Look back at…February 2022

I hesitate to write about the war in Ukraine as this is not really the best forum to discuss such serious and deadly events and yet this war is clearly going to affect many of us, though obviously not nearly as badly as it will hurt the Ukrainian people. 

Ukraine has become a symbol for the right to self-determination.

Quite obviously, it’s a terrible tragedy for the Ukrainian people. Several hundred civilians have already died and many more will be killed, their hopes snuffed out for nothing, and their nation crushed simply for daring to live the dream of the free world. The bravery of the Ukrainians is matched only by the brutality of the Russian bombardment. With this unprovoked aggression, Russia has retreated back behind the iron curtain and declared its intention to restart the Cold War with all of its division and hatred and fear. Not surprisingly this has stoked panic right across Eastern Europe from Poland to Finland. Nor should we forget those Russian citizens who have protested against this war, several thousand of whom have already been arrested.

Aside from the human tragedy, this will have significant consequences for everyone involved in printing and manufacturing. The most obvious is in energy costs. Russia is a major supplier of both oil and gas so this war will mean worries about energy supplies, particularly oil and gas, right around the world and particularly Europe. Russia is also a major supplier of wheat, which will affect food prices across Europe and probably beyond. This in turn will push up inflation, further threatening many countries’ fragile recovery from the pandemic. And that means further shortages and price rises right across the board. Given that Europe is very heavily dependent on Russian energy, this will be a long term issue. 

The wild card in all of this is China, which has long threatened to invade Taiwan. Western governments’ initial response to the Russian invasion was to threaten sanctions, followed almost immediately by the realisation that globalisation means those sanctions will hurt the West just as much as they hit Russian interests. Yet the scale of those sanctions, and the rush to disinvest from Russian interests have demonstrated the anger felt around the world at this invasion. Many governments will now be asking themselves if they can afford to reset their relationship with China, and many companies, from Apple to Heidelberg, should be worrying about whether or not they can survive the blowback from an invasion in Taiwan, and if they should rethink some of their supply chain. Certainly, any manufacturers that were hoping to make up their losses from the pandemic by expanding further into the Chinese market will have to factor this in now though this seems desperately unfair for the many Chinese companies that have nothing to do with such politics.

Leaving aside the troubles in Ukraine, there were also quite a lot of stories in February on various aspects of ink. A row is brewing in the UK following the British government’s decision to reclassify the solvent Gamma-butyrolactone (GBL) from a Class C substance to Class B, making it illegal to possess GBL or products containing GBL, without licences, DRB checks and secure storage from 15 June 2022. GBL has become more prominent in recent years, particularly as a date rape drug, because the more widely known GBH has become more expensive. 

However, GBL is commonly used in solvent inks, including inkjet as well as coatings and cleaning solvents, sparking some concern within the printing industry as there isn’t enough time to comply with these rules, let alone the cost of doing so. According to a letter from the Graphics and Print Media Alliance to two relevant members of the government, “more than 4,000 businesses use these affected inks to produce their day to day living directly through print production.”

The letter continues: “Whilst the GPMA firmly supports the overall intention to control the availability of these substances to prevent misuse, we have concerns about the scope of the proposal, further post-Brexit disadvantage for UK companies, technical difficulties, the timing of the changes and the lack of consultation with stakeholders.” 

The GPMA has suggested delaying introducing the legislation to consult with the industry, and that there could be an exemption for users of complex mixtures, such as printing inks, noting: “We believe that it is difficult to extract GBL from the affected ink based on feedback from across our ink manufacturing sector. This is because the commonly used distillation extraction process contains substances close to the boiling point of GBL, and these substances are extracted together with GBL. It is understood that there is an exemption in place in the United States for chemical mixtures containing less than 70 per cent GBL by weight or volume from regulatory requirements under the Controlled Substances Act. The imposition of a licensing requirement on users of mixtures is thus disproportionate to the risk posed.” It’s highly unlikely that any ink companies will want to reformulate their inks since this legislation only affects the British market. 

Elsewhere, ink manufacturer Siegwerk has commissioned a new solvent-based Blending Center at its Bhiwadi facility in India, which manufactures toluene-free inks. Siegwerk has invested INR 212.2 million into the new blending facility, which will be able to blend over 13,500 metric tons. At the same time, Siegwerk has expanded the solvent-based warehouse from the initial 150 MT to 700 MT. The new blending facility boasts an ultra-modern quality control lab and an energy efficient air handling unit. The facility runs entirely on sustainable power, through its roof top solar panels with an installed capacity of 301 kWp.  

