Best of British: Masters in media studies

SImon Eccles
Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Here at Printweek we had a bit of a debate about what ‘British’ actually means in manufacturing terms. There are quite a few firms with UK-based factories and workforces that develop their own products and manufacture them over here, but ownership lies abroad.

More than 60% of UK production is exported
More than 60% of UK production is exported

Examples in our industry include the ink maker formerly known as Sericol, which is now Fujifilm Speciality Ink Systems but still develops and makes cutting-edge UV inks in its Margate factory; and Inca Digital, owned by Dainippon Screen since 2005 and continuing to develop and build very fast flatbed inkjets in its Cambridge factory.

Drytac is the other way round. It’s part of a Canadian-based international group which was founded by a British-born emigrée. The UK factory in Fishponds, on the outskirts of Bristol, develops and manufactures film-based coated and adhesive products for printing and photographic markets, both to sell over here and to export 60% of its output abroad. That’s British enough, we reckon.

Richard Kelley originally founded Drytac Canada in Toronto in 1976, after emigrating from the UK in the 1960s. His son Hayden Kelley has now taken over as CEO, while Richard continues as chairman of the Drytac Group. The group now does business in more than 76 countries.

The Canadian factory in Brampton, Ontario, handles R&D and mass production, plus custom orders if needed, including special adhesives. In 1991, US operations were set up as Drytac Corporation in Richmond, Virginia.

The UK manufacturing location was established in 1998 as Drytac Europe Ltd. It has its own huge coating and converting lines, representing a major investment.

Along the way several acquisitions have been made: Interlam USA in 2001, Hot Press USA in 2003, Advanced Finishing Solutions in 2008, a division of AMTI in 2009, then MultiTac in 2013. All have been related to adhesive films for graphical and photographic applications.

The UK operation carries a lot of weight within the group. Almost all the graphics films are developed and made there. The big 6,500sqm factory houses three coating lines and four slitting/converting machines along with an R&D Lab. It’s certified for ISO 9001 and ISO 140001. It also has a warehouse and facilities for training including the Drytac Print Academy. Raw materials such as films and release papers are bought in, then coated and converted on-site. Adhesives too: “The majority of our adhesive coatings are made to our specifications, with some fine-tuning in our lab as and when required,” says Hayden Kelley.

Some 40 staff are employed in Bristol, out of a global total of 100. Kelley speaks fulsomely about Drytac’s employees: “Thanks to their efforts, Drytac has grown substantially and continues to successfully move forward, securing itself as a market leader in the graphics finishing industry. As a result, we are able to invest in new and improved equipment, software, and most importantly, our team.

“We look for recruits who have similar qualities and skills as our employees and who will contribute to the success of our business. Staff are given the opportunity to maximise their skills and capabilities to develop a rewarding, successful career. We regularly promote from within to fill senior positions, reflecting the proven development of skills of staff who have spent years with us. We are proud of our longstanding team of employees and are looking to enhance our strong workforce.”

Some Drytac products are only made in Canada and these are imported into the UK, but the opposite applies: a lot of UK-made product is shipped to Drytac Canada and Drytac USA. It works out as an approximate 70/30 sales split in the UK between locally manufactured and imported products, says Kelley. More than 60% of UK production is exported.

Distribution is a mix of direct sales and the use of distributors such as Antalis, Granthams and Sabur and resellers including Your Print Solutions and Signmaster Systems in the UK.

Media for all reasons

The range broadly splits into printable media, overlamination films and mounting adhesive films and tissues. Drytac says its primary markets are sign and display; art and photo; retail and hospitality; and “custom needs”. It serves these with products suited to graphics, display, signage, photography, framing and plaque mounting.

For example it lists printable graphic media including backlit film; cast, monomeric or polymeric self-adhesive PVC; magnetic media; high tack “aggressive adhesive” media for unprepared rough surfaces; reflective film and static cling film for glass. Roller banner PVC can be supplied on its own or as kits with stands. For floor graphics there’s a choice of UV-printable PVCs or Protac ScuffGuard overlaminating film with textured anti-slip finish.

