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The search for alternatives – replacement of listed raw materials

The reasons for innovation in the printing inks sector can vary. In addition to customer requirements, regulatory standards have instigated the search for new formulations with increasing frequency. If this reduces the selection of suitable raw materials, development departments face particular challenges. In January 2014 for example, the monomer N-vinyl caprolactam (NVC) was toxicologically re-classified according to the European Chemicals Regulation REACH. As a consequence, the raw material was also re-classified according to the exclusion criteria of EuPIA.

Therefore the printing ink industry in Europe was faced with the challenge of finding a substitute for NVC for all the products concerned. The monomer was previously used as a reactive diluent in UV-curing varnishes, printing inks and adhesives as well as a syntheses building block for paper coatings. It was a commonly used component especially for opaque white and screen printing inks as well as for UV inks for inkjet printing. Due to its low volatility NVC was even used as an alternative substance to replace N-vinyl pyrrolidone for reasons of better health protection.

Consequent conversion

Due to the re-classification of NVC, the printing inks industry was again called upon to develop modified products. The company Zeller+Gmelin, a specialized UV-curing printing inks manufacturer, started to eliminate the component NVC from all its affected ink series immediately after the announcement of the new classification. "We attached very high importance to this issue in our development department," explains Marcus Ruckstädter, Sales Director at the printing ink manufacturer from Eislingen. "Therefore, we were already able to offer NVC-free printing ink systems well before the required due date." EuPIA had prompted its member companies in the spirit of the responsibility towards employees, clients and final customers to replace NVC-based printing inks with products which do not contain the substance by October 31st, 2014.

For the replacement of individual raw materials in printing inks by alternative substances, usually a time frame of six months is considered sufficient. However in this case EuPIA had exceptionally extended the deadline to twelve months as for NVC no technically comparable replacement was available on the market. For the manufacturers of printing inks it meant an enormous challenge to find alternative formulations for all the affected printing inks and varnishes. Zeller+Gmelin have successfully met this high development effort and in June 2014 the printing ink manufacturer could offer a product portfolio completely free of NVC. All types of opaque white and the newly developed ink series OPTISCREEN SR for rotary screen printing no longer contain any NVC.

Know-how and modern technology support the search for alternative raw materials
In order to meet the aforementioned responsibility towards employees, clients and final customers, Zeller+Gmelin had already extended their department for analysis to a well-equipped analytic centre years ago. It performs important tasks in the selection and testing of raw materials as well as in the development of low-migration printing inks. The analytic centre also provided a significant contribution to the formulation of NVC-free ink series due to the many years of experience of the qualified specialist personnel and the modern technical equipment.

Regulation on the protection of human health and the environment
The objective of the European Chemicals Regulation REACH is to ensure a high level of protection of human health and the environment. The acronym "REACH" refers to the English title of the regulation: Regulation concerning the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals. According to the regulation, which has been applicable since 2007, manufacturers, importers and downstream users must register the chemicals used at the European Chemicals Agency ECHA. Selected materials are assessed by the authorities and asigned a hazard rating. Substances of very high concern are subject to an authorisation procedure. As a further possibility of regulation, REACH provides for the instrument of restriction. At the same time the regulation is to designed to ensure the free circulation of chemicals on the domestic market and to support competitiveness and innovation. It is based on the principle that the companies concerned in the production chain take over the responsibility for their chemicals: They must ensure that the chemicals they produce and put into circulation are used safely. Amongst other things, this is governed by provisions for sharing of information in the supply chain and supplemented by rights to information for consumers.

Voluntary commitment to health protection
Based on considerations on health protection and product safety, in 1996 the printing ink industry in Europe engaged to exclude the use of certain raw materials for the formulation of printing inks and related products. For this purpose, selection criteria and a list of restricted materials have been developed by the European organisation EuPIA (European Printing Ink Association). Although the EuPIA exclusion list is a recommendation with no binding legal force, it has the full support of all printing ink manufacturers in the European Association. Producers of printing inks that are not members of EuPIA are also encouraged to apply the criteria of the exclusion list. Also, the exclusion list is widely accepted by the companies of the branded goods industry and by retailers.