Despite the economic downturn, digital technologies continue to enjoy growth as new applications emerge.
Even though the inkjet ink market is perhaps the fastest growing segment for ink manufacturers, the recession still had an impact on business.
“In terms of ink volume, EFI started falling off in the fourth quarter,” said Scott Schinlever, vice president/general manager of EFI’s ink business. “The key drivers for our customers are advertising and promotional printing, and those markets bottomed out in January. Since then, we are seeing a recovery in business, as many of our customers are printing more.”
Brad Kisner, president of INX Digital International Co., said that overall, business for INX Digital has been strong.
“We had a very good first quarter to begin 2009, and at the end of May, results for the second quarter looked promising,” Mr. Kisner said. “We are ahead of last year’s pace and have good reason to believe that we are on a marketshare run.”
“We have enjoyed excellent growth in our global markets,” said Phil McGugan, vice president, global sales and marketing for Nazdar. “For Nazdar, we continue to see excellent growth of UV digital inks and expansion in all our export markets.”
“Fujifilm Sericol continued to see sales growth in solvent and UV inkjet inks in the past year, although at a slower pace than the growth rates achieved in previous years,” said Pete Kenehan, director of Fujifilm Sericol’s Inkjet Systems Group (ISG). “While our priority is focused on the rapidly growing UV inkjet segment, our sales of solvent digital inks also recorded significant growth as many brands of solvent roll printers switched to our Color+ line of aftermarket inks.”
“SunJet, Sun Chemical’s inkjet inks business, fared well during the past year and continues to innovate and be the market leader in fluid deposition technology for the global inkjet market,” said Laurie Geldenhuys, business director and general manager, Sun Chemical. “The continued growth and success of SunJet has depended largely on the wide and super-wide formats in the past. However, over the past year, we have seen significant growth in new and emerging markets and have launched several new products to satisfy these needs. These include products for the narrow web label market, edible inks, photovoltaics, printed electronics, an increased product offering for coding and marking applications, and inks to meet the needs for new printhead technologies.”
“Collins Ink had a good 2008 and it appears we will have a decent 2009,” said Lawrence Gamblin, president of Collins Ink. “While our sales are relatively flat on a year to year basis, I was recently told that ‘Flat is the new growth.’”
In an important move, Collins acquired the assets of Hexion Specialty Chemical’s UV inkjet business earlier this year.
“Hexion’s product portfolio fits perfectly with Collins,” Mr. Gamblin said. “Whereas Collins produces virtually all kinds of inkjet inks, including water-, solvent- and oil-based inks for thermal, piezo and continuous inkjet printers, Collins really had no presence in the fast growing UV inkjet ink market. Hexion’s wide range of inks would appear to complete Collins’ portfolio.”
Literally right across the street from HP’s Corvallis, OR headquarters, ImTech is an ink and systems specialist as well as one of HP’s licensed OEMs and ink manufacturers. The company specializes in inkjet engineering, and is growing rapidly, most recently ranked the 48th fastest growing privately held company in Oregon by the Portland Business Journal.
“The thermal inkjet market is certainly growing for us. One driver is the continued government regulatory pressure to control supply chain identity and the market’s move to shorter manufacturing runs with highly varied marking, which makes a great case for inkjet printing,” said Leston Faulds, ImTech’s director of sales and marketing. “We were able to grow by five people even in a declining market, and most recently, we added two longtime HP chemists who will help with our ink development.”
Stephanie Duvivier, marketing director for One Solution S.A., a Belgium-based inkjet ink and equipment manufacturer, noted that the company’s ink business grew significantly in 2008-2009, mainly in terms of new printing systems converted to One Solution UV-curable inks.
“We are supplying today more than 100 UV printers with our inks all over Europe,” Ms. Duvivier said. “In addition, we have recently finalized the development of a new wide format UV flatbed printer, the One Solution Vega, which we have presented for the first time in Fespa Digital 09.”
Economic Pressures And Digital Technologies
Financing new digital equipment has been one of the difficulties facing the inkjet market.
“Clearly the economic downturn has caused a fall-off in capital equipment sales,” Mr. McGugan said. “ However, we saw healthy growth in our market share of alternative/third party digital inks.”
“From October 2008 to March 2009, we have faced a significant reduction in ink consumption and machinery,” Ms. Duvivier said. “On the other hand, we have converted a large number of new printers looking for better pricing. It seems that since April 2009 the situation is getting better and our customers start to use their equipment at full capacity.”
