Raw material costs have, for the moment at least, stabilized, and the economy has slowly steadied. Now milling and mixer manufacturers are watching to see if this impacts capital investments.
“From a supplier’s standpoint, growth in the ink industry in 2012 was moderate,” said Shawnacy McManus, director of marketing for Hockmeyer Equipment Corp. “The industry continues to go through restructuring as production facilities adapt to changing demands
“Capital equipment demand from the ink industry did not increase or decrease drastically,” Mr. McManus added. “Ink companies continue to be a strong consumers of process equipment.”
“I have seen in some sectors some light improvement,” said Rene Eisenring, sales account manager for Buhler’s Mid-Atlantic office. “It’s about the same volume in new and used equipment sold in 2012 compared to 2011. I am hoping that there will be improvement in 2013.”
“From what we observed, the ink industry continued to consolidate with the large companies looking to grow through acquisition,” said Dave Peterson, president of EMI Engineered Mills, Inc.
Dave Hrovatic, president of Lehmann Mills, said that he has seen improvement in the ink industry in 2012, and believes there will be further growth in 2013. In particular, he anticipates opportunities in the UV ink and specialty product markets.
With the cost of raw materials dramatically increasing, ink manufacturers are looking for ways to produce their products more efficiently.
Mr. Eisenring said that ink manufacturers are looking to equipment manufacturers to provide machinery with greater automation, so they can to do more with less equipment and people.
In order to meet the needs of ink manufacturers at a cost effective price, Mr. Eisenring noted that Buhler offers its Cenomic low cost bead mill line and Trinomic, its low cost three roller mill line.
The Cenomic 3 is a horizontal full-volume agitated bead mill, ideal for pass operation, and is used for products like protective coatings, paints and gravure inks, among others.
The Trinomic mill was designed for universal applications and meets the most stringent quality standards.
Mr. McManus said that efficiency is of increasing importance to ink companies.
“Ink manufactures are looking for equipment that will give them the strongest return on their investment,” Mr. McManus said. “As raw material costs rise, making sure that every dollar is extracted from pigment becomes more and more important to profitability. Equipment must be able to maximize raw materials, reduce yield loss, reduce process time and be durable and efficient enough to reduce down time for cleaning and maintenance.”
To meet these needs, Mr. McManus noted that Hockmeyer’s most recent introduction is a patented squeeze-through scraper design for its helical sweep blades. This new design improves heat transfer off the tank wall, assist in deagglomeration and is more ergonomic for easier cleaning.
Mr. Peterson noted that ink manufacturers are showing interest in laboratory equipment.
“Ink manufacturers and even raw material suppliers to ink manufacturers are looking for realistic laboratory research mills that will provide data to help them develop or scale up new inks and dispersions,” Mr. Peterson said. “For production milling, they would like to be able to use the smaller grinding media, have optimum control of the operating parameters including cooling and receive process data that will help achieve consistent inks and dispersions.”
Safety is an important issue for ink manufacturers. Mr. Hrovatic noted that Lehmann Mills has developed safety upgrade packages for existing equipment.
Areas of Growth
While certain markets such as publication inks are struggling, other areas are enjoying growth. Milling and mixing manufacturers are seeing increased interest in ink companies in those fields.
“We see the strongest growth in the digital and conductive ink markets,” Mr. Peterson said. “This includes unconventional companies that are looking to use nano particle technology to achieve their purpose through inkjet printing. We see this in the research side of our business as well in the production equipment area. A lot of companies are using very fine grinding beads with our milling technology.”
Nanotechnology has been another area of interest for the ink industry.
“We did see an increase in companies adding equipment for product research and quality control, especially in areas where they are trying achieve nano particles,” said Mr. Peterson. “This was also true in production, where more efficient mills can achieve pigment dispersions or finished ink with finer particles and greater strength.”
To meet the need for nano mills, EMI recently released the Nanotron Mill, which is used to product nano inks and dispersions by a two-stage milling process.
“By doing so it will shorten the milling time and address the need for a better pre-dispersion which is required for ultra-fine nano milling,” Mr. Peterson added.
Mr. Eisenring said that a number if specialty areas have seen growth, including electronic, solar and the battery markets, and there has been expansion in a few of the more traditional ink segments.
“Looking at the traditional ink markets, we saw the strongest growth in metal deco and digital ink,” Mr. Eisenring noted.
All in all, it is clear that milling and mixer manufacturers are well prepared to meet the needs of the ink industry for now and into the future.