How long does it take to develop a new ink and what process do you follow?
To develop a new coding and marking ink can take between 12 and 18 months depending on how complex the formulation is. It can take up to 24 months to develop our digital printing inks as we need to develop seven colours simultaneously.
"Domino’s product creation process begins with understanding our customers and their needs. Once we have established an understanding of what the customer needs from their ink and we understand the substrate that is being printed, we can then assess the technical requirements. An example being an ink that is only visible under UV for traceability purposes."
Josie Harries - Ink Development Technology Manager
The first step is a feasibility study, where we investigate creative solutions to the technical challenges the project poses - this results in the delivery of a proof of concept design. The next step is to optimise this proof of concept formulation to ensure performance both on the surfaces that need to be printed and within the printing system. We achieve this by testing against rigorous design standards as well as engaging with designed experiments to help us understand the boundary conditions of our products. We obtain some relevant product samples from our customers which we use to test the performance of the new ink designs so we can demonstrate that they should be suitable for use in their intended applications. We also trial our new ink formulations at some of our customer sites to ensure that the assumptions we make during our laboratory testing work in a real-world production environment.
The final step in the process is the transfer of the design to manufacture; this is achieved through close collaboration with our Operations teams. Last year we opened a new state-of-the-art fluids manufacturing facility in Liverpool to help us meet customers’ rapidly changing requirements. It is wonderful to be able to transfer our designs into these new facilities.
The reason it can take nearly two years to develop ink is because we follow a rigorous product development process to ensure that we deliver high-quality products. Using high-tech equipment at our Cambridge Headquarters, we can determine how the inks perform in our printers confirming product reliability. We then assess if we can efficiently manufacture the new designs to meet the product delivery requirements of our customers.
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How do you ensure Domino inks are suitable for food packaging and meet the legal and regulatory standards facing customers?
As an active member of EuPIA (European Printing Inks Association), Domino follows the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards related to food packaging inks. EuPIA GMP not only complies with European Union food consumer safety laws, but it was also written with reference to ISO9000 and ISO22000 standards.
As part of our ink development process, we perform checks to ensure that the materials selected are suitable for use in the intended application in the country in which they are to be sold. As an example, for inks to be sold in Europe, all our designs meet the standards outlined by the European Chemicals Agency in its REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals) regulation.
We also offer products which are compliant for use in other sectors, for example, we have inks suitable for coding electronic components which meet the RoHS-compliance (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) standards.
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How do customer needs influence Domino’s inks development?
Understanding how our customers may use our products is fundamental in the development of the right product. Along with the product development knowledge our ink formulators have, our in-house analytical team studies the materials or packaging our customers want to mark and using a variety of techniques understand how different inks may interact with them.
Our proximity to, and history with, Cambridge University, helps us to stay ahead of ink trends and developments. Over the years, we have run several collaborations with different functions in the University which has grown our fundamental knowledge of the science behind inkjet inks.
We are always looking at innovative ways of developing our inks more efficiently and effectively. Right now, we’re looking for opportunities to automate various parts of the ink development process from performing measurements on formulations to mixing test inks. By removing the manual element, our Chemists have the time to investigate new technologies, novel materials, and innovative approaches to develop products for our customers’ current and future needs.