The printing inks industry is undergoing a significant transformation, with a growing focus on environmental sustainability and regulatory compliance. Finding PTFE-free solutions is critical. In this episode of The Chemical Show, Victoria Meyer welcomes Ray Gonzales, Global Head of Marketing and Business Development for Clariant and George Fuchs, Director of Regulatory Affairs for National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM) to discuss these topics and more.
Discover how Clariant and NAPIM are navigating the changing regulations in the printing inks market and exploring alternative solutions and the quest for transparency. Victoria, George, and Ray discuss the importance of achieving supply chain transparency and the collaborative efforts between companies like Clariant and industry associations like NAPIM to find safer and more sustainable solutions in the printing inks market.
“The ink industry is rapidly evolving, and it’s crucial for us to find sustainable alternatives to PTFE. Our collaboration with companies like Clariant is instrumental in achieving this goal and ensuring the safety and environmental friendliness of our ink formulations.” – George Fuchs, NAPIM
Join us to learn more about:
- The rapidly evolving printing inks market
- How regulation and customer demand influences the printing inks markets
- Reporting, transparency, and supply chain transparency in the printing inks industry
- R&D’s role in material replacements for PFAS in ink systems
- Navigating global regulations in the printing inks industry
- Looking forward in the printing inks industry
Victoria, along with Ray and George, delve into the complex world of printing inks, exploring the challenges and opportunities of finding safer alternatives to chemicals like PTFE, navigating the ever-changing regulatory landscape, and striving for greater supply chain transparency.
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Exploring PTFE-Free Solutions in Printing Inks: Perspectives from Ray Gonzales of Clariant and George Fuchs of NAPIM
Hi, this is Victoria Meyer. Welcome back to The Chemical Show. This week, I am joined by two industry leaders to discuss the effect of regulations and value chain in the rapidly evolving printing inks markets.
George Fuchs, Director of Regulatory Affairs for National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers, otherwise known as NAPIM. George has worked in safety, health, and environment in various technical fields for over 35 years in the chemical industry at companies including Allied Chemical, Penwalt, and eniChem before joining NAPIM, where he works with both regulators and manufacturers.
I’ve also got with us today, Ray Gonzalez, who is the global head of marketing and business development for Clariant. Ray spent the first 25 years of his career with Dow, where he held sales and marketing leadership positions. He joined Clariant in 2021, and is now the head of marketing and business development in the coatings and adhesive segment of the absorbance and additives business. That is a really long name and I don’t know how you’re going to fit it on your business card, so you might have to tell us about that.
We’re going to be discussing the rapidly evolving markets of printing inks, influenced heavily by regulation and innovation. And there’s actually been some regulatory actions taking place. So we’re going to be learning more about that.
Ray and George, welcome to The Chemical Show.
George, I’m going to start with you. What’s your origin story? What got you interested in chemicals and specifically toxicology and HSE, which is a very unique space, and then ultimately to your current role,
I was in in school in the 1970s, and as you may recall, there were a couple of rather high profile environmental disasters that occurred in that time. Some of you may recall Love Canal, and may be less familiar with the Methyl Isocyanate disaster in Bhopal, India. At the time I was training as a chemist while in school.
I was affected by that for a couple of reasons. It seemed that through my training, I had a pretty good understanding of the necessity and importance of chemistry and chemicals in modern life. But at the same time, I raised my awareness and recognition of the importance of managing those things safely. That drew me to this area. Again, at that time, my 1st position was with Allied Chemical Company. That no longer exists in that form, it now is part of Honeywell Corporation. But at the time, Allied Chemical was one of the largest specialty and commodity chemical manufacturers in the world. They unfortunately had a release through a tolling operation in Virginia of a pesticide that we’re making known as Kepone.
At that time it was issued a violation, the largest environmental fine ever levied in America up to that point, a $40 million fine. As a result of that, Allied Chemical began a very strong effort in ensuring the safety and environmental safety of their products. So that kind of drew me to them at the time. With them, I started to look at how they were managing their products, and what we could do to determine the health and environmental impacts of their products. And I stayed with Allied for about 15 years.
