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Excellence in scaling-up water-based inkjet inks

The laser-focused delivery of high-quality products is one of the ways we excel in scaling up water-based inkjet inks from research into commercial manufacturing, explains process technology manager Sanjay Shah, who leads our process technology and development team.  

“Quality, specifically consistent quality, is number one. Customers need it, so it is always my focus”, says Sanjay Shah, Process Technology Manager

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Each ink is a unique product used for a particular application, whether printing commercial textiles or packaging materials. We focus our approach to water-based inkjet ink design for manufacturing on the high quality our OEM customers seek.  

Consistent high-quality inkjet ink 

Consistency in quality comes first, with safety and achieving more process efficiency. So, step one is working with the research teams to understand the formulation, process, and application and how the factory can handle it. Then we design the product to meet the customer’s requirements. It involves design experiments and studies into different raw materials or chemicals with unique characteristics requiring special handling.  

We ensure repeatability – our ability to make a product of a similar quality every time – through intense checks and verification of the suitable raw materials in the correct amount per recipe and in the proper order. Repeatability provides valuable data for gauging repeatability, reproducibility (R&R), and specification settings for new products. Focusing on R&R ensures quality will follow. 

Looking at ink sustainability 

We aim to create products that are always ahead of the market, such as environmentally safe products with a reduced carbon footprint. For example, our USA site produces aqueous inkjet inks. They are water-based, safer and greener products. In addition, we work with our customers to make them aware of green products, and we’re always looking to identify sustainable materials. 

We work as a project team with other colleagues in USA, UK, and Japan for the project’s benefit. Once the formulation chemists have researched and invented an aqueous ink product, and the results look great, it goes to New Castle in Delaware, USA, to be made scalable at a manufacturing and commercial level. 

Customers’ needs are our priority  

There is a lot of customer involvement in giving the product shape and ensuring we can launch it without any issues. By interacting with customers, we develop a dedicated product that meets their needs. Then, we show how the final product will look and share the data and results with them and our research team. The customer will run the ink as a trial. If the test is successful, it will become scalable on a plant.  

Communication is another key to our success – exchanging information and data with groups and constantly updating projects, plans, milestones, and progress. But you need a deep understanding of chemistry to give the product definition. 

Efficient inkjet ink scale-up 

Incompatibility is a challenge you might face when scaling up. For example, the final inkjet must be mixed and filtered correctly to work on the machine. It means every product we scale up requires the engineering team regarding the mechanical parts we need, efficient process flow, and the requirements around packing it. For example, some products might need a sanitization stage for microbiological control. Our inkjet expertise allows us to scale-up efficiently, overcoming any potential challenges. 

Enabling contract manufacturing for our customers means taking a product they have designed and partnering with them to scale it to large production. The process requires a lot of engineering and process chemistry to prepare the ink for launch on a manufacturing platform. We find the root cause of any issue and work with the customer and our teams to resolve it. For example, we work with quality assurance and other groups where we collect statistical data to ensure there is no deviation and, if there is, what we need to bring it back under control. By taking detailed process notes, we can present accurate data to obtain similar quality results each time, giving us confidence that what we deliver to customers satisfies their expectations. 

Inkjet manufacturing and security of supply 

Another key point is the access to the manufacturing resources we need to give security of supply to customers. Fujifilm heavily invested in the USA manufacturing capabilities for inkjet pigment dispersions and ink, showing the company’s commitment to North America and our global customer base, to accelerate their success in inkjet. We brought the technology from the UK to the USA for the design. In addition, we assured customers that there would be no compromise on the quality of the product made or their smooth supply.  

Then, when a product goes down to the factory, the team sees how their work is appreciated, providing great satisfaction. The Fujifilm team is like my family. It’s a joy working with them and having the freedom to do different things that benefit our customers and company.