. In spite of the recession, inkjet ink companies reported that they had good years, although growth was not as explosive as printers found capital less easy to come by, thus curtailing some investment in new equipment.
Mitch Bode, general manager, Sericol Unit, Graphic Systems Division, Fujifilm North America Corporation, said that Fujifilm Sericol’s inkjet business grew modestly in 2009.
“We began to see a recovery in overall business climate in September 2009 and we’ve seen the demand for print has begun to improve over the last several months,” Mr. Bode said. “Fujifilm’s business reflects this trend, and we see it in our digital ink businesses.
“Sales of new inkjet printing equipment slowed in 2009; however, demand did improve in the later part of the year,” Mr. Bode added. “We attribute this sales increase to the economic recovery and increased demand in display graphics and promotional activity. Point of sales graphics are also improving along with the economy and consumer confidence continues to strengthen. We are not where we were before the economic downturn, but we are getting there as credit and financing begin to loosen up.”
Ken Kisner, president of INX Digital, also noted that the sales grew at the end of 2009.
“We were extremely pleased to see 2009 end on a strong note in November and December,” said Mr. Kisner. “We achieved market share gains in the alternative ink segment for the year as customers moved towards more cost effective output per square foot. The industry overall showed signs of weakness as did most segments of all industries, but the rebound that was experienced in late 2009 has carried over industry-wide through the first quarter of 2010.”
“Our sales grew again in 2009, and it marked the third year in a row that we appeared in the Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies in Oregon by the Portland Business Journal,” said Les Faulds, director sales and marketing for ImTech, Inc. “Our OEM thermal inkjet print controller and ink sales nearly doubled. We released some new inks, including an excellent new PVC ink, as well as engaged new partnerships giving us access to new markets.”
“All in all, our business continues to do well,” said Lawrence Gamblin, president of Collins Ink. “We did well through the recession, and while our growth was small, we saw sales increases every year. This year our business is up, so life is good.”
Collins Ink acquired the inkjet ink business of Hexion Specialty Chemicals last year, which has worked out well for the company. “The Hexion purchase rounded out our product portfolio. It is still a relatively small part of our overall business, but it is growing,” Mr. Gamblin said.
Leading screen ink manufacturers like Fujifilm Sericol, Nazdar and Sun Chemical all have become heavily involved in the digital ink market as many of their customers bolstered their offerings to include digital printing. In the case of Nazdar, the company acquired Lyson, Ltd. in early 2006, and the decision proved to be a successful one for Nazdar.
“Nazdar’s solvent and UV-curable inkjet business continues to grow beyond expectations,” said Richard Bowles, vice president and general manager of Nazdar. “Several new ink developments and print service providers searching for more economical ink solutions have bolstered Nazdar’s inkjet business over the past 12 to 18 months.”
Impact of the Recession
For inkjet ink manufacturers, the global recession did take a bite out of growth, as areas such as advertising suffered.
“The digital ink field in general was not immune to the economic downturn,” Mr. Bowles said. “Wide format printing is often part of advertising and promotional campaigns. Many of these campaigns were put on hold or removed from budgets altogether.”
Mr. Bowles did note that Nazdar has seen signs of improvement beginning in Q1 of this year in the overall digital ink market.
“The key sign of improvement will be to sustain this momentum through the typically slow summer printing season and into Q3,” Mr. Bowles added.
“All areas of print felt the impact of the recession, however digital ink volumes showed a slower growth rate rather than a year-on-year decline,” Mr. Bode said.
“However, we are definitely beginning to see signs of improvement as the economy recovers and printers begin to invest in new digital print technologies.”
Mr. Bode reported that Fujifilm has seen customers who have taken advantage of the economy as a good time to invest in new technologies
“Using this strategy, those who are investing in new technologies now will be the ones who succeed in the future because they have positioned themselves for growth as the economy begins to bounce back,” Mr. Bode added. “For example, we recently sold two Inca Onset S70s into traditional screen and offset printing environments. The introduction of this printer into their businesses is going to enable them to offer their customers fast turnaround for short-run, on-demand orders for POP, retail display graphics and signage. These printers have placed themselves ahead of the curve as the demand for these types of orders steadily increases.”
Printed Electronics and Inkjet
Printed electronics is an area of opportunity for inkjet ink manufacturers.
“Printheads are becoming more robust and precise in their drop placement, and as a result, there will be more applications in printed electronics as well as life sciences Mr. Faulds said. “As fluids become more specialized to address new materials, printhead firing and material handling characteristics will require specialized engineering experience which is ImTech’s core competency.”
Mr. Kisner noted that INX Digital is not yet in the printed elctronics field, but it does seem to hold much promise.
