"Our aim is to make ink the new film for Fujifilm," said wide format business director Peter Kenehan. "We’re now talking about substitution of analogue processes by digital. We haven’t built a new factory just to take a small percentage of the market."
The expanded digital operation has the capacity to produce 6,000 tonnes of digital ink per year, which allows the firm to meet rising demand for UV-cured digital inks for several years, based on its current production and forecasted demand.
The entire output of the Broadstairs site was 6,200 tonnes in 2012, of which digital is currently approaching half of total sales, with screen inks accounting for 28% and the rest comprising pre-press chemicals, flexo and textile inks. Digital sales are currently growing 30-50% per year.
The new factory includes four 4,000litre/4tonne mixing vessels each dedicated to one of the four process colours CMYK. These units are each four times larger than the previous largest vessels. In addition to the ink preparation the firm has added to the filling and packing operation, including its first automated packing line.
While increased capacity was an important part of the project, it was also designed to improve quality and consistency through automation and process control systems.
Key to enabling the substitution that Kenehan expects are lower digital print costs driven by more efficient ink manufacturing and demand for higher volumes from the latest higher throughput printers. An example is in the corrugated market, which Fujifilm announced a raft of new hardware and ink developments for at the same event.
In addition to the production upgrade, the R&D facilities were enhanced with a £2.1m spend, which included a scanning electron microscope for analysis of printhead/ink interactions. Investment in both sides is focused on developing next generation inks with smaller and more consistent particle sizes at the nanoscale.
Of the 340 staff on site more than 80% work on digital products. The split is even more marked in R&D, with 63 of 68 staff working on UV inkjet.