Through their toxicology group, which was where I was working, I was analyzing all of the inhalation toxicology, and all the different parameters that we’ve come to today that we recognize now as being very important in terms of assessing the safety of the product. So that was the start of my career in chemical environmental health and safety.
In other roles, I began regulatory compliance efforts in working with government regulators, legislators, and in crafting regulations for the chemical industry. Currently, I’m the Director of Regulatory Affairs and Technology for the National Association of Printing Manufacturers. NAPIM is a trade association that interestingly enough is one of the oldest trade association in America. NAPIM is about 111 years old now. It was formed in the early 1900s and has been in existence ever since.
The printing industry, much like other parts of the chemical industry, becomes pretty involved and complex as you drill down a little bit and look at the composition of the industry. The printing industry is broadly classified in the specialty chemicals manufacturing industry.
So it’s part of that manufacturing sector. And we broadly divide printing ink into two major categories. The commercial side, which is magazines, newspapers, and those types of things. Then the packaging side, which is as you can imagine, big box packaging, food packaging, everything else that goes onto a packaging. The commercial side has declined somewhat with the impact of cyber communication and advertising and those types of things. But the packaging side has expanded in the last 10 years.
Ray, you’ve got a degree in marketing. You could have gone anywhere and you chose to come into chemicals and obviously spent a big part of your career with Dow. But what brought you into chemicals and what’s kept you here?
It’s not so complicated. I grew up in Michigan and I went to Michigan State University. So I was a college grad looking for my first job and Dow Chemical was recruiting. I grew up 10 miles from the town that Dow is headquartered in Midland, Michigan. So it was attractive to think that I could start my career very close to home where I had my family and friends. I chose to work with Dow, but actually I didn’t stay long in Midland. As it is with everybody’s career, things change, you take on new positions. And I had the opportunity to move to different states and do different types of roles. Now I’m with Clariant and very happy in South Carolina with my family.
We’re having a good time with a nice warm climate. And I’m excited about being part of Clariant because of the very strong commitment to sustainability.
That’s exciting. And of course, as we talked about before we started recording, I also spent a couple of years with Clariant, so I’m familiar and it’s a great company. I’m also an escapee from the Midwest. So as my husband says, we’ve lived in Houston for 25 years and every time we would talk about moving back up to Illinois or Wisconsin, he says “You don’t have to shovel snow here!”
What’s great about home is you can always visit, especially in summer.
Yeah, and Michigan summers are amazing I’m sure you guys enjoy that.
The Printing Ink Market and the role of printing inks
Let’s go ahead and set some context here. I think George started giving us a peek into this but we’re talking about the printing inks industry today. How big is this market? Where are these products used? What would we recognize when we think about printing inks?
I think George did a good job of starting to explain that earlier when he was talking about those two sides of printing inks. It’s such a big industry. It’s almost impossible to really tell how big it is. But I can say for a company like Clariant, it’s super important because it’s growing. Number one, it’s always changing. I think people would be amazed at how evolved printing has become in terms of the technologies that are available. We put a lot of focus on it because we have products that are useful in that application and particularly as we get into this topic today around PTFE free type solutions. This is a big focus for us.
Awesome. I look around my house and sometimes it’s easy to think of printing inks as being about books and newspapers and paper, but it’s also packaging and a lot of different things, so we’re probably interfacing with it far more frequently than anyone realizes.
Yeah, there’s a lot of high tech space there but you’re right that packaging space is maybe the one that’s quite interesting right now, particularly with respect to this topic. The use of PTFE in packaging is important in the sense that PTFE has served a purpose. It’s really good at what it does, but now that we’ve learned that it’s really not the best substance, it’s all about how do we replace that material with something that works as good or possibly better, but is safer in the end.
Regulatory challenges to PFAS and PTFE
That’s actually a great segue back to what’s going on from an environmental perspective and a regulatory perspective here. So in a recent poll we conducted with some chemical industry leaders, the evolving regulatory environment and the ability for government agencies, as well as producing companies to keep up with the pace of change has ranked as a very high concern. So George, can you talk about this a little bit? Can you give us some examples of some recent changes and the role that NAPIM plays in helping to navigate this environment?
