Editor’s Note: For this year’s Wide-Format Digital Inkjet Ink Report, WFI turned to the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM), the only national trade association for the printing ink industry since its founding in 1916. NAPIM promotes the general development and improvement of member companies by fostering greater understanding and knowledge of the printing ink industry as well as representing the industry as a whole on a national basis. In addition, NAPIM provides seminars, conferences, publications, bulletins, and consultation services to its member companies on an ongoing basis. NAPIM members include ink manufacturers, companies that supply raw materials, and manufacturers of instrumentation and equipment utilized by the printing ink industry.
For this report, George Fuchs, manager –Environmental Affairs & Information Systems, NAPIM, interviewed Ken Kisner, president of INX Digital International, a NAPIM member and an expert in the area of wide-format digital inkjet inks.
Q. How healthy is the wide- and grand-format inkjet ink industry?
A: “Overall, I’d say the market is reasonably healthy but, like life, it has its challenges and requires monitoring. The inkjet industry experienced some very interesting developments in late 2010 that have carried over into 2011. Inkjet made strong progress in the screen printing industry in the last decade and that explains the dramatic market share in the graphic arts markets. This was especially so in both outdoor and indoor graphics for wide-format and superwide-format printing.
“In the past 12 months, printers have reached the market at reasonable costs for tag and label, and in other markets where a fixed array is necessary to compete with existing markets. It appears that jettable fluid technologies have matured, adapting to high speed, variable drop technology as well as new formulations for corrugated, textile, glass, tile, paper label, and plastic packaging.
“Last year we saw new optimism in the market with the beginning of new investment by print houses. In most areas inkjet provides a market advantage of shorter print runs, no over runs, and a remarkable decrease in waste.
“Companies evolving to inkjet technologies are proactively advancing in technology and seeing very short ROIs. While the outdoor graphic arts market is becoming more mature with higher volumes and very competitive prices, we also are seeing a new emergence of companies focused on evolving into digital in new industrial markets.”
Q. How is it changing and evolving?
A: The economic downturn may have ended but it is still having repercussions in our industry. During the economic slowdown, some huge chemical companies were forced to shut down facilities and halt production. When the economy rebounded, raw material suppliers were at full capacity and the resulting shortages have caused prices to rise on many key raw materials.
“Looking ahead, there are several key areas of growth for inkjet. Inkjet is starting to penetrate into other traditional markets such as offset, litho, and gravure. We believe companies that invest in digital in these markets will also see growth in traditional technologies. They’ll likely be in a position to offer competitive short-run and medium-run print jobs using their digital technologies while continuing to offer competitive long runs on their existing machinery. We have seen over and over again companies that offer digital technology see their traditional business pick up as well. Other areas that are seeing quick adoption of inkjet technologies are from companies holding larger inventories such as the tile and textiles industries.”
“LED (light emitting diode) technology is developing interest in two areas of our industry. One is the new LED billboards that you currently see alongside interstate highways. They don’t require ink and have a quick upload of new campaigns. We view this as a threat to ink consumption for the outdoor inkjet market, and it will be this way for some time because there are some communities considering these billboards for major highways in their towns.
“The second LED technology is the use of LED lights that emit in the UV range and can be used for curing UV curable inkjet inks. These lights have become more powerful and can cure inkjet inks readily. Although LED curing lights are expensive, they emit a constant amount of energy over a very long lifespan, whereas other technologies tend to have a shorter life cycle. This advantage has caused many integrators and OEMs to adopt the technology. INX Digital has a strong selection of LED curable inks for a variety of different applications.
“The other constant change which impacts us is legislation. Companies that have a global presence, as we do, may have a slight advantage because of the many different things we must be aware of and respond to.
“For example, look at the REACH legislation in Europe which will continue to be implemented over years to come. In its early stages REACH was a moving target when it came to its rules and guidelines, but we’ve been successful in being compliant due to the strong team we have in our Environmental Health and Safety department and their dedication to this and all regulatory and environmental initiatives. With this framework in place, INX Digital is better prepared to meet similar challenges down the road.”
Q. What will be the next inkjet inkbreakthrough?
A: “This is a very good question and of course, the marketplace will be the determining factor. However, I like the position we are in for several reasons.
“At the time when the economy took a hit, we had the resources to refocus our R&D group and we went ahead and hired more chemists. The sales chain may have slowed, but our R&D efforts were working overtime, so when the economy did bounce back we’d be able to take advantage of it. Our R&D group did a phenomenal job in a relatively short period of time, and we are launching very strong technologies that are providing benefits to our customers.”
“Because of these efforts, our inkjet technology is primed to take off. UV inkjet inks are more robust in a variety of applications. Pigment inks are growing mainly because of the durability factor compared to dye technology.
“By the end of 2012 I expect to see consistent growth with water-based UV and solvent technologies. These types of inks will be replacing some of the products one can find on the eco-solvent market. I think INX Digital is well positioned to leverage our water-based inkjet technology because of our history and success with water-based traditional inks.
“Latex and UV LED inks will continue to be in demand. LED curing technology has come a long way in recent years and that’s why it’s very attractive. It uses less energy in comparison to other light sources, and that’s why we have developed the fastest curing LED cure inks on the market. Latex resin is water soluble in the ink, but during the drying process it coalesces. Once that happens, it can’t dissolve in water and that makes it perfect for outdoor use.”
Q. What are some of the trends affecting the ink market?
A: “Besides the LED technology I mentioned earlier, digital inkjet inks are having an impact on the market. It remains our core business and with INX Digital having a select number of aftermarket brands, people will continue to explore quality replacement products that can save them over 20 percent compared to their current consumables.
“This is proving to be very attractive to a wide range of clients, involving everyone from the large-format market to commercial printers who are exploring different markets in a bid to create new revenue streams. We certainly have the products for them to consider, and our R&D group continues to funnel more product into the pipeline. That’s why I’m excited to see how the rest of this year plays out and what 2012 will bring us.”