Pointing to the significant operational and enabling benefits of the process, suppliers of ultraviolet (UV) and electron beam (EB) technology are bullish on near-term growth prospects, according to the RadTech, biennial surveyNorth American Market Update. Survey respondents, including over 80 industry suppliers and end users, project market growth of 6 to 9 percent each year over the next three years.

UV and EB are high-value, rapid-throughput processes offering lower energy consumption and the virtual elimination of emissions compared with traditional methods — providing manufacturers with a safe, fast and efficient pollution-prevention technology. As a result, the industry continues to grow at over twice the rate of traditional processes.

The survey is conducted every two years, with respondents reporting growth of UV- and EB-formulated product usage up over 8 percent during the two-year period 2000 and 2001, to just over 77,000 metric tons. During much of that period, the U.S. manufacturing sector was in decline, leading up to September 11, when the U.S. economy fell into a broad recessionary climate. Survey respondents suggest that the moderation in growth of UV/EB from previous double-digit levels reflects overall weakening economic conditions, rather than any lessening in enthusiasm for the technology.

Respondents Identify Double-Digit Growth Areas

“There are a number of applications where UV/EB is establishing a foothold, and industry penetration is expected to grow significantly,” explains James Reese, of DSM Desotech, Elgin, Ill., and RadTech president. “Survey results point to a diverse list covering a wide range of techniques and substrates, including digital printing, rapid prototyping, adhesives, automotive and food packaging.” In total, survey respondents identify 23 distinct applications where they expect double-digit growth for the technology.

While these areas are expected to help propel growth, most UV and EB usage is in well-established applications. Survey respondents identify 14 industries where the share of UV or EB already accounts for between one-third to nearly 100 percent of industry processes — including fiber optics, the manufacture of CDs and DVDs, premium packaging, screen printing, tag and label, premium no-wax flooring, automotive headlamps, and composite wood fillers.

“Whether it is a well-established operation or a new application, value is the key reason companies turn to UV or EB,” says David Diehl of PPG Industries, Allison Park, Pa., and incoming president of RadTech. “UV and EB are fast, automated processes that contribute to the bottom line by greatly increasing productivity, reducing scrap and waste, and lowering inventories. While past surveys indicate that pollution-prevention and environmental-compliance issues had been motivators in the use of the technology, the current results spotlight speed and process simplification as the drivers for industry growth.”

Advances Include Lower Costs, Better Materials

As UV/EB continue to grow, suppliers are expanding their operations, new companies are entering the field and economies of scale have improved. This trend is reflected in the “top recent industry advances,” reported by survey respondents, including lower costs and better materials.

The survey also asked about the most important limitations to adopting UV/EB technology, with most responses focusing on a basic theme — the industry still has a big job to do to educate potential customers. Suggestions for overcoming this hurdle include providing potential users better information about capital-equipment-cost justification for the process; data on “applied” costs, rather than just material costs of per gallon or per pound (for formulations); and accurate information about how the health and safety characteristics of UV and EB generally compare favorably with traditional processes.

Looking down the road over the next five years, survey respondents were asked to project applications that are now in their early stages of development and have the greatest probability of widespread success for UV/EB application by 2007. The top four responses include coatings for plastics, impactless printing (ink jet, digital printing), wide-web flexo and pressure sensitive adhesives.

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RadTech is a nonprofit trade association dedicated to the technical, educational and market advancement of ultraviolet and electron-beam processes. RadTech has over 800 members that supply and use the technology. For more information on the study, contact RadTech, 6935 Wisconsin Ave., Suite 207, Chevy Chase, MD 20815; phone 240-497-1242; e-mailuveb@radtech.org.