Trade associations typically have two primary roles with respect to what’s happening from a compliance perspective. Let me call it compliance rather than regulatory compliance. Because typically what our involvement would be is in two parts. First is, regulations develop this legislation. So the Congress or House of Representatives develops legislation and then once that’s approved, passed, and signed into law, it’s handed off to an agency. Whether it’s EPA or OSHA or Consumer Product Safety, one of the federal agencies implements the regulation. The involvement of the trade association is talking with the legislatures when they’re developing the legislation, but more importantly, it’s working with the regulators. When you think about it, it’s a very complex environment because these regulations apply across the board in the chemical industry. Every NAICS code that you can imagine that’s involved in the chemical manufacturing space could be affected by that.
So the challenge is great when you’re looking at developing a regulation that fits all of these different industries. So we try to guide them with respect to how these regulations could be developed and implemented to affect our industry. But the other important point to remember here is, in the challenge for the chemical industry we’ve evolved beyond just worrying about regulatory compliance. It’s expanded beyond that for a couple of reasons. Today we’re more concerned with what’s happening in the chemical testing space, which has exploded since the evolution of reach and the Toxic Substances Control Act. As more health testing and environmental impact information becomes available to the public and the brands, there is at least as much concern about that. So what you might call extra regulatory concerns are at least as important today as the regulations that evolved from them.
It takes time to pass a regulation, but the impact on the public of health information, like PTFE, for example, is an interesting case. There’s no ban on the use of PTFE. In fact, the FDA still allows it in various packaging applications but because of the health concern related to forever chemicals the brands have said we don’t want it in our products anymore. So my point is, we need to pay attention to more than just what’s happening from a regulatory standpoint and look at what’s happening in the public space as health and safety information continues to evolve.
Recently we’ve seen a lot about PFAS and legislation and the banning of that, which is also considered one of the forever chemicals. And then PTFE which as you point out is also interestingly still allowed, and yet product companies are moving away from that. I guess my question on that is, are we seeing any regulatory or compliance action around PTFEs? Or is this really more proactive and driven from a consumer and brand perspective?
Yeah, probably both. Right now there’s Federal legislation. One of the complicating factors with this is that, at least here in the states, you have federal regulations. There’s an awful lot of activity that interestingly began because of the use of firefighting foams that were used on military bases which contained perfluorochemicals that they were finding in the water around the bases. That’s really how this all started. So there are reporting regulations that would apply right now.
Ultimately, I suspect there will be greater and greater restrictions on the use of PTFE containing PFAS compounds in the future.
Supply Chain Transparency
Ray, I know that part of this story is around reporting and transparency. Supply chain transparency is really critical. As a producer, Clariant is obviously at the front end of the supply chain and is really able to influence that transparency. So from your perspective, what are the opportunities and the challenges in this greater desire for supply chain transparency?
I think there are a tremendous amount of opportunities, however, we have to overcome the challenges. Some of the challenges are just that historical way of doing things. In the value chain, you talk to your suppliers and you talk to your customer. That’s where it ends in a traditional sense. We have to evolve away from that as an industry and start thinking about how we collaborate across the value chain. And that’s happening.
Clariant’s been part of that in design for circularity on the plastic sides, where we partnered with brand owners and compounders and now being a producer to come up with a solution that met the needs of the customer. So there’s a collaborative approach, but there’s also this brand owner pull approach, we’re seeing more and more of this because brand owners no longer are willing to take the risk of being associated with something that’s going to hurt their brands. The brands have a lot of value and they really don’t want something to come up that they didn’t anticipate or expect that all of a sudden they have to deal with.
