Process workflow efficiencies are keys to defining an economic comparison, Freedman added. “A more expensive ink price per unit could cost you less in the end.” For example, solvent ink prices are considerably lower, Emery said. However, because UV inks are not absorbed into the media like solvent-based inks are, UV’s coverage is some 25 percent greater.
When comparing inkjet applications, the UV price per square foot is somewhere between five cents and 15 cents for printing on 4x8-foot board (rigid), noted EFI’s Emery. But such statistics can be deceiving when discussing total cost of ownership. For one thing, there is no evaporation of pigments or carriers in the UV curing process, Salomon pointed out, “so what [ink] goes on the board, stays on the board.” With solvent and latex inkjet printing, there is “out-gassing,” and print shop owners “pay for that vaporization,” he emphasized. Plus, there are productivity advantages to UV’s instantaneous cure attribute. “There is no waiting,” Salomon continued. “For big store chains that want to turn around 10 pieces per store, that means there’s no warehouse storage [costs].”
Also consider that UV-cured inkjet systems print directly onto rigid substrates and do not require adhesive, which saves money on consumables (no glue) as well as labor (no trimming and mounting time). Depending on the volume being produced, these savings can be substantial, said Agfa’s Salomon, “ as much as $1 per square foot.”
(For more in UV curing, please see “Enter UV’s Brave New World:” www.myprintresource.com/article/10785242)
Inkjet Market Stats
Business research firm Markets and Markets has predicted strong growth for wide-format printing, which it said is expected to reach more than $12 billion globally by 2016. At competitor InfoTrends, wide-format director Tim Greene reported that the solvent squeeze is on, eco or otherwise, especially in North America. His company’s latest report, published in December, echoes 2011’s findings, contending that wide-format solvent inkjet is under attack as a production technology.
The global market for wide-format, UV-curable inkjet printers and supplies is expected to grow to more than $3 billion in 2015, doubling its 2010 figure. In fact, 7,500 new UV inkjet units were sold worldwide in 2012; some 1,900 of those are in North America. Annual global UV shipments are expected to grow at double-digit rates, to more than 11,000 by 2016 (>3,100 in North America), according to InfoTrends. To date, some 16,000 wide-format UV inkjet devices are used in production daily around the world.
Conversely, solvent inkjet compound growth is crawling at less than 2.5 percent, while the installed base is relatively flat (0.8 percent). Of some 52,000 solvent and eco-solvent units sold worldwide last year, less than 10 percent were sold in North America, with only about a 3 percent compounded increase projected through 2016. Why the disparity in the global numbers? In a phrase: environmental regulations.
With less than .06 percent of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), UV inkjet is a far more sustainable solution. “Solvent is still very prominent in Latin America and the APAC [Asia-Pacific] countries, where the environmental standards have not changed,” explained Steve Emery, senior director of EFI’s ink business. InfoTrends’ Greene added to that geographic list Eastern Europe, parts of which do not abide by ecological laws because they are not aggressively enforced by the government. In the United States, however, printers have the EPA and OSHA with which to contend.
“On one side there is the development of the durable aqueous segment, which promises high quality and durable output but without the harmful environmental characteristics of solvent inkjet,” the 2011 study said. “On the other side there is UV-curable inkjet, which offers faster production speeds, instant-drying performance, printing directly onto rigid substrates, as well as improved environmental characteristics.
“Overall, these alternative wide format technologies are driving customers away from solvent inkjet devices,” InfoTrends continued. “The wide format solvent inkjet printer and supplies market is still valued at more than $2 billion in 2015, so there is plenty of opportunity for suppliers to profit. The focus should be on low-end devices and emerging markets.” InfoTrends also advises solvent inkjet manufacturers to diversify product offerings to stave off losses.