Cost, supply, product development - what’s happening where, and when? We talked to key manufacturers and suppliers for their take on the key issues impacting inkjet inks and large-format media.
In the early spring the European Printing Ink Association (EuPIA) warned that “various pressures” were likely to impact the printing inks market. Soon after, The British Coatings Federation (BCF) warned that raw material availability was highly likely to push up printing inks prices. By the end of April we started to see those hikes happening, with Fujifilm announcing that it would be increasing the price of its inks (and various other print consumables) by a double-digit percentage as of 1 May. Since then, a number of other inks and media manufacturers have either announced or signalled price rises, so is it a given that you’re going to have to pay more your supplies - and will it become more difficult to source them?
According to Kevin Jenner, European marketing manager, Fujifilm wide-format inkjet systems: “With the economic impact of the pandemic and as industries come back online, supply chain problems and subsequent cost increases are inevitable. Raw material prices and freight and shipping costs have increased dramatically, and this is forecast to continue.”
He adds: “To ensure quality and consistency of supply, end-user prices will almost certainly need to be reviewed. The details of any required price increases are still being considered, but a safe assumption is that these will be across the board and will need to be monitored on an ongoing basis as the situation develops. We will endeavour to manage price increases as smoothly as possible and limit significant hikes wherever we can, but all inks are likely to be affected.”
Dr Stefan Kappaun, executive vice president of inks and fluids at Durst, advocates pre-ordering of ink given the current situation with raw materials supply and costs, and with shipment difficulties.
“The elaborated procurement of raw materials (monomers, photo-initiators, pigments, for example) is one of the key activities of professional ink suppliers. Within Durst, supplier management, stock management of raw materials as well as solid raw material forecasting are on the same priority level as ink development, and ensuring the utmost quality within ink production itself. To protect Durst customers from ink supply issues, notable raw material safety stocks are established to ‘buffer’ delays in the supply chain. Currently, global supply chains are stretched, in particular because of limited shipment capacities (for example container shipments). Logistics experts expect ongoing pressure on long distance shipments at least for the upcoming months. To avoid price increases for customers resulting from incredibly high shipment costs for short-term deliveries, early pre-ordering of ink is strongly encouraged.”
Mark Goodearl, senior product manager, EFI Inks, says that: “Due to the pandemic, some sources of key raw materials used to produce our inks are closed or are not running at full capacity, causing a shortage of dyes/dispersion provisions. Additionally, international travel restrictions and guidelines may interrupt or limit transportation routes and vessels. To date, EFI has worked to absorb the impact of these events and maintain inkjet ink prices by improving manufacturing efficiencies, testing and using alternative materials, leveraging its buying power as one of the largest producers of digital inks in the world, and reducing other costs where possible.”
Duncan Jefferies, head of marketing and business development at Hybrid Services - Mimaki’s distributor for the UK and Ireland - is somewhat more direct when it comes to likely inks price hikes, saying: “Unfortunately, with the recent global supply challenges, it’s both inevitable and understandable that price adjustments will be required. Whilst the combination of Brexit and worldwide supply chain issues has affected everyone in the industry, we’re doing everything we can to minimise the impact on our customers.
Paul Willems, product management and business development director EMEA, Roland DG, agrees: “We have observed price increases to raw materials and logistical costs. In addition, we have seen global issues in product availability and supply chain challenges. At Roland DG, we are doing everything possible to maintain our current pricing, which to date, we have succeeded in doing. However, we cannot ignore the fact that unless we see a change in the current state of the market, a price increase is inevitable.”
He advises: “Where possible, PSPs should look to work closely with their dealer and suppliers to try to reduce the impact this has on them and to ensure the future success of all parties.”
At CMYUK, group finance and operations director Jon Price, points out that “almost the entire world is aware of the increase in raw material prices, driven in the main, by increased demand as markets recover and a lack of global capacity to meet that demand. The same capacity issue has affected deep-sea freight costs, with container costs tripling in the last few months. Some of these increases have been mitigated in the UK by the strengthening of Stirling but price increases are inevitable, until a point where capacity meets or exceeds demand.
“We have yet to see any increases in ink pricing, probably because the high value constituent components are a small percentage of the overall manufacturing cost. Also, it’s a great deal easier to switch back on ink manufacturing capacity, than many other processes and the freight costs are a great deal less, as a percentage of the value of the product. Price pressure on inks is inevitable but it should be less than the increases we are seeing on the substrates that the ink prints onto.”
One company at least - InkTec - talks of bucking the ink price rise trend. Peter Davidson, head of IP consumables sales, says of the situation there: “InkTec Europe is not looking to increase prices for the foreseeable future. Throughout the last 12 months we have been working with our research and production operation at our headquarters in South Korea to create better efficiencies and manufacturing systems. Combining this and also seeing higher sales volumes, particularly with dye-sub and increased water-based inks throughout the UK and Europe, means we are currently able to maintain our price levels.”
Asked how he sees the situation as a ‘second-hand’ supplier John Draycott, marketing manager at ArtSystems, says: “We see the price increases second in the supply chain so have a slightly earlier view than most. There have been some increases already but these have been fairly small and more to do with logistics costs increases with Brexit rather than manufacturing costs. I’d expect further increases but it’s difficult to forecast what these will be.
“For PSPs the best option to look at mitigating these is the increasing number of ink supply contracts that are coming from resellers and manufacturers, like HP Instant Ink and Epson’s Ready PrintGo. These have not usually been available for wide-format print but the move seems to be in this direction. Many resellers have their own offerings as well. The key for the PSP is that they pin ink costs for a defined duration and so ensure stability of their cost model.”