“From a traditional market viewpoint, companies are always looking at new technologies to compete with other companies that already have digital capabilities and are pursuing opportunities for label and narrow web business,” Mr. Kisner said. “Although we are seeing new capabilities in the digital market, the emphasis appears to be on improving certain technologies or developing products that address the traditional market. Companies are looking to buy equipment and manufacturers that offer creative financing packages will benefit both parties. Needless to say, our financial incentives have been very well received.”
“The economic downturn has had a severe impact on the digital printing market and has resulted in a reduced level of activity in machine placements,” Mr. Geldenhuys reported. “Although the downturn has been more significant in the graphics market, the investment in new areas of application for inkjet continues, and SunJet has been very active in supporting and developing these opportunities.”
“After a strong start and significant growth in the first half of 2008, the global credit squeeze and the inability of some customers to secure financing reduced overall demand for new inkjet equipment in the second half of the year,” Mr. Kenehan noted. “However, despite the credit squeeze and market downturn, the market continues to shift from solvent to UV. This trend will continue as market demand increases for higher quality, higher productivity and more environmentally friendly ink solutions such as UV.
“Digital is also having a negative impact on screen printing due to the cost effectiveness of smaller press runs,” Mr. Kenehan added. “This trend fuels digital growth since jobs that were previously screen printed are now being digitally printed.”
“A lot of the negative impact has been around financing, but we have customers who are investing in the face of the downturn and consolidating,” Mr. Schinlever concluded. “Leading-edge technology tends to overcome economic downturns.”
Key Opportunities For Growth
There are some excellent opportunities for growth.
“Inkjet continues to push into industrial markets,” Mr. Gamblin said. “There is an increasing number of printheads that developers can incorporate into their new printers. The interesting thing is that the market appears to be trying to develop workable business models. The balance between overall printer cost and consumable costs continues to be an ongoing issue that manufacturers have to deal with. There are opportunities for ink manufacturers, but the manufacturer needs to have realistic expectations on the profit margins on those inks.”
“Bridging the gap between traditional and digital printing will be important for several reasons,” Mr. Kisner noted. “Not only does it drive revenue even in tough economic times, but digital printing helps reduce costs and increase production. Also, I think it is clear that more people are taking a good look at the label market. No doubt about it, the label market can be very demanding in terms of both short and long run work, frequent changes and quick turnaround times. This type of production is perfect for digital technologies and the results usually produce immediate benefits.”
Mr. Schinlever noted that EFI is seeing significant gains due to new technologies at VUTEk, Jetrion and Rastek that EFI has introduced recently.
“Leading-edge technology tends to overcome economic downturns,” Mr. Schinlever said. “Having ISA and Fespa so close together was very fortunate timing for us. We could feel the energy in our booth.”
“VUTEk is allowing printers to make the transition to wide and superwide format printing, with the high quality and productivity ideal for the short and medium runs,” he added. “Rastek is a major player in the lower-end flatbed segment for signage and display and short run work as well as membrane switches. Meanwhile, Jetrion is in the label and packaging space, and Jetrion feels like what I felt when VUTEk was in 2001 at the beginning of adoption.”
“We believe in inkjet printing for industrial applications such as ceramic, wood or textile,” Ms. Duvivier said. “One Solution is working on few projects in R&D for these markets. The Vega itself was designed to cover some of these industrial applications.”
“Exhibitions like Drupa, ISA and Fespa 2009 sent a very clear message to the industry about the increased level of investment in inkjet technology for applications in trans promotional printing, labels and décor,” Mr. Geldenhuys said. “The adoption of inkjet as an alternative to traditional printing processes in these new emerging markets will be as much a function of the market evolution as it is of the development of the inkjet technology itself. Companies in Asia will continue to increase their activities in the development of equipment to meet an ever increasing demand in the region while at the same time expanding their reach on a global basis.”
“UV roll printers are beginning to replace older solvent roll machines and will be an area of growth particularly in billboard printing, building wraps and large POP graphic displays,” Mr. Kenehan said. “The advent of full bed print array is a breakthrough in wide format inkjet printing, and the industry is on the edge of breakthroughs in single pass inkjet printing which will accelerate the replacement of more analog printing. More industrial applications are opening up for UV inkjet printing due to image quality improvements and increased ink functionality. Only a few years ago, it wasn’t possible to inkjet print materials that require heat forming or multiple layer printing. Now we see applications such as optical media discs, instrument panels, and vehicle graphics being printed with UV inks.”
There are plenty of intriguing applications for inkjet printing. For example, Ms. Duvivier noted parquet printed with UV inkjet technology.
“Printing optical media discs using UV inkjet is one of the more unique applications recently introduced to the market,” Mr. Kenehan said. “We also see more fine art, museum pieces printed inkjet today, and printing of wallpaper and other home décor products such as six-panel doors, ceiling tiles and wood blinds.”