So that’s there’s that kind of carrot and stick. The carrot is, as a brand owner I also have sustainability goals. I want to tell my customers and my shareholders that I’m meeting certain standards of sustainability, and that drives them to want to be aware of what’s available in the market, and sometimes they need to go beyond their immediate supplier to know what solutions exist. So we’ve also at Clariant had a tremendous amount of contact in various industries with brand owners with the intent of them understanding what we can bring and help them achieve those sustainability goals.
Yeah, it’s not easy, right? I think getting end to end transparency in this space, especially because yours is not the only product that’s going into a formulation. There’s a multitude of products. Figuring out how to create that same level of transparency across the value chain is challenging.
It is, that is particularly true within the printing manufacturing space when printing and manufacturing is a mixing and blending formulating industry. Accordingly the materials used in their formulations are viewed by them rightly so as intellectual property. Disclosure of that information is really a concern to them.
Ray is right, the printing manufacturers work very closely with companies like Clariant to look at alternatives and options for replacement of PTFE. It’s a challenge for the ink industry because it’s probably not well known, but there are thousands of different printing formulations and that’s not an exaggeration at all. Each one of them has different performance parameters and requirements. So whether you’re printing on film or board or paper or whatever you’re printing on, each one of those things has to be different. The performance requirements for those are different as well.
So it’s a challenge. And it’s a challenge met by companies like Clariant because I know our guys work with companies like Clariant all the time to say, “Okay, this is what we need.” We typically use PTFA for slip resistance, blocking or heat seal resistance, those types of things. Finding a material that meets all of those requirements is a research and development effort.
PTFE-Free Options for Ink Systems
So Ray, let’s talk about that a little bit. Are there material replacements for PFAS in ink systems and where are we heading and where’s the R&D going?
Yes, there are alternatives. As we pointed out earlier, PTFE does what it does very well and because there’s so many formulations out there, there wasn’t a huge incentive for formulators to go and tackle this problem. The status quo was good, they didn’t need to, but now that they are feeling that pressure to do that, many are being very proactive about it. They’re finding that as they evaluate these alternatives, like waxes and wax blends that that Clariant offers, they’re finding that those can work as well. In some cases, we’re seeing these solutions work better or work just as well with less dosage. So there truly are solutions, but sometimes it just takes something like a catalyst to get companies to start looking and trying things.
For Clariant, we didn’t want to wait for regulation. We’re always thinking about what’s coming.
What are the trends? How can we get ahead of the curve? How can we be ready when the customer’s ready and when they need a solution? We had the benefit of already having some things that we knew could work and we’re actively developing new stuff. So when you ask where the R&D is heading, we feel like we’ve already got a pretty good headstart on that. We’ve got some good solutions already in the market.
So you’ve been able to commercialize some PTFE alternatives for the printing ink industry?
Yes. We have existing products that can work. So that’s number one. Number two is, we had already had some development work ongoing prior to this current situation that we’re launching. So newer, recent stuff that we’ve launched and as fast as it feels like this topic has evolved, the reality is it’s been fairly known in the industry that this was coming. The challenge for producers is all about timing. There’s a lot of things that have pressure on them and everybody thinks, eventually we’re going to have to stop using this or that solvent, for example, or trying to hit VOC targets. But knowing when the industry will flip is really the million dollar question.
We’re trying to be prepared. Let’s put it that way. So when the time comes, when the customer is ready, we’ll be ready to support them.
Your point on timing is so critical because we’re seeing this across the chemical industry. As I talk to leaders in different parts of the industry, particularly when we think about sustainable products, circular products, replacement products for something that may be under regulatory pressure, there’s always this desire to have the option available. Then, are your customers actually ready to buy and what are the conditions that they need for success. So it makes it challenging and I think companies like Clariant and others have to be ready to go and figure out how to start moving products into the market before it becomes a desperate situation where it becomes mandated and there’s no other options. So it’s a bit of a give and take.
Yeah, definitely. It helps to be a company that already has an intent to be sustainable. So it’s really built into our DNA. That when we innovate, it will be something that needs to meet a sustainability target. It needs to advance this topic in some way, but it also has to be customer led. It has to be meeting the needs of a customer. So if you bring those two things together, oftentimes you can get it right. Sometimes you might be a little too early and sometimes you’re a little too late. But you do your best.
