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Made in Valdosta: Chemical Research Technology

November 30, 2014

Valdosta Daily Times, Sunday, November 30, 2014

Stuart Taylor

VALDOSTA — Like most businesses, the ink business has found itself transformed in the last decade.

“Printing ink, about 10 years ago, I’d say, was a very good market,” said Ramesh Mulani, operations manager at Chemical Research Technology in Valdosta. “As soon as the Internet came in, it was a big downward jump. At that time, a lot of printing companies went out of business.”

Quad Graphics responded to the industry changes by going on an acquisition and consolidation campaign, picking up ink and ink-related companies that were going out of business.

When Arizona Chemical started making plans to shut down its Valdosta plant in 2013, Quad Graphics decided to buy the facility, creating CR\T.

At the time, Arizona Chemical was selling resin from its Valdosta plant to Quad Graphics.

Acquiring Arizona Chemical's resin plant was part of Quad Graphics’ desire to increase vertical integration with a supply chain QG can be hands on with, controlling the cost and the quality.

“The quality of the ink is very important for the printing press to run smoothly.”

Large scale printing presses run so fast that a batch of bad ink can lead to hundreds of thousands of wasted pages that have to be thrown out.

To get from the raw ingredients to the finished ink on the page — much like the ink you’re reading right now — requires a complicated process and three key ingredients.

“To make the ink, you need resin and varnish. The ink is formed from [combining] a pigment, the varnish we make here, and the alkyd resin we make here.”

CR\T makes two kinds of resin: alkyd resin and rosin modified phenolic resin.

“Rosin itself, you cannot make ink out of it. It’s too sticky and it has a pretty high acid rate. You need to bring the acid rate down as well as the melting point up so when it prints, it’s not sticky anymore.”

For rosin modified phenolic resin, a condensation reaction creates phenol-formaldehyde which is then modified with a rosin ester.

The rosin modified resin is quenched with ink oils before shipping it out.

Alkyd resin is created from esterification reactions between linseed and soya oils and carboxilic acids.

The finished resins are sent out, with 10 percent heading to Quad Graphics’ Illinois location and the other 90 percent loaded in rail cars and sent out to Quad Graphics’ Hartford, Conn. location.

Once it reaches its destination, the resin is mixed with pigment.

Pigment by itself can’t print; pigment doesn’t dissolve like a dye. It’s a dry particle and stays as a dry particle. To print,  you have to mix it with something and blend it in such a way that it becomes a part of it.

“Usually, if you try to mix dry pigment with anything it’ll stay lumpy. They go through the milling process and grind it all down to the point where it’s really smooth and you cannot tell if there’s pigment in there. It’s just ink.”

The Quad Graphics ink used in any given printing is 18-20 percent pigment, with the rest mostly resin varnish, and other additives.

“A lot of people in this area, they probably drive by all the time, look at this little factory and don’t know what we do. But if they go home and look at a Wal-Mart sales flyer, that’s what our product is. It went through a lot of processing before it ended up in their hands, but throughout the country, Quad Graphics being one of the largest companies in this kind of printing, about every other thing that is printed is printed by Quad Graphics.”

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