Experts in inkjet: Nigel Gould’s passion for chemistry and innovation

Nigel Gould’s influence and value at Fujifilm does not disappear when he retires this week as Technical Manager of our Water-based Inkjet Ink Group. His impact is so considerable that he continues to make a lasting difference. From his early days in the 1980s working on ultraviolet (UV) resins to leading the water-based group from 2018 onwards, Nigel’s legacy is a passion for chemistry, innovation, and vast technical knowledge passed to the future experts in inkjet at Fujifilm.

Accepting any chemistry challenges 

Nigel traced his enthusiasm for chemistry to a “mad scientist uncle” who spent hours talking to him about science and enchanted him with pyrotechnics as a boy. He left school to work in synthetic organic chemistry at Croda in 1977 before joining Sericol in 1987, working on UV resins for screen printing inks. Fujifilm bought Sericol in 2005. Throughout Nigel’s 35 years at Fujifilm, the chance to work on innovative technologies and to pass on his knowledge was hugely motivating. He said: “Whatever the business had on, I said yes. I accepted anything as a new challenge and chance to learn.”

Nigel Gould

Career spanned analogue to digital printing

At the start of Nigel’s career, Fujifilm’s technical team produced analogue products. Inkjet inks started taking off in the 1990s and accelerated in the early 2000s. In the 90s, as Section Head of the Screen Graphic Inks Group, Nigel and his team took on the challenge of combining the best properties of water-based and UV inks in one ink.

Conventional UV inks are based on liquid acrylate materials and oligomers that can be rapidly polymerized by exposure to ultraviolet light to give a dry film. However, the films produced were less aesthetically pleasing compared to solvent-based inks, where the presence of a volatile comment gave smoother lower film-weight prints with a high gloss.

Modifying UV formulations to include water overcame some of these limitations. When the team created Aquaspeed screen printing inks, the products produced less waste, better flexibility and more aesthetically pleasing prints for graphic arts and packaging.

Nigel said: “We learned a lot from the technology. However, water-based UVs include a volatile element, so some degree of color change during printing was inevitable. After several successful years exploiting this hybrid technology, conventional UV staged a comeback in popularity as it was much easier to use than aqueous UV.”

One of many proud innovations

In his next role as Development Manager in charge of Fujifilm’s R&D products, Nigel was asked to take on another novel chemistry challenge – investigating monomers for UV inkjet inks that would improve ink flexibility with good adhesion. Nigel ran the Enabling Technology Group in 2005 with a team of four or five scientists for about four years. They would work on Nigel’s proudest breakthrough – one that would prove his philosophy that true discovery often comes from accidents. At the time, you couldn’t achieve a fast-curing and flexible ink. Many UV inks were based on diacrylates, which were hard and fast-curing, while a monoacrylate created flexibility, but the ink cured too slowly. 

Nigel said: “One day, we thought, let’s experiment with a material we used in screen inks in the analogue world that wasn’t used in inkjet. We looked at one monomer that was slow by itself but by blending it with another monomer in certain ratios, we found we had something that was both fast and flexible. The cure speed was a real surprise, much faster than we anticipated. Creating a new monomer blend for UV inks was a real breakthrough.” 

Significant discovery of new monomer blends

Pairing monomers to create a new monomer was a considerable achievement, and the industry-leading technology continues to be crucial to Fujifilm’s UV products’ performance. What does such a success teach young chemists? Nigel said the secret is always to ask why. He also encouraged open discussion with his teams, explaining the problem and his ideas, but asking for their suggestions. He stressed the importance of a calm approach to observation, developing a theory, testing, and refining it.

Nigel added: “You also need the knowledge and experience to realize it’s an important result and not miss a fundamental breakthrough. I believe that senior, more experienced scientists, should not abandon the workbench because they’re the ones who can join the dots and think, why has it done that?”

Most successful patent

Another challenge Nigel accepted and excelled at was filing patents for the company. Four or five of the 48 patents he filed over his career came about from the monomer pairing he achieved with colleague Jeremy Ward. The colleagues received the biggest-ever patent pay-out reward for that invention, and the discovery still gives Fujifilm a competitive advantage.

Nigel said: “Those patents protected and carved out an area where we could be comfortable. Once we filed a patent, our competitors could not work easily in that area because we ringfenced that sweet spot with those monomer pairings as our intellectual property.” He compared patent filing to a game of chess where your strategy ensures you have protected everything you need to, and it’s difficult for anyone to attack. Nigel added: “When they attacked, I liked the process of argument and debate. We had never been defeated in patent opposition.”

Never stop learning

Like every other job he’d done at Fujifilm, Nigel’s characteristics of observation, curiosity, and a need to understand stood him and the business in good stead. For 35 years, he never stopped learning. With the arrival of inkjet, he added physics knowledge to chemistry to understand how fluids interacted with the printhead. From 2014-2018, Nigel worked with the Industrial Team, looking at ink chemistry for industrial UV applications. They investigated R&D curing and new applications for inkjet inks, such as printing on flooring, white goods, and the automotive sector.

Passing on the baton

Nigel has been one of the longest servers at Fujifilm’s Broadstairs facility in the UK. However, he passed the baton to many others in the company with over 20 years of experience, like Technical Manager Wendy Boyd. The last challenge Nigel accepted in 2018 was Technical Manager of R&D for the Water-based Group, which Wendy has taken over. Nigel and his team developed strong ties with their ink-making colleagues in the US and Scotland to advance pigment technology and create more sustainable products for the textile printing market.

Nigel loved sharing his knowledge, from advising colleagues to interviewing candidates for the Fujifilm sponsored degree scheme or explaining UV curing, inkjet history, and ink performance to newcomers in the Technicians’ group. Nigel said: “I was more than happy to tell everything I know to someone interested. I was there 35 years and wanted to pass things on, to contribute still after I left. I miss it, but I had achieved all I wanted and laid enough groundwork that there’s a good possibility of future breakthroughs.”

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