Drytac’s website also lists its printable materials by their suitability for the main ink types: aqueous, eco-solvent, UV and HP Latex. It also produces rolls of synthetic paper, self-adhesive vinyl and polypropylene film for the HP PageWide single-pass wide-format aqueous ink printers.

Over the years Drytac has expanded its range to include removable adhesives for self-adhesive materials including fabric and paper, and others that can be applied to (and removed from) walls, floors, and glass, easily and cleanly. Its ReTac range allows fabric printed posters to be removed from walls, without causing damage to them, and re-applied elsewhere.

The Drytac overlamination film range includes indoor films plus outdoor materials with a range of outdoor lifetimes between two and seven years. Some have adhesives intended to work with high coverage aqueous or UV-cure inkjet prints. Finishes include the usual high gloss and matt, as well as textures such as sand, canvas and leather. There are anti-slip and anti-scuff types, as well as Scribe, which can be used to create write-on, wipe-off whiteboards, menu boards and the like over pre-printed paper if required.

Alternatively a traditional matt green or blackboard type film for chalk and liquid pens is available with permanent adhesive, or with removable adhesive in black only.

Some products have coatings to shield against scratches, graffiti, rust or aggressive chemicals. Others are reflective or can be used with dry erase markers. Some can be applied at temperatures down to -15°C, maybe inspired by Canadian winters!

Many of the printable media can be matched with overlaminates with Class 0 fire rating, which can both enhance the appearance and extend their lifetime. Having Class 0 fire rating makes these films suited to applications in public areas that require compliance with strict fire regulations, such as airports, hotels and hospitals. Some coatings have anti-bacterial properties.

Drytac also makes double-sided mounting adhesive films for applications such as mounting prints to wood blocks. There’s an optically clear adhesive to apply prints to the back of acrylic blocks.

Until a few years ago Drytac sold its own-brand lamination machines from desktop through to wide formats. It’s phased most of these out now, but still lists its HotPress heated vacuum press for thermal adhesive sheet work, plus a few manually-fed tabletop roller laminators for cold pressure-sensitive adhesive films.

How are new products developed?

“We have key hardware relationships with some of the leading manufacturers to provide development, testing and support to make sure all of our products work on all kinds of machines together with all ink technologies,” says Kelley.

“Many of the best new product ideas have come from our loyal customer base, with whom we work collaboratively to create new and unique adhesive applications. That said, we have also worked closely with the University of Western England and Queen’s University in Belfast on some of our more technical product developments.”

Most print products are developed with specific applications and/or features in mind. This could mean anything from ease of application and removal to pattern coating and optical clarity. “We will identify the key performance characteristics required and then build a product on a small-scale utilising our Pilot Coating Line,” Kelley explains.

“If the product meets the adhesive performance criteria required, we then plan a larger-scale production trial, usually 500-2,500 linear metres, for real-world print testing and application including weatherability testing. Once the product clears this hurdle we seek feedback from customers.

“We also rely on our sales team and distribution partners who can tell us what precisely our customers and perhaps more importantly, what our customer’s customers are looking for.”

So, what’s coming next? Responding to market concerns about plastics, Drytac will be introducing a line of PVC-free, recyclable and biodegradable self-adhesive graphic films at the end of March. The original intention was to launch these at Fespa, before the postponement was announced. Kelley says: “This is what the market has been clamouring for and we are proud to be one of the first to address this need in a meaningful way.” Also in the works is an environmentally friendly line of printable media designed for window, wall and floor applications.

Star products

Kelley lists three lines in particular as best-sellers. SpotOn is a range of printable graphic films designed for window and floor graphics, with easy, bubble-free application. ReTac permanently peelable films are printable graphic films that allow for repeated stick and peel, with no loss of adhesion and zero residue. They are available in smooth, gloss, matte and various textured embossed finishes. ViziPrint is a range of printable window films using Drytac’s hybrid adhesive technology for trouble-free installation.


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