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Collaboration Between Ink, Paper Manufacturers May Provide Benefits.

Many European ink producers, particularly the smaller ones, are now trying to differentiate their products. A lot of paper producers in Europe are endeavoring to do the same with their products, especially in the fine paper sector. Yet ink and paper companies appear to be reluctant to work closely together to achieve these similar objectives.

In the early days of the era of the electronic media, this need for differentiation is stronger than ever. Predictions of a sharp drop in demand for paper in the wake of the arrival of e-mail and the Internet have proved unfounded. Consumption of office and publication paper, outside of newsprint, continues to increase in excess of GDP growth rates. There are doubts, however, how long this rise can be maintained.

Paper Trends

The fastest growing paper sectors are at the quality and premium priced end of the market. The Finnish paper consultancy Jaako Poeyry believes that in the period 1997 to 2010, consumption of coated wood-free papers will grow by 4.3 per cent annually, coated mechanical by 3.6 percent and uncoated wood-frees by 3.4 percent, against an industry average of 2.8 percent.

In a recent restructuring of the European paper industry amid a spate of mergers and acquisitions, some of the leading players have sought to strengthen their presence in the fine paper sector.

SCA of Sweden has in fact been one of the few to go against the trend by moving out of fine papers by selling its 50 percent share in MoDo Paper. Instead, SCA is concentrating on tissue and hygiene products and container board.

Finnish paper maker Metsa-Serla, which took over full control of MoDo Paper this summer, has become Europe's largest supplier of both coated and uncoated fine paper after adopting a strategy of giving priority to the high-quality end of the paper market.

In August it started exclusive negotiations on the takeover of German fine paper producer Zanders Feinpapiere AG. If this acquisition attempt is successful most of Metsa-Serla's sales will be in fine paper, whereas only a few years ago its portfolio including forest products, pulp and paper chemicals.

Fine paper sales have been boosted by the rapid shift to computer printers, both in the office and at home. As a result A4 copy paper has become virtually a consumer product, offering huge potential for a wide range of grades.

Among businesses, the types of paper used in non-electronic communications is becoming part of their image.

"They want to make themselves distinctive in relation to their competitors because it is hard to differentiate themselves when they communicate by e-mail or by fax," said Stephan Hanke, marketing director at Zanders. "So there is a big demand for high quality paper because they want to make sure that when they do use letter-headed paper it makes an impact."

European publishers are making sure that the quality of the paper of their consumer magazines reflects the attitudes of their readers. Some pan-European magazines use different papers in different countries.

"The trouble at the moment is that there are so many different grades of quality papers that printers have difficulties adapting to them all," said a director of a U.K. technical services consultancy for printers. "We have probably never been so busy dealing with the problems printers are having with particular types of paper and ink. It would help if the ink and paper industries got together more to sort out these difficulties."

The paper companies, however, tend to carry out research on paper- and ink-related problems in their own R&D departments or commission research bodies to do it for them.

Pira International, the paper, packaging and printing research organization, does research on papers and inks, which is mainly funded by the paper industry or digital printing equipment manufacturers sourcing their own inks.

"Our research programs have been running for 10 years and the demand for research continues," said Michael Chamberlain, a Pira consultant. "The main areas of research are the matching of ink to paper where register, ink immobilization and drying time are issues. We are currently studying factors such as the acid-base chemistry of ink versus paper surfaces."

Paper/ink problems can stem from a wide range of causes. Often it is a matter of minimizing difficulties rather than eliminating them altogether.

Achieving the best interaction between paper and ink can depend on factors extending back to the production of the pulp and the type of fibre in the paper. Hence collaboration between paper and ink companies on the development of new products may have to cover many stages in paper production.

Both paper and ink producers are cautious about linking together specific inks and papers, particularly if they are wanting to target large markets.

"We know that some inks made by specific manufacturers run better with our papers, but we are reluctant to tell the printers that," said a commercial manager at one paper maker. "We recommend types of inks rather than inks from particular companies because we don't want to tie ourselves to individual ink manufacturers. Usually printers stick to two or three ink producers and we know how unwilling they are to make changes."

Similarly ink companies will be adverse to telling customers that they must switch to a specific paper if they want to make proper use of an ink.

Collaborative Efforts

Nonetheless paper and ink companies are in fact combining to develop products, but which are frequently marketed by the paper producers themselves in niche sectors.

Zeller and Gmelin, the German ink maker, joined with Mitsubishi HiTec Paper to develop a specialty ink for use in carbonless multi-part forms for security purposes, such as pin-number notifications or form/letter combinations. The desensitizing ink neutralizes the reactivity of the top surface coating to the dye precursors which are released with writing or dot matrix printing.

Mitsubishi claims that the combination of new ink and carbonless technology enables the amount of ink film volume to be reduced by 40 percent, compared with application of other desensitizing inks. It also increases press efficiency by speeding up the printing process.

Akzo Nobel Inks has been working with another Japanese paper maker -- Kanzaki Specialty Papers of Oji Paper -- in the development of direct thermal paper for use in flexographic printing.

Kansaki wanted an ink which would not cause difficulties for printers inexperienced in the use of thermal papers, especially for those unaware of the problems with build-up of ink on print heads.

It also wanted to tackle pitfalls like poor compatibility of ink with direct thermal coating and ink additives that caused the thermal coating to pre-activate by turning grey or for the thermal image to fade.

Akzo Nobel developed an ink, recently launched in the U.S., which it claims meets all the requirement of Kanzaki through a combination of heat, water and scuff resistance in a single water-based direct thermal system.

"Successful new development for us means working with press manufacturers and other co-suppliers, as well as with printers and their customers," said Liz Zinnbauer, international marketing manager at Akzo Nobel Inks, Manchester, U.K.

"We supply many thousands of pounds of ink globally purely for development work, such as on thermal papers and related narrow web applications," she added. "These are valuable partnerships that ensure that our products meet or exceed performance expectations."

The company has two development and testing sites in Sweden and in the U.S., where it has a number of printing units able to run a wide range of substrates, including cartonboard.

In Sweden it has flexo, offset, rotary screen and letterpress units which are both for its own R&D purposes and to help customers develop new products and applications.

Its U.S. center at Plymouth, MN, which was officially opened last September with flexo and rotary screen units and a UV curing system, is aimed at furthering the knowledge of sales and technical personnel and providing live product demonstrations for seminars attended by customers and suppliers.

Akzo Nobel makes it clear that the objective behind a lot of its collaborative research is to ensure that its inks work well with a variety of substrates, including different types of paper.

"Press designs have to be capable of handling the different characteristics of materials -- whether they are papers, film, foil or carton board -- and inks and coatings must be formulated to include properties that meet a range of different conditions," said Ms Zinnbauer.

However a lot of current development work being done by producers and formulators of inks reflect the underlying divergence between the need to provide inks which can be applied to a broad range of substrates and the necessity for some sort of differentiation.

In digital printing, which is a focal point at the moment for a lot of R&D work in printing, inks and papers are being developed for specific types of printing equipment machines.

In some digital printing sectors in packaging, the objective is have machines and inks able to handle a mixture of substrates. "We have to provide inks which work well on all kinds of substrates," said Rick Mitchell, technical director at Domino U.K. Ltd., Cambridge, England, an ink jet systems supplier which designs its own inks.

While striving for the universal ink could be the key aim in the packaging market, the need for differentiation in papers and ink could remain the driving force for a while in the office sector.

European Editor Sean Milmo is an Essex, England-based writer specializing in coverage of the chemical industry.
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Author:Milmo, Sean
Publication:Ink World
Date:Oct 1, 2000
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