Ashish Pradhan, president of Siegwerk Asia commented: “The packaging ink industry in Asia has grown by more than 10 percent in the past two years and there has been an over-proportional increase in the flexpack business which has boosted our confidence in expanding our manufacturing capacities in the India region.”

He added: “In the past year, we have built a lot of customer-first offerings and we intend to build on this robust momentum in 2022, starting with this Blending Center which fully operates on solar renewable energy, keeping with our endeavour to leave a positive impact on society. Siegwerk will ensure continued customer satisfaction through quality, delivery and after-sales services that will provide immense value for our stakeholders”.

The new Toyo Ink India gravure factory at Gujarat.

Several other companies have also opened new ink manufacturing facilities. Thus Toyo added a brand new gravure ink factory at its Gujarat site in India as part of its continued expansion into the strategic flexible packaging market. 

Kornit has built a new state-of-the-art ink manufacturing facility at Kiryat Gat in Israel to supply all of its ink and related consumables for the next decade. The new plant replaces a smaller facility and can be scaled up as the company grows and installs more printers.

Canon has set up a new ink manufacturing plant at its Venlo site in the Netherlands to produce the water-based polymer inks used in its production inkjet presses, the ColorStream, ProStream and VarioPrint iX.

Hubergroup Print Solutions has introduced a new sheetfed offset ink, MGA Contact, that’s said to be safe for printing on the inside of paper and cardboard food packaging, in direct contact with food, when used with the appropriate dispersion varnish. This in turn gives brands more space for their messaging.

Heidelberg is now offering the PURe range of inks alongside its Saphira consumables to its European customers. The PURe group is a spin-off of Epple Druckfarben AG and has developed its ink system with sustainability in mind.

Meanwhile, Ricoh officially announced its first plant-based ink in February though regular readers may remember that I already covered this last November.

Inktec is to launch a new Direct to Film ink for use with textile printers with the Epson i3200 head. This ink is said to create a soft, stretchy print finish while being soap and water resistant.  Inktec says that it offers low production costs and maintains consistent quality even under high-speed printing conditions.

Several more companies have announced price rises for consumables. Sun Chemical has warned of energy surcharges across its entire range of packaging, commercial sheetfed, and screen inks, coatings, consumables, and adhesives in Europe, the Middle East and Africa regions. The company has blamed this on inflation and the rising cost of energy. Mehran Yazdani, President of Sun Chemical’s Global Packaging and Advanced Materials, division says the priority is to maintain supplies to customers, adding: “However, the magnitude of recent energy related inflation cannot be absorbed and requires us to implement surcharges to our customers. The situation will need to be adjusted as it goes, and we can assure our customers that surcharges will be phasing out as the situation allows”.

Flint Group Packaging has announced plans to increase the prices in the first quarter of this year of all its packaging products, including flexible packaging, Paper and Board packaging and labelling. The company blames escalating costs in raw material, packaging, energy and freight, with the press release stating that there is “no sign of relief in the foreseeable future.”

Doug Aldred, Chief Commercial Officer for Flint Group Packaging, explained: “The security of supply is our number one priority. Due to our extensive global network and efficiency programmes, we are able to mitigate a significant portion of cost and supply risk. However, we continue to witness tightening supply and exponential cost increases. Despite implementing an extensive range of efficiency programs to mitigate these conditions, we are reluctantly compelled to raise prices.”

On a more positive note, there is some indication that some of the major players are recovering from the effects of the pandemic, with both Heidelberg and Fujifilm having posted improved figures for the third quarters, and both predicting a happy finish for the year. 

Meanwhile, Koenig and Bauer’s preliminary figures show Earnings Before Interest and Taxes of €29 million, better than the company had forecasted and a distinct improvement on the previous year’s loss of €67.9 million. The company has mostly attributed this to savings from its P24x efficiency program, noting that it was only able to absorb the rising costs of raw materials and energy through their delayed effect and price increases. 

