The main news story from February was the ongoing war in Ukraine, with 24th February marking the first anniversary of Russia’s attack on Ukraine and its failed invasion. Neither side is close to winning and neither is yet ready to admit defeat so there’s every likelihood that this pointless and bloody war will rumble on for another year or more.
The war is forcing other countries to decide where they stand, and the longer this war continues, the sharper these divisions will be drawn with the risk of a new Cold War and its ever present danger of a nuclear disaster. Europe remains fearful of the scale of the Russian aggression but worried about provoking Russia further. It’s not clear that the West is as strong or united as it once was. For its part, Russia’s power appears hollow although it is surviving the sanctions. China is caught on the fence, between wanting to pose as an international player but also hoping that Russia wins, while India wields considerable economic muscle but has not turned this into political capital. All of this will undermine the globalization of manufacturing, forcing countries and companies to think more carefully about their supply lines.
In this vein, the British government has announced £15 million of funding for cutting edge research to strengthen supply of critical materials. This money will be used by Innovate UK to set up the CircuLar crItical MATErials Supply chains (CLIMATES) programme to support a range of research into rare earth elements. These minerals are used in a wide range of products from electric vehicles and mobile phones to washing machines. But they are only produced in a small number of countries, including China, and the war in Ukraine has forced Britain to rethink its supply lines. So this project will look at ways to improve recycling of these minerals as well as ways to develop more robust supply lines.
Nusrat Ghani, Minister of State at the Department for Business and Trade, said: “The impact of Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine on energy prices has been a timely reminder of how important supply chains are for all parts of our economy. That’s why we are laser-focused on securing robust supply chains, for the growing, green industries that will deliver jobs and prosperity across the UK in the decades to come.”
A government reshuffle created a new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, which has been broadly welcomed by Britain’s scientific community. However, the minister in charge, Michelle Donelan, started by threatening to abandon any effort to rejoin the EU’s Horizon Europe research funding programme. James Wilsdon, a professor of research policy at UCL, said: “There’s no scenario in which life outside Horizon will be good for UK science. The sooner ministers stop pretending that it could be, and drop the ‘science superpower’ froth in favor of a level-headed assessment of UK options and priorities, the better. The policy goal should remain association. In absence of that, it’s all about damage limitation.”
This was followed by AstraZeneca, which has produced the most cost-effective of the Covid-19 vaccines, announcing that it would now build its new factory in Ireland, where it can still benefit from the EU’s research funding, rather than the UK.
Curiously, several ministers and opposition MPs as well as a selection of business leaders, held a secret meeting at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire to discuss what to do about Brexit, amid the dawning realization at the heart of government that Brexit has been a ‘complete disaster’ and a “bunch of total lies” as Guy Hands, the Conservative Party Chairman put it. Both main parties were wrong footed over Brexit yet both have stated that they won’t rejoin the EU or the single market.
Against this backdrop, Rishi Sunak has renegotiated the Northern Ireland Protocol, which allows Northern Ireland to operate both within the UK and the EU and effectively puts the border between the UK and Ireland, ie the EU, in the Irish Sea. The Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland has objected to the protocol on ideological grounds and prevented the Northern Ireland assembly from sitting, while the British government has threatened to suspend the protocol entirely, even though it is a central part of the entire Brexit deal between the UK and EU. It’s still not clear if Sunak can persuade his party or the DUP to accept the new Windsor framework.
Meanwhile, the Danish shipping firm A.P. Moller-Maersk, which controls about one-sixth of the world’s container trade, has said that it expects the global container market to grow significantly in 2023 based “on the expectation that inventory correction will be complete by the end of the first half leading to a more balanced demand environment.” In other words, the supply chain crisis that followed the pandemic and first pushed inflation upwards, before the war in Ukraine turbocharged that inflation, should mostly return to normal levels this year.