It helps to be a company that already has an intent to be sustainable. Sustainability is really built into Clariant’s DNA. – Ray Gonzales, Clariant
Navigating global regulations and requirements
Let’s talk a little bit about the global nature of your business and your customers. We talked a little bit earlier about this rapidly changing environment. Let’s be honest, the regulatory framework differs by region. There’s different pressures at different places. So I’m going to ask both of you guys, but I’m going to start with Ray:
As a global company, how is Clariant navigating these different regulations and requirements? You obviously work with both local and global customers who have different needs and requirements, but how do you balance that out? How do you make that happen?
Maybe the answer sounds too simple, but we have to because it’s our license to operate. You really can’t be a chemical producer and operate globally and not be very aware of what the rules and regulations are everywhere you’re going to participate. It’s really a must have, and it does take a significant investment, but you have to do it. I like to think of it more as the opportunity side of it. So regulations will drive change and change means opportunity. So how do we look at these trends as an opportunity to bring something better into the market? Yes, we have this side of it. That’s more of a compliance challenge that we have to do. But it’s also our regulatory partners who give us a little foresight on the business side of what’s coming.
So we can say, “Okay let’s not wait for that problem. Let’s get ahead of it and try to turn it into an opportunity.”
George, how about from your perspective, how does NAPIM work with other industry groups, both domestically and globally? How do you stay on top of that or how do you align with other groups?
Most of the time when I tell people that NAPIM represents printing manufacturers, their immediate reaction is, oh, the printing industry. Yes, it is part of printing, but its own little group here is especially chemicals manufacturers. In terms of a practical matter, we have a very strong relationships with all the printing related trade associations. So that would be the flexographic technical association. Radtech, which represents energy curable producers of coatings and printing inks. Printing United, who are all the printing related trade associations directly affected by this.
We have very strong relationships with them. Generally we work hand in hand with them when we’re providing comment to industry groups or to government agencies, both state and federal on the impact of these regulations. The global nature of it is a relatively recent thing. By that I mean maybe the last 15 years, but all of our customers, the brands are global companies. So they’re not just concerned about, what’s happening here in the States. They’re concerned about what’s happening wherever they sell their products. So it’s essential that we are paying attention to the global regulatory conditions that are happening. Primarily we look at the EU and what’s happening in the EU, although China, of course is a big player here as well.
There is a printing ink association in the EU called EUPIA, European Printing Ink Association. We have very good relationship with them. We get together on a monthly basis to talk about what’s happening in Europe and it gives us an awareness of what’s happening in the different member states of the EU and we provide that kind of information back to our member companies. Gives us a little heads up about what’s coming down the pike.
You talked about the other parts of the globe. I always think of Japan as being a bit of a heavy hitter in inks. Is this true?
No, you’re not. A number of the very large ink companies that you may be familiar with have Japanese ownership. They’re big players and from an import perspective. A lot of printing ink is exported from the United States, more than you might think. It goes all over the world, and Japan is one of the places that has ownership roles in the US ink industry, but it also is importer of bringing it in the US.
Got it. So here’s my next curiosity question because I think of ink as being liquid. When you think about that is that how I should be thinking about that? Is that true? Are the components that go into it liquids or the components that Clariant sells?
Yeah. You could broadly divide the ink industry into what we call the liquid and paste group, where the paste side would go into offset lithographic printing. It’s sold as a thick slurry, but as that part of the industry has somewhat declined in volume over the years, the liquid side is definitely bigger. But an awful lot of packaging is also produced, offset lithographically, a lot of people aren’t familiar with that. The liquid side goes into what’s called flexographic printing. So I would say Victoria, probably 60% of the ink that’s sold today is liquid ink, something like that. The balance would be, pasting, which goes into the offset figure.
The ingredients from Clariant are basically micronized waxes. So very finely milled or crowned waxes or blends of different types of waxes.
Ray, I’m assuming that there may be some different requirements when you think about products and reformulations depending on what that end use is. Is that right?
