13 May 2018 Analogue Printing Technologies

Perfect storm may cause inks shortages

Photoinitiator used in all UV inks and coatings are in short supply, pushing up prices and leading to warnings about shortages.

Printers, from carton converters to large format specialists, will be paying more for their UV ink and varnishes in coming months. This is the result of a global shortage of photoinitiators brought on by a perfect storm of government action, factory closures, fire and growing demand for UV inks, paints and adhesives.

The European Printing Ink Association also blames the impact of the Reach programme demanding registration of all chemicals that can be used as building blocks for inks and coatings. Some suppliers have chosen only to register their products for the less onerous low volume usage category, others to not register some raw materials at all.

“This has the potential to narrow the choice that ink manufacturers have when substituting photo initiators for materials that can also suffer short term supply issues or limited acceptability due to re-classification,” says an Eupia statement.

The shortage comes from both supply side problems and demand led issues. The market for UV sensitive products is increasing. In print there is the rise of UV in commercial printing, an increasing use of LED UV to cure on large format printers, UV in inkjet labels and its use is growing in flexible packaging. Outside print UV adhesives are use in many manufacturing sectors and increasingly in the electronics industry. Demand for photoinitiators is projected to grow by 8% a year for the immediate future.

This comes as supply is restricted. Government legislation in China has forced the temporary or long term closure of plants producing either the photo initiators or the precursors needed to make them, stocks are low and other production issues, including a fire, have resulted in a shortage which will last for a minimum of two or three months and will push prices up. A 10% price increase for the component is sure to feed through to a price increase for inks and coatings that printers use.

It may also result in delivery delays. Sun Chemical has warned that printers ordering energy curable inks “could experience product delivery delays”. Chief marketing officer Felipe Mellado adds: “Sun Chemical is working hard to safeguard supply and mitigate the potential shortage by qualifying new grades and developing new sources.” This takes time and will lessen the risk of a future recurrence, but will not tackle the short term problem.

At greatest risk are the photoinitiators used in inkjet and UV LED sensitive inks and also for flooring and wood coatings.

The photo initiator issue is the latest to hit the ink manufacturers. A fire at the Huntsman factory in Finland has harmed the supply of Ti02, a key ingredient in white ink; crude oil prices have risen sharply; government action to reduce atmospheric pollution has hit the supply of other raw materials, photo initiators included.

According to Flint Group “all these issues have caused double-digit cost increases,” according to Jan Paul van der Velde, senior vice president procurement IT and regulatory of Flint Group. The supply of primary colour pigments is under pressure, particularly yellow where a factory explosion in China has harmed supply.

This has already led to an announced 9% price increase for offset and gravure inks, let alone the energy cured inks.

Gareth Ward

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Ink production under pressure

Ink production under pressure

A shortage of photoinitiators is going to cause prices of UV inks, coating and adhesives to rise, at least until production capacity returns to normal after fires, factory closures and other force majeure events.

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