“It appears digital inkjet can be applied to almost anything,” Mr. Kisner said. “I recently read a story in a technical publication about printing inkjet on human tissue. It was a fascinating article that described how the tissue is grown to full size in Petri dishes and used as prosthetics for ears, noses and such. You might wonder why someone would want to do that but the same question was asked years ago when people started selling advertising on their shaved heads and other body parts.”
“We have UV inkjet inks that have the ability to vacuum form or heat bend on substrates such as acrylic,” Mr. McGugan noted.
“SunJet has developed T-Form thermoforming inks that can be deformed by 200-400 percent elongation without cracking. Applications are aimed at a number of markets that require thermoformable applications including point of sale signs and displays, various automotive applications, molded signs, shaped plastic items as well as safety helmets,” Ms. Geldenhuys said. “As a world leader in the development of UV curing inks, SunJet has continued to support the industry in the development of LED UV lamp technology. Under test conditions, line speeds in single pass applications have exceeded 100M or 300ft per minute. SunJet believes that the development of LED lamp technology is important because it reduces the complexity of integrating UV curing lamps and can reduce the health and safety concerns in some applications. Applications using LED curing technology in the areas of coding and marking, digital label production, wide format graphics as well as variable data printing on plastic cards is a real possibility with functional inks.
To meet the needs of the market, inkjet ink manufacturers are developing new products.
“Sun Chemical is an acknowledged world leader in electron beam (EB) curing technology with significant intellectual property for applications that are designed for use in conventional flexo type printing applications,” Ms. Geldenhuys said. “SunJet have adapted this technology for applications primarily in the food packaging area where low odor and low migration are key. Although challenging, this technology promises to radically change the food packaging market for inkjet applications.”
“The Triangle branded BIL acrylate-based UV curable inks offer extremely high pigment density and a wide color gamut,” Mr. Kisner said. “These inks are intended for jetting with high consistency on the HP/Nur XP3500 in billboard mode. Although it’s not new, we reintroduced our UV HeadCure printhead cleaning service. We are very proud of its success and it provides 100 percent recovery of print heads with obstructed nozzles and restricted flow. That’s important because it is a major advancement at a fraction of the cost for new printheads and works on virtually any printhead.”
“We are constantly working on improving our UV-curable inks to deliver the higher performances in terms of color, flexibility, adhesion... but also to match all environmental and sanitary requirements,” Ms. Duvivier said “Nevertheless, most of our R&D efforts have been placed in the development of new printing systems. Today we are releasing the first product, the ONE SOLUTION Vega UV flatbed. We will be releasing as well a new wide format roll-to-roll printer (3,3m width) in early Q4 2009. These printers are based on a revolutionary print engine, integrating the latest technology of PH, and a robust industrial mechanical structure. The machine delivers an extremely high level of quality and resolution at production speeds, not achieved up to now by any of the existing systems.”
“We continue to have nice, small success with LED curable inks, even as we see more people coming into the market,” Mr. Faulds said. “We are beginning to release some color inks into the LED market. Red is just about ready for general release, and blue is next. We are also releasing GradeStamp, a new ink that is targeted for the lumber industry, and PolyPrint, a very fast drying solvent ink for polyethylene and polyester labels and coated boxes. PolyPrint dries in less that five seconds without additional dryers, and prints excellent text and barcodes.”
Because of its capabilities in such a wide variety of inkjet printing segments, EFI is very well positioned to pool its resources on ink R&D. Most recently, the company has developed a leading-edge white ink
“We offer a very unique white capability, which we can put down as a pre-coat, post-coat or spot white,” Mr. Schinlever said. “It’s ideal for high-end POP, because when you use a white undercoat before process colors, it really makes the images stick out. For example, I recently saw a lipstick advertisement where the model’s lips really stood out. Using white as a diffusion gives stunning results as well. We’re also offering new ink systems that cut across all of our ink lines, with improved grey levels and greyscales.”
“We are developing new delivery system technologies that enable our customers to seamlessly convert their inkjet inks from the OEM inks to our alternative (third-party) inks,” Mr. McGugan said.
“High-speed inkjet printing in full bed print array requires sophisticated scanning technology and nozzle out mapping in order to produce consistent quality prints,” Mr. Kenehan said. “Printing at high speed also requires UV inks to cure faster.Another recent innovation is the ability to select a choice of finish from matte or satin to gloss. More flexible UV ink formulas also open up new opportunities to expand the range of substrates and applications for UV inkjet.”