Mike Idacavage: In general, the energy curing industry did quite well in the past year. As can be expected, this does depend on the market segment and also where on the supply chain one is positioned at. The energy curing industry encompasses a wide variety of both participants and end applications, so some are doing better than others. Overall, the industry trends were positive as while some segments such as wood and OPVs were nearly flat, others such as ink jet showed strong growth.
CW: Are you seeing growth in the graphics arts and flexible electronics sides of the industry?
Idacavage: I am seeing a strong interest in energy curing from the flexible electronics industry as both start-up and established companies look to expand the availability of new electronic devices and also shrink the physical size of existing devices such as mobile phones. UV curing becomes an important tool when looking to shrink a device due to its ability to rapidly cure at or near room temperature. In the graphic arts area, most of the excitement is in digital printing or ink jet printing. I have seen continued growth in the typical applications such as Flexo but this is more along the lines of incremental growth.
CW: Are you seeing growth in the paint and coatings side of the industry? If so in what specific markets (wood, electronics, etc.).
Idacavage: We have actually seen more growth in the paint and coatings industry in the past year. One particular segment that stands out in my opinion are coatings for metal and plastic. This is independent of the final end use such as the automotive area, electronics, etc. I have seen quite a bit of interest in advancing the performance of raw materials and formulations in properties such as adhesion. As the adhesion and general performance of the energy cured coatings improve, more companies who use traditional solvent or aqueous based coatings are looking at energy cured coatings.
CW: Raw materials are a major concern this year. How is the UV industry being impacted by raw material cost and availability?
Idacavage: This is a good question as the UV curable industry has been impacted at several different points in the supply chain. Perhaps the largest concern that I see are the regulatory barriers being placed on getting new raw materials approved for sale. It appears that most new UV curable materials are either being rejected at the PMN application stage or having SNURs or consent orders applied. Acrylates are the most widely used class of reactive materials used in energy curable coatings. Acrylates as a class are being considered a chemical of concern. To remove these concerns will take very expensive testing which will likely limit the types of new materials being introduced to the market. In addition, the raw material suppliers have been squeezed by the formulators, convertors and end users to be more cost competitive when compared to traditional raw materials. Of course, this is not new as the industry has been seeing this pressure from the early days. In the same manner, the formulators and converters are also seeing this pressure as companies are looking to move from traditional coatings to energy cured coatings.
CW: Packaging inks are a focus for regulations, and ink manufacturers and brand owners alike are emphasizing low migration inks. How is the energy curing working with customers?
Idacavage: I am seeing two strategies that should make a positive impact in the area of low migration inks. One of the main sources of contaminants that tend to migrate are the photoinitiators along with their fragments after reacting with UV. I am seeing new photoinitiators being introduced or in development that make the photoinitiator part of a large polymer molecule. When the photoinitiator fragments, the resulting pieces are too large to easily migrate. Another strategy that is successfully used is to offer highly purified raw materials. By removing the low levels of side products and starting materials typically present in the raw materials used in ink formulations, a significant reduction in contaminants that migrate can be obtained.
CW: When talking about paint and coatings, what specific benefits does radcure offer over traditional coatings?
Idacavage: The list of advantages is long but perhaps in first place is productivity. The extremely rapid conversion of a wet coating to one that can safely be handled allows a converter to increase the production rate of the coated or printed product. There is no longer a literally “waiting for the paint to dry” step. By significantly lowering the time to coat or print, the overall cost per unit is greatly reduced. In addition to the increase in cure or drying speed, the ability to use 100% solids formulations and reuse the excess paint or ink help lower the cost per unit coated. In the past year, I have also had discussions with potential energy curing converters and end users who expressed an interest in either the potential low VOC of these coatings or the reduction in the processing line footprint with the elimination of the drying ovens used in traditional coatings.
CW: Is Radcure making inroads into any new markets?
Idacavage: In the past year I have seen a strong push in expanding the applications or markets for energy curable coatings and inks. It seems like many of the low hanging fruit applications have become established and now the innovation is pushing into new areas. One example is in the area of 3D Printing. Overall 3D Printing is generating significant levels of excitement in the manufacturing world. The use of UV curable materials allows the end user to obtain high levels of resolution and significant levels of material strength at a reasonable cost versus other types of 3D Printing technology. What I am finding to be very interesting is the combination of traditional 2D coatings and inks with 3D Printing to give a coating or ink that is somewhat in between. This marriage allows the development of textured or raised coatings and inks or allows improvements in creating traditional printing supplies such as printing plates. A very good indication of the level of innovation that currently exists in energy curing can be seen in the number of submissions to RadTech NA’s RadLaunch program. This is a new program that awards grants, mentoring and networking to selected start-up companies or existing companies new to energy curing. The fourteen submissions all showed creative and unique new applications for energy curing. RadTech NA has recently announced the list of applicants and the winners will be presented in detail at the RadTech 2018 UV+EB show in Chicago in May.
CW: What is the focus of R&D for future applications?
Idacavage: I see R&D’s efforts in several areas. One is a push for formulators to make use of the extensive catalog of existing approved materials to develop formulations that push the performance of the cured coatings and inks. There is a lot of development work going on to explore hybrid systems that combine the best properties of different energy curable materials. The list of possible materials is not limited to the traditional acrylates and methacrylates, but also includes other chemistry such as Thiols and Thiol-enes to achieve higher productivity and/or performance. In an exciting development, there seems to be an increase in small companies or start-ups new to energy curing who are excited in taking UV curable technology into new areas that are not obvious to those who have been focused in the traditional applications and markets for energy curable systems.
Dr. Mike J. Idacavage’ s work in UV curing started at Eastman Kodak with the establishment of a UV curing lab in 1985 and he has continued in the energy curing industry since that time. He has served as President of RadTech North America for the 2009 to 2010 term. Currently, Idacavage is VP of Business Development for CPS. In his current role, he serves as a technical advisor on a wide range of UV projects with a focus on 3D printing. Idacavage is also an Adjunct Associate Professor at SUNY-ESF in Syracuse, NY teaching courses in UV and EB curing technology and UV Curable 3D Printing.