It’s very difficult to just say, I’ve got the solution and it’s going to work in every customer’s formulation because as George pointed out, there’s so many different kinds of formulations and applications. If you are able to tweak your products into different performance properties, you can find your way into many of those applications that George spoke about, whether they’re paste or liquids. In the end, the functionality of what the wax brings is the same. It’s offering that protection on the top of the surface and it prevents smudging or scratching or blocking as George pointed out earlier.
So the good news is there’s a lot of flexibility of how our products can be used. The more challenging side is there’s not a one size fits all solution for everybody.
That’s why it’s a specialty chemical because it’s complicated and specialized.
As I talked to a number of our technical committee members in preparation for this podcast, they use that expression. One size fits all, because that was the initial approach. Let’s see if we can find a direct replacement across the board for PTFE, and one size does not fit all. So it’s a challenge looking for the components that fit an individual ink formulation.
Looking forward to sustainable solutions
So any final thoughts and what should we be looking for as we head into 2024? I’m going to start with George.
I would say in terms of looking forward, I think as an increasing volume of health, safety and environmental information becomes publicly known we can expect greater and greater restrictions on the materials that are available to us for usage. My second point is, the levels of concern will continue to ratchet down. When I first started in this industry, parts per million was the rule of thumb. Very recently I worked with a state agency here in the U.S. that was concerned about parts per quadrillion. So I think we can expect those two things, increasing concern about health effects and at lower levels.
How about for you, Ray? What should we be looking for?
I agree with what George said. I think that if we’re going to try to chase levels we’re missing the point. The goal should be, let’s just get it out of use and find those solutions as early as possible. I think a lot of our customers feel the same way. They don’t want to take those risks and I’m certain that the brand owners don’t either. So I feel like the momentum is only going to grow for this. For us at Clariant the American Coating Show is coming up. So that’s a great opportunity to really reconnect with the industry, and talk about these solutions.
I know it’s not necessarily the ink show, but we often will see customers from the inks industry at the coating show, and this problem exists in coatings as well. So we’re going to be offering our solutions and looking forward to dialogues with customers and in the value chains to really push this forward with them and see where it goes.
Thank you, George and thank you, Ray. I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you today.
And thanks everyone for joining us today. Keep reading, keep following, keep sharing, and we’ll talk to you again soon.
About Ray Gonzales and George Fuchs:
Ray Gonzales, Clariant
Ray Gonzales has worked in the Chemical Industry for over 25 years in sales and marketing leadership positions where he has focused on supporting business transformation through improved sales and marketing strategies. He most recently joined Clariant in 2021 and is now the Head of Marketing and Business Development in the Coatings and Adhesives Segment of the Adsorbents and Additives Business.
Ray has a marketing degree from Michigan State University and has completed his MBA from Northwood University. He resides in the Charlotte area with his wife and 3 children.
George Fuchs, NAPIM
George Fuchs has worked in the safety, health and environmental and various technical fields for over 35 years. He began his career with the Allied Chemical Corp. in Morristown, NJ in 1977. Between 1977 and 1988 he worked in a number of Allied’s business units including chemical toxicological research, TSCA compliance and laboratory safety. Between 1988 and 1991 Mr.Fuchs worked for the Pennwalt Corp. in King of Prussia, PA where he was manager of safety, health and environmental compliance for the corporate research development laboratory. Between 1991 and 1993 Mr.Fuchs worked for EniChem America (A division of the European chemical conglomerate – AGIP) where he was the facilities/SHE manager for their North American operations. From 1993 until 2010 Mr. Fuchs has worked for the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers as Manager of Regulatory Affairs. In 2012 Mr. Fuchs was named Director of Regulatory Affairs and Technology for the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers – a position he currently holds.
In 2018 Mr. Fuchs was the recipient of the Printing Industries of America’s Scheaffer Award for Environmental Excellence.
In 2019 Mr. Fuchs received the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers Printing Ink Pioneer award.
Mr. Fuchs graduated from Seton Hall University with degrees in computer science and chemistry.
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