The volume of ‘eco’ consumables hitting the wide-format print market is impressive. But though the most visible, is the environment all that’s on the inks and media R+D spectrum?
We know only too well what a wide swathe of issue can impact the print consumables we buy and use - pricing, supply, technical capability, legal restrictions, all of these are of great concern to PSPs, yet it’s the greening-up of media and inks that grabs all the marketing attention. Given we’re all clamouring for more environmentally products it’s easy to see why. But are there other developmental considerations we should be aware of? The following is what came back from providers posed the question: ‘Is all R+D in large-format printing inks and media now about the environment?’
For Neil McCarthy, marketing lead at Pyramid Display Materials (and Popai sustainability council member), the answer “is a resounding yes!”.
“The focus has been almost exclusively on environmentally friendly products over the past 10 years. Currently our product R&D is based on replacing general plastic products (the public perception is ‘plastic is plastic’ even if that plastic is a non PVC polypropylene or polyester) with card-based products that are fit for purpose in the end application across the POS and signage markets.”
To that end McCarthy flags up new product launches to be expected in the second half of this year. These include XL Impact, an easily recyclable, high density fibrous card (available in 3mm and 5mm thicknesses) that is a replacement for Foam PVC in indoor applications. He says R&D is currently being undertaken “on the weatherability of the product for outdoor applications, with initial tests looking very positive”.
Also due to market are: XL Elements, a recyclable, thin double-sided card product used for short-term exterior signage; XL Noir, a card replacement for black plastic product used in POS and signage applications; and XL White Centered - a card replacement for white plastic in similar applications.
Products introduced to Pyramid’s offering earlier this year also reflect the company’s eco focus. These include the PVC-free Swedboard materials (see news pages regarding 3A Composites’ investment in this Swedish company), Dispa Outdoor, a 100% recyclable product manufactured by 3A, and Green Samba made by Berger Textiles using yarn from recycled PET plastic bottles.
Taya, manufacturer of the Kavalan range of ‘eco’ materials, has an average annual R+D spend of $2.5m. Head of marketing, Nova Abbott, says “the R+D focus is on our customers’ end applications, ensuring their expectations are met while achieving the least impact to the planet.”
She adds: “Work on developing the greenest PVC-free coating on the market started more than a decade ago and continues today along with corresponding developments on resource consumption, and environmental and human health impact reductions of our base fabric materials.
“Our research teams are working to further reduce the impact of Kavalan’s carbon emissions during the production process and then to quantify these reductions when compared with traditional materials and their manufacturing processes.
“Furthermore, evolutionary changes to Kavalan’s production of its PVC-free coating has resulted in a significant reduction of water resources when compared to traditional PVC and textile materials. With ongoing revolutionary changes to our polyester yarn production processes we are now beginning to prototype materials whose impact on the planet is even less than so called ‘100% recycled content’ signage banners, but with all the physical characteristics associated with traditional PVC and textile materials.”
According to Abbot, Taya is working on several alternative substrates. “The first, is the one used on the newly released Moonlight River textile replacement, where the polyester yarn production process has eliminated the entire freshwater intensive dying and washing stages and reduces its overall freshwater use by 67% when compared to its textile counterpart. This makes the yarn even greener than so called 100% rPET yarns, without compromising the strength and coating adhesion properties associated with Kavalan.
“Another approach our teams in Shanghai and Tainan (Taiwan) have taken is to make the entire banner biodegradable, and for this we’re very excited to announce the future release of Sunlight ZeRo, a fully biodegradable signage banner which has Kavalan’s PVC-free coating and a fully biodegradable base substrate - and of course eco credentials supported by a certified LCA.”
She adds: “For some mesh applications, liners are essential, and these have typically been PVC-based. However, Kavalan will soon release a PVC-free liner to complement its Spiderweb 300 mesh banners. The PVC-free liner is another industry first and apart from being more eco-friendly - it is lighter and it also helps overcome some of the technical difficulties that signage and printing companies might encounter when printing on PVC mesh banners using Latex printers.”
Chris Green, director of visual communications, Antalis confirms that when it comes to R+D, “sustainability has been the biggest catalyst for this over the past ten years and is likely to continue to be the driver over the next ten years and beyond as our market responds to a consumer population that is becoming more aware of the products and services they are purchasing. We back-up new sustainable product introductions with initiatives the Antalis’ Green Star System, which helps with sustainable media selection, and with our carbon offsetting schemes.
“R&D also plays a key role in ensuring we can support our customers when trading and business challenges are significant. We have seen global raw material shortages, rising cost of raw materials, rising cost of energy, shortages in the labour market, increased complexity of moving goods into the UK and the costs of global shipping, all of which can have real impacts on the choice of products for customers. Through our R&D programme we have been proactive in developing cost-effective solutions and alternative products, particularly on our sustainable ranges, which can provide not only an environmental solution but one that is commercially advantageous, for example, Triaprint vs the use of Foam PVC.
