Radiation curing: A continued bright future

UV/EB technology addresses several of the current megatrends and the market needs arising, such as cost efficiency, resource saving and emission reduction, and these will drive its growth, says Nick Gruber of BASF, Head of Industry Management Furniture & Flooring, Resins & Additives EMEA.

Radiation curing: A continued bright future. Image source: Andrey Sukhachev - Adobe Stock -

How do you rate the market for UV coatings and what further development do you expect?

Dr Nick Gruber: Global megatrends will determine the growth of the UV/EB markets. The world population is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. The middle class is expanding and forecast to number 4.9 billion people by 2030. By 2050, 66% of the population will be living in urban areas. Digitalisation in all areas of professional life, including supply chain, production, marketing, R&D and communication, as well as in the private sphere, will significantly alter the way and the speed at which we interact. This will lead to changes in industry and market needs, such as cost savings downstream, climate change and energy saving targets, resource efficiency improvements, greater focus on health and safety, investigation of renewables, emission reduction, and increased individualisation. UV/EB technology addresses several of these megatrends and the market needs arising from them, such as cost efficiency, resource saving and emission reduction, and these will drive its growth. Hence, UV/EB is the perfect technology for long-term growth in the coatings and inks market.

Event Tip

Learn more about radiation curing in the European Coatings Seminar Radiation Curing: Your key-learnings will be how radiation curing works and which type of chemistry is important for this technology. Naturally, you will also find out about the components and parts of a UV curing facility.

Gruber: Customers are asking for increased productivity and ever higher performance at lowest cost. They also require assistance and expertise in conformance with regulations and brand owner regulations. And they need to meet consumer demand for individuality and personalised products.

Cost-in-use, performance and sustainability are the main drivers in the industrial coatings and printing and packaging markets. UV/EB coatings are the benchmark for lowest cost-in-use at a certain performance level. They are the answer to the demand for ever higher productivity throughout the industry and they also fulfil increasingly stringent requirements as regards scratch and chemical resistance as well as haptics.

A further growth driver is conversion and organic growth in existing applications. The growth of UV/EB technology will strongly depend on the organic growth of existing and mature applications as well as the conversion of other technologies and segments. Mature segments include overprint varnishes, parquet, laminate flooring, offset inks and electronics. Here, growth depends on consumer demand, the associated investments for organic growth, and ultimately the macroeconomic environment.

In markets such as furniture, plastic and metal coatings, and flexographic inks, UV/EB technology already plays an important role today but market penetration is still rather low compared with alternative technologies, e.g. solvent-borne systems. Growth in these sectors will strongly depend on the success of conversion to UV/EB technologies by pushing the frontiers. Where technological challenges can be overcome, UV/EB could have a very bright future in these markets. Investments in new equipment, production lines as well as an increasing number of sales inquiries and leads are promising signs for prosperous UVEB growth.

Sectors where there is already substantial conversion to UV/EB technology include digital printing, 3D printing and design flooring. Besides these clearly defined mature and growth segments, there are numerous emerging applications, the future potential of which is still unclear. These include sensors, medical and dental applications, barrier technologies, industrial textiles, membranes, and many more.

What are the greatest challenges for UV coatings manufacturers and raw materials suppliers?

BB_BASF Nick_Gruber_04_2018

Nick Gruber


Gruber: To push the conversion frontier and increase the penetration of UV/EB technology in underrepresented segments, innovation and investment are essential. Another major challenge is the volatility and uncertainty in the markets resulting from political instability and economic fluctuations. The biggest challenge for UV coatings manufacturers and raw materials suppliers is the continuously increasing pressure from regulations such as REACH, Swiss Ordinance, etc., as well as brand owners’ regulations on health and safety. These need to be taken into account for existing applications as well as future developments. If addressed properly, they provide opportunities for growth on the one hand. On the other hand significantly increased resources need to be allocated towards HSE topics which at the end leads to significant costs to be absorbed by the value chain including the end consumer. Besides HSE topics, availability of key raw materials is the second major challenge at the moment. Driven by the strong industry demand and positive development of almost all regions and industry segments, the availability not only of crude oil based raw material but also of natural based raw materials as well as inorganics, e.g. titanium dioxide is very critical at the moment. This means increasing volatility of feedstock costs and in some cases slowing down of growth.

What UV systems have the greatest growth potential/will gain further market share?

The main applications in EMEA are furniture (wood, foil, door skins) and flooring (parquet, laminate, vinyl) coatings, which account for about 40% of the EMEA UV/EB market, followed by printing inks (offset, flexographic, gravure, screen) and overprint varnishes (33% of the EMEA market). These traditional UV/EB applications are expected to grow moderately – by 2-4%, depending on the maturity of the segment and the degree to which the technology takes hold. Fairly new UV/EB applications with huge growth potential are expected to be strong growth drivers. These include UV inkjet printing, which accounts for 3% of the EMEA UV/EB market (with a compound annual growth rate ((CAGR)) forecast of 8-10%), plastic and metal coatings (less than 10% of the EMEA market, CAGR 5-6%) and 3D printing (1% of EMEA market, CAGR ~10%). Today’s radiation curing market is still more than 90% dominated by classical UV curable systems. Within UV curing, the LED technology is one of the fastest growing technology. As a “cold” source of UV light, it is beneficial for temperature sensitive substrates, such as plastic films for packaging or especially high resinous light wood species. With LED the cost per unit can be optimized at a given output. The EB (Electron Beam) curing technology today is still small (10% of EMEA UV/EB market). The growth of EB technology over the years will clearly depend on the success rate of various current industry projects and investment activities. To conclude: Whatever can be UV/EB coated, will be UV/EB coated in terms of cost in use and performance. This means, a continued bright future for UV/EB!

The complete interview is part of the May issue of the European Coatings Journal.

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