The Fespa show in Hamburg last week brought together a huge lineup of players. They came from all parts of the sign and display business, including digital wide format and screen printing technology providers and users. The textile printing system makers and buyers were also out in force, keen to see a surging number of digital textile production systems for soft signage. The cohort included other textile production options for both roll to roll fabric printing and garments. There was even packaging and label printing equipment on show, plus a huge number of companies offering materials, components and inks. But very few exhibitors were shouting about their environmental credentials and the topic was mostly absent from the Fespa conference and seminar sessions.
This was odd but it’s an indicator of how far environmental awareness has progressed. People didn’t focus specifically on the environment, and yet environmental drivers were present everywhere. The graphics industry seems to have matured to a level of awareness that health, safety and the environment are no longer a topic in isolation. Sustainability concerns and benefits such as the control of waste and process efficiency, are routinely referenced in manufacturers’ literature and in their sales patter. In addition to the features and capabilities of new technologies, invariably developers talk about minimising waste and lowering energy emissions. Agfa for instance showed its new Avinci DX 3200 3.2m dye sublimaton textile printer for soft signage applications, producing signs which are lighter and easier to transport and reuse. Canon’s new Colorado 1640 UV gel injket printer works with over one hundred Greenguard certified media and Canon claims it uses 40% less ink than “other technologies”.
But the prize for the most dramatic health and safety demonstration has to go to HP. Visitors were invited to suit up in lab coats and to play chemists for a little while. Using pipettes they could sample three different magenta inks, dropping the contents onto little polystyrene hearts. The three ink types were solvent, ecosolvent and HP latex. The results for solvent were particularly gruesome and for ecosolvent marginally less so. Latex ink, which is water based and contains no Hazardous Air Pollutants, had no effect on the polystyrene at all. It just turned the little hearts a lovely shade of pink. In gory contrast, a heart with a full pipette’s worth of solvent ink turned into a congealed mass of darkened toxic bubbles within a short time. This hands on messing about with pipettes and ink was a powerful demonstration of what solvents do to human lungs and other surfaces.
Despite the commercial and application attractions of solvent inks, tightening controls over VOCs and air quality requirements are absolutely to be supported. Developers must continue to work hard to come up with chemistries that get solvents out of the production equation. Even though they still play a dominant role in the graphics industry, let’s hope that alternatives come along sooner rather than later.
– Laurel Brunner