“I wish we were because we get a phone call or two every week,” said Mr. Kisner. “It’s very interesting and I know there are many R & D companies working on formulations. One thing that INX Digital excels at is making consistent, high quality jettable fluids. If a toll manufacturing opportunity exists, I’d strongly consider it.”
Ink manufacturers are actively developing new products for the market. For example, ImTech is making key technical advances on both the hardware and consumable sides of its business.
“We are very close to launching an OEM print controller that manages multiple printheads,” Mr. Faulds said. “On the ink side, we continue to stay focused on specialty inks for particular markets. For example, our new PVC thermal inkjet ink is a very fast drying, dark color solvent ink that provides excellent print quality and eliminates the need for driers.”
“Nazdar is moving into the industrial and membrane switch UV digital sector with new inks specifically designed for applications such as glass, metals and plastics that can be bent and vacuum formed,” Mr. Bowles said.
Mr. Kisner said that INX and INX Digital green ink products are attracting plenty of excitement in the market.
“Developing products that reduce the impact on human health and the environment have a lot of appeal today, and we will continue to push on our end to produce more of these types of products,” Mr. Kisner added. “We will be launching our first textile ink at FESPA, and that has long been a goal of ours. We have a very strong feeling about the textile market for the future and this introduction will show our commitment to water based technology. Our companies are well known for solvent and UV technology and this adds a new dimension to our business focus. Our dedication to becoming more sustainable began 10 years ago and this introduction is just another step in that direction.”
Fujifilm has been active on the press side, notably its latest innovation in digital inkjet technology – the Fujifilm Inkjet Digital Press, which was demonstrated in action at IPEX 2010. The Fujifilm Inkjet Digital Press uses water-based inks and washes that are VOC-free, simplifying the de-inking process and increasing the potential for recycling. The Fujifilm Inkjet Digital Press also incorporates an infrared drying system which means no drying time is required after printing and sheets are immediately ready for finishing.
Opportunities for Inkjet
Having made tremendous strides in the traditional screen market, digital technologies are now poised to gain a larger foothold in the offset market.
“The advances in inkjet technology have put aggressive pressure on the silk screen industry over the last 10 years,” Mr. Kisner said. “With faster and more reliable printheads, coupled with the many advances in ink technology, we are now seeing increased pressure on gravure and offset printing. Regardless if it is textile, package printing or corrugated, the fact is digital printing is taking market share away from these groups and adding new capabilities that industries have not seen before.”
Mr. Faulds sees garments and brand authentication systems as opportunities for digital printing.
“We see good opportunities in the high-end garment market, where manufacturers are looking to reduce their production costs,” Mr. Faulds said. “Personalization is where inkjet will play. People want to create their own designs and inkjet is a powerful enabler. We also see more and more brand owners who are seeking to protect themselves and their supply chain through brand authentication and lot tracking strategies.”
Meanwhile, UV inkjet is continuing to grow, due primarily to its environmental and productivity advantages.
“There has been increasing demand for UV printers as this print technology replaces solvent inkjet printing,” Mr. Bode said. “This is being driven by the increased speed and productivity of UV as well as the ability to eliminate VOCs and reduce energy costs. We also see growth in inkjet to meet the need for more versioning, short-run, high-quality, on-demand printing that can be delivered fast, and in some cases can even accommodate same-day turnaround. These market shifts continue to drive the sales of our UV roll printers such as the Uvistar series, Fujifilm’s UV flatbed printers like the Acuity Advance HS, and the Inca Onset series, all of which are capable of producing high quality output at impressive speeds.
“We also predict that the continued advancement of speed and quality from digital inkjet press platforms will also spark advances in ink technology,” Mr. Bode noted. “New ink technologies will be developed that can penetrate new and different substrates, arming our customers with new and innovative ways to produce indoor and outdoor signage for virtually any application.”
“UV-curable ink continues to be a good source of growth for Nazdar as early-adopters move to third-party inks and hardware prices in general decline,” Mr. Bowles noted. “Grand format solvent is also a good opportunity as users look for inks that are an improvement in color gamut and performance compared to OEM offerings. Nazdar is also making significant investments in the wide format solvent market segment as well. This market is saturated with hardware that is coming out of warranty or currently out of warranty and users are looking for economical ink solutions.”
“The biggest development we are seeing is the introduction of many new four color inkjet printing presses,” Mr. Gamblin said. “The markets these printers are going after are the same markets that Collins has operated in for the past 20 years. It appears clear that the ink markets for these new printers are going to be different from traditional inkjet ink markets. Luckily, Collins’ business model appears to be well suited to meet the needs of these new customers and OEMs.”