“R&D for a merchant is about ensuring you are a relevant partner to your customers, helping them to overcome their challenges and meet their own directional objectives. R&D is working with ink manufacturers, OEM hardware companies, tooling companies and independent testing companies to ensure we have market leading, high performing products. R&D is the work we do with our customer base or with industry bodies such as POPAI, which gives insight and education on key topics.”
At Guandong Italy, its president Eduardo Elmi points out that its “green vocation began in 2010, when the Green Life brand was registered. The aim was to create more eco-friendly product ranges, by developing new, increasingly more recyclable and environmentally friendly supports as you can see in our Green Revolution Manifesto.”
The company produces and distributes what Elmi refers to as “synthetic media” for all types of printing, and he says that in his opinion: “In the super-large-format (over 180cm) sector and, in general, the market invests little in researching new solutions. Large investments are however made in researching new solutions for materials on rolls, in the intermediate widths between 90cm and 160cm, and even larger ones for those in sheet-format. This research has focused on the creation of environmentally friendly multiplayer products using recycled raw materials, and surfaces made with polymers, copolymers, coatings and compounds that permit a high level of printability with the various technologies, using both toners and the various types of inks for inkjet and offset printing. The inside of these new products is made with 60-80% recycled materials, and the surfaces with materials that are 100% recyclable.”
During the past two years or so of the Covid pandemic, Guandong invested more than 4% of its turnover in applied R+D. Elmi points out that: “Thanks to our R+D investments, we have developed several truly innovative products, many of which are designed for specific applications.”
The newest media from Guandong, presented at Print4All in Milan in May, is Bassel Trio, a recycled crystalline polyester inside and compounded PP outside, suitable for any kind of printing technology on both sides (available in rolls and sheets).
InkTec MD Joey Kim says that “the majority of our new consumables products are environmentally focused, largely driven by the market demand. This is why, as a business, we are continuing to strive to research and develop products that meet this demand and focus our attentions on achieving the various environmental accreditations that add to the quality and credibility of the products.”
Overall, South Korea-based InkTec, probably best known for its Jetrix printers, invests around 5% of its annual turnover in R+D. Kim says that “at the moment, R+D is focused on various types of UV curable inks. This is centred on various ranges of printheads including Epson, Ricoh, Toshiba and for a range of Konica printheads. This focus on inks for other large-format printing manufacturers is combined with also developing the UV inks for our own Jetrix LED UV printers.
“The critical reasons are because the market is moving from solvent to either latex or UV curable, driven by the cost of materials and also that no VOCs are produced while printing. At InkTec, we have a great understanding of the dispersion process and have been developing our own UV curable ink for our own UV printer for the last 15 years. As a result, we are using this expertise and knowledge to extend it into custom developments for other brands.
“From InkTec’s perspective the environmental aspect is imperative in our consumables product development. That is why we are focused on achieving accreditations such as the Reach regulation and Oeko-Tex Eco Passport for our products. Practically, there are various types of regulations in Europe - all focused on addressing environmental concerns to reduce carbon footprint, reduce waste and energy consumption.
“Beside digital printing ink, we also produce substrates and our own range of non-PVC based media is 100% recyclable due to it being only PP and PET based material.”
Mark Mashiter, managing director of Soyang Europe says the group has spent in excess of $10m in new plant and machinery to process non-PVC materials and textile coating of yarns made from PET bottle waste. This is in conjunction with green production using solar energy, wind turbines and natural gas energy to reduce the company’s own carbon footprint.
“We have developed our Solar range of non-PVC banner, mesh and blockout materials as viable alternatives to PVC. Alongside these we also have the SoTex R range of textiles produced from recycled polyester textile or PET bottle waste reclaimed from the oceans. These ranges are made up to 5m wide maximum and Soyang has the OEKO-TEX certification, Reach and Global Recycling Standard.” Both ranges were developed during lockdowns and brought to market late 2021.
Joel Willcock, commercial director materials, CMYUK, which distributes a number of consumables products for the wide-format print sector, points out that “CMYUK has a desire to sculpt the range of materials being used in our industry to be as environmentally-friendly as possible at the point of manufacturing, to install and at end of life.” Its portfolio includes the Kavalan range (already discussed by its maker Taya), UFabrik dye-sub materials, and Pongs media.
Sebastian Tens, junior head of sales at the latter says its R+D is currently focussing on products suitable for pigment inks and the growing home decor market, and on recyclable fabrics. Those new for 2022 include: Softimage Contrast Whiteback, a double-side printable fabric; and Softimage Creaseless Premium Recycled for display applications.
