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IPEX showcases changes, offers opportunities for ink manufacturers.

The European printing sector is currently adjusting to the effects of a period of upheaval and financial struggle, marked by a series of acquisitions and divestments, several of which have been within the ink segment.

The IPEX international printing exhibition, held last month at Birmingham, England, featured nearly 1,000 exhibitors and offered its visitors an opportunity to survey how much the sector had reshaped itself.

"The intensive consolidation processes over the last two years have fundamentally changed the printing ink sector," said Herbert Forker, chief executive of Siegwerk, which itself has taken on a new identity by its acquisition last year of SICPA's packaging ink business.

For a start, increased concentration looks to have opened up Europe to more international competition. Only six months after a merger with Huber Group of Germany gave Micro Inks of India a marketing channel into Europe, Toyo Ink of Japan used IPEX as a platform to launch a major expansion into the European ink sector.

Ink producers are also having to contend with the reorganization of the rest of the European print industry.

"It is now the customers who are increasingly calling the tune," said Bernhard Schreier, chief executive of Heidelberg, the German-based printing equipment manufacturer. "Their tentative suggestions have turned into demands and justifiably so."

Suppliers of digitalized hardware, graphics communications systems and software tools were more prominent than ever at the exhibition. In fact, Xerox vied with Heidelberg for the position of having the biggest stand at the show.

"We're getting better and better at solving a total problem rather than just a piece of the problem," Anne Mulcahy, Xerox's chief executive, told an IPEX forum.

The prime importance being given to integration was exemplified by Sun Chemical restricting its appearance at the exhibition to the stands of PrintCity, the alliance which brings together companies from all segments of the graphics arts industry.

Sun Chemical introduced at IPEX a range of what it called "customer value" systems, covering products and services in all its business divisions, including news, heatset, offset, sheetfed offset and consumables.

"Everyone within the printing industry knows it is a tough business environment to operate in," said Colin Norgate, Sun Chemical's UK director of value services. "Continuous improvement is the key to surviving, and, therefore, not only is it important for productivity and efficiency to be maximized, products and services need to add value to customers and the customers' customers."

Sun Chemical also launched a range of packaging inks for food products which limit the migration of chemicals in the ink formulations, while also demonstrating the benefits of alliances like PrintCity.

"It is important that various parts of the value chain, like paper and board makers, the film producers and ink companies like ourselves are able to cooperate to provide the right packaging for sensitive food products," said John Adkin, European product director for sheetfed/UV inks at Sun Chemical's Coates Lorilleux subsidiary. "We also work very closely with the retailers and brand owners on new inks like these."

Sun Chemical's leaders also see the development of low-migration inks as an example of increasing demand for standardization among international customers who want the same quality levels for their products across the world.

"International brand owners have to be confident that different printers handling their products will be able to provide the same quality," Mr. Adkin said. "We have to be able to make special printing inks and provide technical services which help our customers achieve specific standards."

Technical performance in areas like migration in food packaging has been a criteria applied by Flint Group to decide which inks to keep within its portfolio following the formation of the new company, bringing together Flint Ink, BASF Drucksysteme and ANI Printing Inks.

"In the rationalization of our portfolio, we are picking those inks with the best technology," said Chris Whitehead, Flint Group's European technology coordinator. "With food packaging, there is a big requirement for low migration inks as well as those with low levels of odor and taint. The levels of acceptable odor have dropped dramatically over the last five years, as a result of market demand rather than from legislation."

Flint Group believes that by pooling the best products from its three predecessor companies, it will be able to give its customers a wider choice of inks.

"It will be a broader spread of products, especially in niche segments," said Mr. Whitehead. "But we are not making any quick withdrawals of inks from the markets. Any changes will be done after careful consultation with customers and in a controlled way."

At the exhibition Flint Group also highlighted its range of multifunctional inks, some of which can satisfy the demands of packaging converters.