Dr Andreas Pleßke, Koenig & Bauer AG’s Chief Executive Officer, explained: “This demonstrates that we have made good progress with our efficiency programme despite the ongoing pandemic situation and a challenging procurement environment. This is our road back to the planned group growth in the medium term. To this end, we are focusing on packaging and a portfolio strategy in attractive markets, on synergistic effects in production and on the further development of our service business to improve our customers’ total cost of ownership.”

Xsys mainly sells flexo plates and associated processing equipment.

Flint has also completed the sale of its Xsys division to the private equity firm Lone Star Funds, which was first reported in September of last year. Steve Dryden, Flint Group CEO, said: “We are delighted to have completed the sale of our XSYS division. The transaction is attractive, both financially and strategically, for Flint Group as we reinforce our position as a leader in conventional and digital printing consumables and equipment for the structurally growing segments of Paper & Board, Flexible Packaging, and Narrow Web labels.

The British company Integration Technology, which develops UV curing solutions, has now set up an American subsidiary. Integration Technology America will be based in Illinois. It will be headed by Simon Roberts as President, with Nan Jiang as Head of Sales and Technology. Roberts commented: “As well as a full portfolio of standard products, what sets us apart from the competition is our expertise in bespoke solutions to optimise performance and installation for OEMs, machine integrators, and end-users.”

Ricoh Europe is selling Touch7 Colour Guides to customers using its Pro C7200X press. The five-colour Touch7 guides show exactly how the C7200X press produces the 1520 colours available, and are offered to Ricoh owners to enable them to illustrate the design possibilities with their presses.

Richard Ainge, Touch7 inventor and company founder, said: “These beautiful colour guides – the first available anywhere – demonstrate how neon toners can be used to produce bright, vibrant, and punchy results. Neon toners, which extend the gamut of the Ricoh press, range from subtle pastels to deeply saturated reds, violets, and blues. The Touch7 Colour Guides, together with the fifth colour station available on the Ricoh press is simple and logical for designers to specify. It yields remarkable and reproducible results.”

Mondi has developed a mono material pouch for Henkel’s Pril dishwashing liquid. This can be used to refill a pump dispenser that Henkel introduced in January and uses 70 percent less plastic than a rigid plastic bottle. The leak-proof pouch refill has a shaped design that it allows it to be emptied completely and a sturdy base to stand in-store for on-shelf appeal.

Carsten Bertram, Head of Global Packaging Innovation Dishwashing at Henkel added: “At Henkel, we recognize our responsibility related to packaging. We’re committed to driving sustainable packaging and have a set of ambitious targets. Our strategy is based around circular economy and focuses on integrating recycled plastics, reducing the amount of plastic packaging, having reusable packaging and using fully recyclable packaging concepts to close the loop. Mondi was the obvious partner to help us with their expertise in creating the best possible solutions – for the product, the planet and the customer.”

Global Graphics has picked up a US patent for the technology that underlies its PrintFlat software, which masks the banding or unwanted patterning in inkjet printing that is caused by variations in inkjet printheads that jet ink onto a printing surface. It also compensates for manufacturing differences between new printheads. 

Drupa is scheduled to return in 2024

As plans for the next Drupa start to gather pace, Dr Pleßke, CEO at Koenig & Bauer AG, has been appointed Chairman of the drupa Committee. The role was previously held by Claus Bolza-Schünemann, who was also CEO of Koenig & Bauer AG until his retirement. Dr Pleßke commented: “I am delighted to pro-actively contribute to shaping the further development and global standing of drupa in my new position with a view to strengthening its unique selling proposal as the world’s leading trade fair.”

However, it’s also worth noting that the European Label Expo that was scheduled for April in Brussels has now been postponed till September 2023. The organisers have cited supply chain pressures caused by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Jules Lejeune, managing director of the FINAT labelling organisation, commented: “FINAT fully understands and supports the decision that has been taken. Given the existing shortages of chips and components, the current shortages of paper and other consumables to produce labels, and now the major geopolitical uncertainties caused by the situation in Ukraine, there are simply too many hurdles to overcome.”

Usually I end these stories with a note asking readers to consider donating to help support my work but instead I’d like to point readers to the two appeals that I’m supporting:

The International Red Cross, which does incredible work around the world’s troublespots, has set up a special fund for the Ukrainian crisis and is helping civilians caught up in the fighting there.

The International Federation of Journalists has set up its Ukraine Safety Fund to support Ukrainian journalists and enable them to continue to report on the war. 



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