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Big interview – David Helsby

Converting Today recently sat down with David Helsby, president of RadTech Europe, the industry association that supports energy curing technologies. Here he talks about growth areas for sector, environmental agendas and importantly, where he sees the sector heading

It is a fact of life that many people, in many industries, believe that energy curing – using UV or EB – is a new technology, or, at best, in its infancy. Neither is true. The technology took its first steps 40 years ago. Today, both systems offer high technology solutions to curing — drying or bonding – of all kinds of materials, from composite laminates, plastics shoes and bags, smartphone outer casings and inkjet to printing inks. Energy curing is fast, reliable, and cost-efficient.

Two parallel paths using radiation curing are currently in use: ultraviolet (UV) and electron beam (EB) processing. Their acceptance was driven by the speed at which they can achieve a cure; by their suitability for use with substrates, which are heat-sensitive; by their reduced energy usage compared with traditional drying methods; and because of their improved environmental credentials. This combination of benefits has proved a winner. Energy curing can eliminate most of the solvents needed for traditional processes and, for manufacturers of products of all kinds, can ease the route to VOC compliance.

High volume: industrial coatings The greatest volume of usage of energy curing products is, overall, seen in the industrial coatings market. Here, while the plastics, electronics, optoelectronics, and automotive components segments are the fastest-growing, energy curing’s core business is in the production chain for laminated household furniture and flat panels, wood flooring, durable outdoor joinery items, and other laminates (including textiles).

Another strong, and growing segment is in coatings for specific applications such as industrial floors and automotive and building
repair work. Coils, cans, and piping, as well as automotive refinishing are specialist areas that are also attracting growing interest today.

Graphic arts markets
Two major graphic arts markets are also key users of energy curing: overprinted varnishes – a long-established application for a fast cure at the end of the print production process that is now enjoying considerable success in product packaging – and drying the printing inks themselves.

The full range of printing technologies are today employing energy curing of their inks: the high-volume reel-fed flexographic process; offset lithography, both sheet and reel-fed; digital print, both on digital offset label presses and in wide and super-wide-format digital print; and even the highly durable but slow-to-dry thick ink layers of screen printing. Healthy growth in graphic applications is the result of a combination of factors.

The key drivers are packaging innovations such as the shift from rigid to flexible materials; faster high-volume print without
reduced print quality; brand-owners’ requirements for just-in-time delivery; and the need to reduce overall packaging costs today.

Showcase for market innovation
RadTech Europe regularly holds industry-focused events, including its annual Conference and Exhibition (this year taking place in Basel, Switzerland, 15-17 October), which is open to all, including end-users, as a showcase of achievements and an indication
of future applications, as well as an outstanding networking platform.

A recent conference innovation session highlighted several intriguing markets where there is already activity. Curing of membrane
switches and circuit panels; inkjetted solar panels; automotive glass and windshield repairs; contact lenses; rapid product prototyping; medical disposables; dental repair work; and even cosmetic fingernail decoration are among the many ‘new’ markets for energy curing’s proven benefits.

Environment and sustainability
Environmental concerns are becoming an important focus around the globe, and EU as well as worldwide health and safety legislation are driving product manufacturers to re-evaluate their production processes to make them more sustainable, and to make recycling more viable.

The EB and UV curing processes do not contribute any undesirable elements to a product or to packaging – even food packaging. Their potential to reduce energy demand and greenhouse gases, as well as the well-documented reductions in emissions of VOC (volatile organic compounds) and HAP (hazardous air pollutants), can contribute significantly to sustainable manufacturing.

A call to action
The UV/EB curing platform is certainly a dynamic partner for today’s technology base across many manufacturing industries and
many geographies. EMEA is today the largestoverall market, (particularly the German-speaking countries) and RadTech Europe
wants to maintain market growth and knowledge through an extended membership base at all levels of the supply chain, from raw
material manufacturer and equipment supplier to end-use manufacturer.

This is my call to action. At a time when we are cautiously recovering from a major economic downturn, we can be ready to bring
the benefits of UV and EB curing on to an even broader raft of application areas in a marketplace aligned to sustainability and the
environment, as well as to efficient, cost-effective manufacturing.

In this respect, I believe we are offering the perfect cure.’

The author’s views expressed on this page may not be shared by this publication