Norbert Kern, head of product management and process technology at Buhler, said that there is a lot of movement in the digital section, like inkjet and liquid toner printing processes. Though Kern said that the margins in these markets are under high pressure, he added that “if individualization is important, this technology will especially have a high potential and can be a game changer in the industry.”
Packaging, digital needs
The packaging industry is one of the strongest growth areas for printing. The needs of milling and mixing equipment for packaging inks differ from graphic arts, and suppliers are prepared to provide products specific to this market.
According to Daniel Troxler, business development manager at Buhler, the packaging ink industry has been the main driver for Buhler’s success in recent years. Kern, also of Buhler, added that there are two new market needs.
“On one hand, the industry is looking for technical solutions to be able to get high-quality, finished product out of low-cost raw materials,” he said. “For us, this means we need to have sturdy production systems in order to develop quality materials out of raw materials that can sometimes be difficult to grind.
“On the other hand, some of our customers try to differentiate higher quality product with easier to print formulations,” Kern added. “Basically both scenarios have the same impact on our process solutions. For this we developed a very efficient fine-grinding process (to get the right quality or even better) and a very robust pre-grinding/pre-mixing process.”
Kevin Kirkwood, marketing coordinator at Netzsch, said that the growth of the packaging industry has led to an increased need for processing equipment, including mills and mixers.
“A main priority for companies is scalability. Companies want to be able to test on a lab-scale model, but also have the option to scale up to full-size models without having to take additional time to calculate scale-up factors,” he said.
Regarding digital printing, which is also on the rise, Kirkwood said that “an increasing need for processing equipment in digital printing has enticed many companies to increase their mixing and milling capacities in-house to fulfill more projects.”
Producing narrow particle size distribution in nano range is the main task in digital, Troxler said. His colleague Kern added that, in terms of digital printing, ink particle size distribution is especially crucial.
“We do not like to get too small pigment particles, losing color strength, but at the same time we need to cut distribution at a max particle size to avoid clogging nozzles on inkjet printheads. This means the process needs to be able to deliver as narrow as possible particle size distribution. Our set up is designed accordingly, to use the smallest beads possible in the fine grinding while maintaining the highest possible throughput rate in the recirculation process. The process is very energy efficient due to the small beads. As a result of the high recirculation flow rate, we can create a narrow residence time distribution, which results in a narrow particle size distribution,” Kern said.
Expectations for 2017
Looking forward, suppliers agree that there is reason to be optimistic.
Kirkwood said that he expects these markets to continue to grow, and that he foresees “Netzsch’s involvement to grow exponentially along with them.”
Kern added that Buhler is “very optimistic” moving into 2017. “In 2016, we saw positive developments in different segments, especially in the packaging industry. So far the signs for the first quarter of 2017 are showing growth in the same direction,” he said.
Leading mixing and milling manufacturers frequently introduce new technologies to the market. What follows is information on these new innovations from select manufacturers. For additional information, please contact the manufacturer.
The pre-dispersion unit MacroMedia is a small revolution in the ink industry, according to Troxler. “It opens new possibilities and will set a new standard in the industry. It was officially launched during CHINACOAT in Guangzhou in December 2016 and created incredible attention as it solves most of the problems in the fine grinding step, such as clogged screens, reduced flow rates and pressure issues,” he said.
The EMI Mills Pilot Scale Mixer is a new mixer/disperser for larger volume laboratory or pilot scale processing. The infinitely variable speed disperser can mix vessels up to around 24 inches diameter and 24 inches tall. It is available for use in all locations, including hazardous areas, and in speeds of up to five horsepower. Also available from EMI Mills are a wide range of mixing and dispersing blades.
Jaygo has introduced AZ Alumina Nanobeads. These beads provide an alternative for demanding mill processes currently using Zirconia Micro Beads. The AZ Nanobeads are specially formulated to be used in high-energy mills where a high degree of fineness is required reaching nano metric sizes. The AZ Nano bead provides high mechanical properties, high wear resistance and is competitively priced.
Netzsch has introduced The Epsilon, a new inline mixing experience that homogeneously disperses product with reproducible quality. According to Kirkwood, The Epsilon has some of the most impressive throughput capabilities on the market.
Norstone has recently introduced Polyblade HS. The company offers free trials for this blade. As of press time, Norstone has had 18 trials and 18 orders for the Polyblade HS. According to Norstone president Daniyel Firestone, it processes product more quickly, offers variable temperatures based on speed, “and still looks new after a two-year trial.” It is available from 1.5-40 inches in diameter.