There’s been massive focus on ‘greener’ print materials since the pandemic, but the ‘sustainability’ issue is obviously about more than PSPs using recycled/recyclable media.
So where are media manufacturers/suppliers focussing their attention when it comes to all things environmental?
Well, you can turn to this issue’s ‘Environment’ piece to read the ins and outs of what Antalis is doing - and it’s certainly not only about developing more eco-friendly media, though of course that is a key focus.
You have likely heard of the company’s Green Star System, developed to make it easier for people to identify sustainable products and move towards easier-to-recycle and, ultimately, recycled materials. The system considers two key factors - raw materials used, and recyclability at end of life - and attributes a rating from zero to five stars (five being the highest). “It is Antalis’ strategy to achieve 75% of visual communication products sold to have three-star rating or above by 2030,” says Mike Collins, Antalis visual communication product manager.
As he points out: “Until recently, PVC was a staple material for visual communications products, but it is poor from a sustainability perspective. That’s why we are focusing on alternative materials such as more recyclable plastics - polypropylene and polyester and biodegradable cellulose products. Just as important as how products are produced is how they are also used. Ink on material and composite products such as self-adhesives mean that the waste management process needs to be tailored.
“Examples of where Antalis is improving its offering includes the Heytex Ecotex range of PVC banner and textiles (Green Star 3 and 4) and Coala Paper Stick (Green Star 3) a range of self-adhesive backed papers. Coala Magic Cling UV (Green Star 4) is a high-performance static cling made with 100% polypropylene and is recyclable.
Antalis is expanding its range of recycled and recyclable materials and is planning to launch products including Coala Airboard, a white centred honeycomb board for 2D displays, and Priplak Recycled. To further help reduce environmental impact, Antalis is looking to introduce lighter weight products that use fewer resources to manufacture and require less fuel to transport.
CMYUK has long been charting a course to more sustainable material ranges, and is now well known for supplying materials such as the German-made, 100% recyclable, Pongs textiles; UFabrik Eco range made using recycled PET yarn from plastic bottles; and PVC-free Kavalan banner material.
According to consumables division business development director Michael Crook, CMYUK will also soon be launching an eco-friendly range to cover various applications and offer a more sustainable choice to clients, backed up by a traceable recycling solution and zero to landfill solution.
At Canon, production print product manager Jeroen Kooij says it is “focusing on the development of eco-friendly media, such as PVC-free, self-adhesive vinyls and other paper-based alternatives, which we have developed to be compatible with Canon’s UV Gel technology.”
He points out that Canon was this year awarded with the EcoVadis gold rating for sustainability efforts for the sixth year running, an accolade which places it within the top 3% of companies globally. “Over the next few years, R&D in sustainability will only continue to grow as demand from customers for eco-friendly products and services increases,” he stresses.
InkTec’s Peter Davidson says that “100% of the media we produce is now made of polyester and polypropylene materials which can be recycled,” adding: “While as a business, we continue to be focused on ensuring that the raw materials are as ‘green’ as they can be the challenge is how ‘green’ they become once they are used. The issue really now is how the printing industry creates a circular economy. While here at InkTec Europe we are committed to providing quality products that can be recycled in their raw form, the majority of our industry, from the supplier to the end user, have yet to find an acceptable financial and practical means of how they can be effectively recycled.”
That’s an issue that we come back to time and again. John Draycott at ArtSystems goes as far as to say that “all media manufacturers are moving to less impactful substrates, though there is still a lot of hard or impossible to recycle media in the sector. But one area that is still weak is the actual safe disposal and recycling of media - the available certified disposal services for wide-format are still small and geared for large volume users. There is also confusion over what centres are able to handle. We’re hoping to help some of the national programmes especially those affiliated with BPIF by making their existence and accessibility better known to our channel resellers. Media and printer manufacturers need to bed recycling and disposal into the any new product and market from the start. This is happening with the move to paper-based media in the décor sector for example, but it needs to be more formally structured.”
As Durst’s Dr Stefan Kappaun, flags-up: “Greening-up print substrates has come into the spotlight and numerous suppliers are providing print substrates from recycled materials etc. and are also starting to engage in the field of post-print recycling. In the latter case, however, only few, and strongly application/material-dependent, standard procedures are in place to assess the recycling capabilities of printed substrates. It can be expected that much more standardised testing procedures for recycling will come up in the next years - also with a special focus on inkjet-printed recycled media. Currently, several institutes and universities are focusing on this topic.
Daniele Faoro, team principal at Italian-based Guandong, is keen to stress that since its founding, it has pursued a sustainability programme named GreenLife.
“Guandong Italia has been developing recyclable polyester-based substrates for some years. Over some time, we have also developed large-format printing media, starting from recycled and regenerated raw materials. But Greenlife is a way of doing business - an ethical behaviour. This involves observing green aspects not only related to products. We have always used renewable energy sources, we use LED technology for lighting, we have very strict internal processes for the disposal of every consumer product, we drink water from dispensers and we have banned plastic bottles. We also develop packaging from recycled and recyclable materials and we work with transport partners who guarantee us CO2 benefits. In line with these ethical behaviours, we are also partners of 4Ocean and FAI (Italian Environment Foundation).”
Perhaps PSPs need to ask more questions of their suppliers, waste collectors, and liaise more closely with their customers on end-of-life disposal plans, when it comes to making print more sustainable?