At EFI, spokesperson David Lindsey says the company spends around 15-20% of revenue on R+D, and that its ink research - done in conjunction with the development of new hardware platforms - is focused on giving customers new application opportunities, greater versatility as well as improved sustainability.
“EFI helped expand customers’ digital print opportunities into new markets and applications several years ago with its patented digital inks for deep-draw thermoforming applications. That ink technology has been a proven success as a significantly faster, cost-effective, alternative to manual processes used to print formed 3D products. One of EFI’s next ink launches will be an enhanced, new version of those award-winning inks, and they will deliver exceptional versatility and opportunity for current customers.
“EFI have also developed a new offering for its roll-to-roll printers - an enhanced clear ink offering even better protective qualities.”
At Hybrid Services, Mimaki’s exclusive distributor for the UK and Ireland, managing director Brett Newman refers to the manufacturer’s core goal of delivering ‘something new, something different’ and says its R+D continues to focus on key areas where it can make a tangible difference, with consideration not just for environmental factors.
“Firstly, Mimaki has considered where it can help drive efficiencies for the end user. An excellent example is the recently released 330 Series, offered as a solvent printer and integrated printer/cutter, with both featuring a built in XY cutter. This additional functionality is labour saving, reduces waste, and is a cost-effective finishing solution for print businesses.
“Secondly, Mimaki has evaluated where it can adapt and improve its technology to open up other avenues. This is well demonstrated by how it delivered new and profitable applications from existing hardware and inks, such as its LED UV ink utilised by flatbeds like the JFX200-2513EX to create 2.5D tactile print.
“Lastly, we have very recently seen how by using existing technology to open new marketplaces, whole new product lines can be born. By employing similar ink technology found on the UJF direct-to-object printers to engineer the new 3D printer range, Mimaki created the world’s first full colour 3D printer.”
Duncan Smith, country director, production printing products, Canon UK and Ireland stresses its corporate vision to operate according to the philosophy of kyosei - living and working together for the common good. “It is therefore very important that inks as well as our printers support the circular economy, so we carry out extensive R+D and work closely with sustainable commercial and academic partners.
“Our UV and UVgel inks, formulated without the use of HAPs and VOCs, have been awarded the UL Greenguard Gold certificate. Compared to other ink technologies, such as latex or eco-solvent inks, UV and UVgel inks require considerably less ink to build up the same image quality and colour intensity, allowing for up to 50% less ink to be consumed.
Phil McMullin, head of sales commercial and industrial printing, Epson (UK), points out that: “Despite the pandemic, Epson continues to spend an average of $1.2m per day on R+D across all its business divisions. It’s fair to say that wide-format is a significant growth area and therefore allocated a substantial portion of this funding.
“Over the last few years we have seen the launch of new inksets in aqueous, eco-solvent, resin, UV, dye-sub, DTG and direct to fabric. So the market can expect to see further advances from Epson in these areas.”
If you were one of those whose blood pressure shot up at the thought of all the hoops you were going to have to jump through come 15 June, relax. Government ministers have agreed to revoke the Misuse Of Drugs (Amendment) Regulations 2021 without replacing them immediately, meaning that PSPs (and other organisations in the print supply chain) will not now require a licence for substances containing GBL (such as some printing inks) as would otherwise have been the case from that June 2022 date.
The change follows extensive representation to the Home Office carried out by the members of the Graphic, Paper and Media Association (GPMA - whose members include the BPIF, IPIA, Picon, and British Coatings Federation) together with the wider chemicals supply chain, notably the Chemicals Business Association and the Alliance of Chemical Associations.
Charles Jarrold, chair of the GPMA and chief executive of the BPIF, says of the development:
“We are relieved that the proposed legislation has been withdrawn, and that a full consultation will now be carried out to determine the best way forward. We were particularly encouraged by, and appreciative of, the support that the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy gave us in this process, and the level of engagement from the Home Office. Not only did we coordinate through the GPMA across the entire print supply chain, but we worked closely with the wider chemicals supply chain throughout this process”.
Tom Bowtell, chief executive of the BCF and chair of the Alliance of Chemical Associations, adds: “We welcome that Government has listened to the concerns of industry and agreed to redraft the required regulations. This creates space for proper consultation with businesses as new legislation is drafted over the coming months. We hope these discussions will lead to a more proportionate and effective law, one which delivers on the Government’s aims but which does not unduly penalise legitimate users of these substances across the chemical supply chain, nor in the manufacturing or other sectors.”
The Home Office will now conduct a public consultation on how best to achieve the intended outcome of preventing the sale of bogus industrial products intended for illicit use. Subject to consultation and ministerial agreement, their intention is to seek views on the introduction of a licensing requirement which may contain some exemptions. Existing applicants for a licence will be contacted by the Home Office’s Drugs and Firearms Licensing to explain the next steps in relation to their application, with a view to new legislation coming into force in March 2023.