Elsewhere, Polar Mohr, which designs and makes cutting solutions, has been taken over by SOL Capital Management GmbH, based in Vienna. Polar had become insolvent due to supply bottlenecks and had placed itself in a court-supervised protective shield proceeding for restructuring purposes. Polar also included the machine manufacturer Adolf Mohr, both based in Hofheim as well as a manufacturing plant in Shanghai. The acquisition by SOL Capital is a combined asset and share deal, with Adolf Mohr, Polar Mohr and the Chinese subsidiary now all operating under the name Polar Cutting Technologies GmbH. In the run-up to the agreement with SOL Capital, the group of companies sold its approximately 50,000 sqm factory site in the centre of Hofheim to a project developer and is building a new modern factory in the Hofheim am Taunus region. Heidelberg will continue to sell the Polar products.
Thomas Raab, Managing Director of Polar Cutting Technologies, stated, “Our position as an industry leader will be boosted by this new start and the additional funds from SOL Capital. Through further automation, solutions that enable our customers to significantly increase productivity and support their competitiveness, we will further expand and consolidate our leadership in innovation,”
Xitron, which is part of the Hybrid Software Group, has signed an agreement with Ultimate TechnoGraphics to use Ultimate’s Impostrip software within Xitron’s Navigator Workflow. Paul Napolitano, Xitron’s Navigator Workflow Product Manager, commented, “After careful evaluation, Impostrip became the obvious choice for inclusion. Navigator Workflow is used by thousands of printing companies around the globe in commercial offset and digital applications. Being able to scale the automation up or down depending on the user’s needs is an important feature that positively affects the user’s productivity.”
MPS Systems B.V, a Dutch company that makes narrow web flexo presses, has acquired a significant shareholding in its British distributor MPS Systems (UK) Ltd. All invoicing in Sterling and shipping of spare parts will now be managed from The Netherlands. However, MPS UK will continue to hold stocks of frontline spares and consumables for express delivery when required.
Nick Tyrer, Managing Director of MPS UK, commented, ”This acquisition will enable us to provide even better service and support to our customers in the UK, streamlining our operations and ensuring that we can offer the best possible solutions to meet their needs.”
Mexar, which is based in Cambridge, UK, has picked up Oeko-Tex Eco Passport certification for its pigment inkjet inks for printing direct to textiles. These inks have been tested by the testing and research company Hohenstein for harmful substances in critical concentrations as listed in the Eco Passport standard. The certification covers Mexar’s pigment textile wide format inks as well as its Direct to Garment and Direct to Film pigment inks.
Dr Andy Hancock, Mexer’s managing director, commented, “We are delighted that our pigment textile inkjet inks are now certified under the World leading Oeko-Tex Eco Passport certification process. It is important to us that we can prove the safety and responsibility of the products we develop and manufacture. This certification will lead to confidence in the Mexar products for use in textile printing.”
Fujifilm has expanded the range of colors available through its RxD pigment dispersions, which are used to develop water-based inkjet inks. The new colors include Orange PO71, Green PG7, and Violet PV23 pigments, which will be particularly relevant to the packaging and textile markets. RxD pigment dispersions are used in Fujifilm’s aqueous ink developments for OEMs and are available to other ink formulators. They are engineered with Fujifilm’s proprietary reactive dispersant technology which uses a cross-linked polymer to create a secure cage around the pigment. This provides a stable dispersion that is compatible with a wide range of components used in inkjet ink formulation. The pigments used in RxD dispersions comply with Swiss Ordinance SR817.023.21, making indirect food contact compliant applications accessible.
Grant Murney, product manager of RxD inkjet pigment dispersions, saysm “In developing the new RxD Orange, Green and Violet dispersions we’ve carefully selected the best polymers and processing conditions to ensure optimum stability and print performance for our customers, in line with the standard CMYK products already in the RxD product range.”
HuberGroup Print Solutions has introduced two new web offset inks, the coldset series MGA Food News and the heatset series MGA Evolution. These are both low migration inks and are designed for printing food-compliant paper packaging in large quantities using four-colour printing in web offset.
