"UV light is and will remain indispensable"

An interview with IST Metz

Frankfurt, (PresseBox) - Within four decades, IST METZ GmbH with headquarters at Nürtingen has matured and developed into the world market leader for UV systems. Since 2015, Christian Metz, the grandson of company founder Gerhard Metz, has been at the helm of the group consisting of 13 companies. In this interview, he explains the importance of the printing industry for the company, the co-existence of UV lamps, UV-LED and alternative drying methods, a big in-house trade fair in May and the strategic orientation of this group of companies.

Mr. Metz, could you please briefly introduce IST Metz?

Christian Metz: My grandfather established the company in 1977 under the name “Impuls-Strahlungs-Trocknung – IST” which, since then, has grown into a group of 13 companies all over the world. We have 500 members of staff and our most recent total group turnover amounted to 73 million Euro. My grandfather initiated internationalisation very early and drove growth forward by take-overs and spin-offs. Now, IST Metz has the most comprehensive portfolio of UV systems based on lamps and LEDs worldwide. We are the market leader.

Your grandfather pursued global growth. Where do you see growth potential?

Metz: We are global. We generate approximately 85 percent of our sales abroad, more than half of these in countries outside Europe. Now the aim is further diversification of the target markets. In addition to being used for analogue label and packaging printing, our systems are in demand in inkjet printing. Furthermore, we supply UV technology for drinking water disinfection, coating and bonding technology. They are being applied in automobile manufacturing as well as in the household appliances and display sector. There are hundreds of applications for UV light.

What`s the share of the traditional printing company applications in your total sales?

Metz: About half of them. I think that we should have a close look despite all consolidation. It`s not clear whether high gloss prospectuses have a big future. However, I see long-term growth potential in packaging and commercial printing.

The same applies to the UV world with the crucial question: UV lamp or UV-LED?

Metz: This discussion is more objective again. Lamps and LEDs have specific advantages and disadvantages. We help our customers to analyse the total cost of ownership (TCO) and to select the right technology considering the concrete requirements in specific applications. Broadly speaking, the UV lamp provides much power for little money, and there is a broadband spectrum. The LED, on the other hand, can be switched more quickly, can be dimmed, has a long service life and the well-known energy efficiency.

What is the role of your UV transfer centre in all of this?

Metz: We founded it in 2002 for the transfer of knowledge to potential and existing customers. It’s the place where we inform about the specific advantages of UV lamps and UV-LED – and where we can demonstrate them with our equipment. On request, we can also conduct practical test series.

To which extent have the light sources become exchangeable?

Metz: At drupa, we presented the UV Hot Swap System. On the stage, we switched from lamp to LED live. The peripheral equipment, i.e., ballast, cooling and control technology, remain the same. That`s not to say that the printing companies now swap the light sources continuously. We rather wish to create a secure future for investments. Anyone who purchases systems with UV lamps now can switch whenever necessity arises. For instance, when dimmable, fast switchable light is required for orders or where the legislator urges for the use of LED technology.

Is the drying technology needed for digital printing different from that of analogue printing?

Metz: We see that the manufacturers of inkjet systems show openness towards UV-LEDs, but they also use infrared systems for drying. The infrared and thermal technology has somehow got out of sight – but it`s by no means a technology that has run its course. We rather see something of a renaissance. A large variety of drying technologies are needed in order to cover the processes in all industries. Our new slogan “Energy in Light” says it all: It`s not the wavelength that counts. It`s the right portion of energy at the right place and time.

Do digitization and the trend towards 3D processing take effect in the UV sector?

Metz: Our ray tracing technology enables to calculate and optimize the efficiency of a unit, the homogeneity of radiation and the distance characteristics. Using ray tracing and thermosimulation, we can considerably shorten development times. With our UV-LED systems, digitization is standard. The LEDs on an array can be individually controlled, depending on where light is needed on the substrate. Of course, we also focus on 3D printing methods in which UV curing is important.

How important is cooperation with research institutions and users?

Metz: It`s absolutely indispensable. Our drying systems are embedded into systems whose manufacturers are our cooperation partners. They dry and cure coatings and plastics coordinated between us and their manufacturers. And we need to know the wishes and requirements of the end customers who use our systems in their devices. In order to foster dialogue, we regularly organize in-house events. At our UV Days from 15-18 May 2017, we expect to welcome 40 exhibitors and more than 1000 expert visitors from more than 30 countries.

So, it`s clear where you are going until May. What do you see when you look ahead to the year 2030?

Metz: By then, things will have calmed down in the printing sector. There will be a division of work between offset, flexographic and other analogue methods on the one hand and digital printing methods on the other hand. Being well informed, customers will choose the drying and curing technology that is suited for them. We will have a strong basis in printing machinery manufacturing. However, our UV systems can also be used in two to three dozen applications in other industries. UV light is indispensable in many industrial processes. It will most certainly not go out.

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