"Over the last two years, sales of multifunctional inks have started to accelerate," said Nick Anderson, Flint Group's technical manager for paper and beard inks. "Printers like them because of their advantages with matters such as stock holding, downtime and color matching. They are generally less complex than other inks so fewer errors are likely to be made with them."

At IPEX, Siegwerk revealed details of a new series of 4-color offset inks, due to be launched in September which can be used on all machine types and classes of gloss and matte paper in both packaging and publishing. They can also be applied with or without on-line UV varnishing.

"They are fast drying and very stable and are particularly suitable for tricky substrates such as recycled papers," said Robert Kinkead, business director for sheetfed and UV at Siegwerk UK. "Despite all the changes in the industry, there is still the same need among printers for quality with competitive prices but often with very specific requirements."

Privately-owned Siegwerk tried to differentiate itself at IPEX from the other large producers who have changed ownership or have been restructuring themselves. Mr Forker stressed the "deep-seated values of a family company" and the avoidance of "rapid success at any cost."

Nonetheless, restructuring is also seen by ink producers of all sizes as an opportunity to reposition themselves in the European market.

In the case of Toyo Ink, it is a chance to establish a much stronger vertical presence throughout the whole region, where its main activity has been the production of pigments in two plants at Villers-St. Paul and Oissel in France.

"We have been making pigments in France since the late 1990s but not inks because we didn't want to compete with our own customers," said Peter Beerten, senior sales manager for Toyo Ink Europe, which now aims to start manufacturing ink at its French plants. Previously it had been selling imported ink only in parts of southern and Eastern Europe.

"Ink makers in Europe are increasingly integrating themselves vertically into pigment manufacture so we have decided to expand in the whole of Europe, mainly in offset inks," Mr. Beerten added.

The company will be gradually introducing into the region Kaleido, a new four-color offset sheetfed ink which was launched in Japan last year. It has a gamut close to that of a 6- or 7-color system but is easier to control and is less expensive. "We have completely re-engineered the four CMYK process colors by making use of our knowledge of pigments and their production," said Tadashi Nakano, Toyo Ink's planning manager.

Toyo Ink is aiming to bolster its presence in the European waterless ink segment by applying its UV hybrid ink technology to traditional UV waterless inks.

Some smaller European ink companies are also striving to take advantage of what they perceive as an opening being left in the market by the rearranging of production and distribution by the bigger players.

"The big producers are concentrating a lot on the large customers, which is leaving a lot of gaps for producers like ourselves," said Stephane Lalanne, an export sales manager at Martinez Ayala, a family-owned ink maker in Totana, southern Spain, which has been extending its activities in offset inks into Italy, France, UK and Belgium, as well as Africa.

One of its marketing initiatives has been to sell commercial printers a spectrometer-based color matching system which enables them to mix small amounts of their own ink samples. These are then used by mixing stations operated by Martinez Ayala distributors to provide the inks in bulk for quick delivery.

"It is a way of bringing color matching back into the print shop so that printers have much more flexibility," said Mr. Lalanne. The system helped raise the company's UK sales by 43 percent in the first quarter of 2006 compared with the same period a year ago.

Some ink producers also believe they now can exploit the predicted growth of medium-sized printers in the European and North American markets.

"Because of continued competitive pressure, a growing number of small commercial printers will be disappearing, but there will also be a shrinking in the size and numbers of large printers as well," said Joe Bendowski, president of the U.S. operation of Van Son of the Netherlands. "The rising number of medium-sized printers are already providing an emerging market in countries with mature printing sectors. They are the ones we are targeting and we believe we have the distribution systems to do it effectively."

By the time the next IPEX takes place in 2010, new structures may have embedded themselves within the European printing sector. But printers and their suppliers will be hoping that the rest of the decade will provide more stability for the industry than in recent years.

European Editor Sean Milmo is an Essex, UK-based writer specializing in coverage of the chemical industry.

Sean Milmo

European Editor
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Title Annotation:european report
Author:Milmo, Sean
Publication:Ink World
Date:May 1, 2006
Words:1602
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