Thomas Stumpf, Director Web Offset at HuberGroup, explains, “With the help of a special binder and the careful selection of raw materials as well as production methods, we have succeeded in developing the first low-migration and low-odor web offset inks. As safety and sustainability are our top priorities, we worked closely with our sheetfed offset experts who have been developing inks for food packaging for many years.”
Druckhaus Mainfranken, a short-run online printer, will become the first European company to install the Scodix Ultra 6000 SHD digital embellishment machine. The company has five sites in Germany and will use the Ultra 6000 SHD at its plant in Marktheidenfeld. Ulrich Stetter, CEO of Druckhaus Mainfranken, commented, “As order quantities drop, the frequency of receiving orders increases. The productivity of Scodix matches this demand for more shorter runs, which is vital considering our customers are continually exploring more design options to make their printed products stand out.”
Stetter added, “From an economic standpoint, Scodix promises to offer us the flexibility to extend to a wider range of embellishments without ramping up the cost of production. This gives us the versatility required to meet customer demand for short runs, with a wider range of finishing techniques, without increased costs or turnaround times. A huge win-win.”
Fujifilm installed its first Acuity Ultra Hybrid LED 3.2m roll-to-roll wide format printer at Echo House in Surbiton, UK. This is a beta test with Echo House having previously installed the world’s first Acuity Ultra in 2018.
Peter Onyskiw, Director of Operations at Echo House, commented, “We’re excited to be first again. We work in a rapidly innovative and highly creative sector, serving some of the largest companies in the world, with brands who set extremely high expectations for us. The Acuity Ultra Hybrid LED combines exceptional quality with greater flexibility through its hybrid capability – giving us even more creative potential to continue to meet, and exceed, our customer’s expectations. The technological efficiencies, flexibility and reliability further extend our sustainable credentials to boot.”
Print-2-Media, based in Cornwall in the UK, has installed a SwissQprint Nyala 4 flatbed printer. The company produces signage for several specialist sectors, including schools and national garden centre chains as well as individual B2C commissions to local, national and international artists seeking limited-edition fine art prints. The Nyala is a 3.2×2 metre flatbed, and this particular unit is configured with a roll unit, six inks including CMYK, white and varnish and a double row of print heads.
Glenn Wrigley, Director of Print-2-Media, commented, ”When calculated over the expected working life of the equipment, SwissQprint’s renowned low service costs and durability credentials mean that we get all the production advantages and flexibility, essentially at no additional cost. This is a clear case of ‘buy right, buy once’.”
Robert Welford has been promoted to President of Xeikon having been the Vice President of Research & Development since joining the company in 2018. He commented: “This is an exciting industry to be part of, but like all other companies, I’m certain that we will have our share of new challenges and pressures as the market and our customers’ needs keep changing and evolving. Therefore, Xeikon will continue on its unwavering mission to support printers and converters with the tools they need to successfully navigate the future and grow their businesses – in labels, corrugated packaging and graphic arts.”
Scodix has made three new appointments to expand its team. Slawomir Iwanowski has joined as Global Channel Director having previously worked for various companies including HP, Xerox and Kodak. Meanwhile, Xavier Bastie is the new Sales Manager for France and all French-speaking countries and Paolo Tettamanti is the new Italian Sales Manager. Mark Nixon, EVP Sales and Marketing, stated, “Their extensive experience and knowledge of the industry will be invaluable as we continue to grow our business.”
Finally, a reminder that many journalists face more serious threats than the risk of being bored to death in a press conference. The International Federation of Journalists published its 2022 report stating that 68 media workers were killed, including 12 in Ukraine. A further 375 journalists and media workers are currently imprisoned, including 84 in China and Hong Kong. Anthony Bellanger, IFJ general secretary, noted: “The details contained in this report serve as evidence of the range of threats, actual acts of violence and the culture of impunity, which account for the enduring safety crisis in journalism.”