A colorful, virtuous circle

In the country of birth of Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, Epple Druckfarben AG has perfected the production of high-quality printing inks. For 150 years, the family business from Bavaria has been supplying customers with printing inks that breathe life into books, magazines, packaging, and posters. Among them the diagram magazine from Bühler, the result of a unique relationship between suppliers, producers, and customers.

The Bühler three-roll mills, at the headquarters of Epple Druckfarben AG in Neusäss near Augsburg, Bavaria, efficiently and evenly disperse pigments into endless, almost hypnotic streams of color.

The fascinating thing here is that only four basic colors are produced: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK for short). The “K” actually stands for the term “key plate”, which is used to align the cyan, magenta, and yellow color-printing plates. It is these four basic colors which theoretically enable the creation of around four billion color tones that form the foundation of what Epple calls, the “essence of passion” – its company motto. 

These colors bring beauty to art, books, calendars, magazines, and even the eye-catching packaging of goods and foodstuffs. “We produce around 10,000 tons of printing ink a year and deliver to all continents,” explains Dr. Carl Epple, member of the Executive Board who is responsible for development and innovation at the company. Some of this ink goes to Switzerland, or more precisely to the galledia group ag publishing house in Flawil, just minutes from the Bühler headquarters.

This in itself would be rather unspectacular if it weren’t for the fact that galledia group prints the diagram magazine for Bühler, which in turn supplies Epple with process solutions for the production of the printing inks. But more about that later.

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Delivering high quality inks

Commercial printing houses across the world must be able to rely on the highest, flawless quality of inks at all times. Thanks to its investment in automation and equipment, Epple fulfills this quality commitment across the board. Emil Schrötter, Process Engineer at Epple, explains what’s needed to achieve success. “We have four fully automated, fully integrated production lines, consisting of component pre-weighing and pre-dispersion, a Bühler K240 bead mill and Bühler SDVE-1300 three-roll mill. This enables us to achieve optimum pigment fineness right from the start,” says Schrötter.

For comparison, in other competing companies that do not have this type of production line, the product passes through the mills up to four times to achieve such fineness, and this entails a massive expenditure of time and money. “Thanks to our ultra modern industrial production process, we have automatic production on four lines managed by one person only,” Schrötter explains. This is a level of efficiency and reliability that Epple also owes to its constant drive for improvement.

“We appreciate not only the geographical proximity to Bühler, which always guarantees fast support when problems arise, but especially the joint drive for innovation,” Dr. Epple explains. “We have been working with Bühler for over 40 years and we frequently test new developments in industrial environments. Just recently, we tested a novel form of Bühler bead mill technology which has now been launched on the market.”

We appreciate not only the geographical proximity to Bühler, which always guarantees fast support when problems arise, but especially the joint drive for innovation.

Dr. Carl Epple , Member of the Executive Board at Epple Druckfarben AG

Show your colors

In the Epple laboratory, Dr. Vroni Walter, Head of Research and Development at Epple, is focusing on a complex chemical pigment structure. Meanwhile, next door, on a Bühler SDY-200 laboratory three-roll mill, pigments combine unstoppably to form a red color. Epple is researching new formulations, properties, and above all, more sustainable production of printing inks.

In addition to commercial printing, such as magazines, the importance of printing inks for food packaging has increased substantially

Dr. Vroni Walter, Head of Research and Development at Epple

“In addition to commercial printing, such as magazines, the importance of printing inks for food packaging has increased substantially. This has been accompanied by an increased demand for more sustainable packaging and corresponding inks, especially since consumers are no longer just paying attention to what they eat, but also to the way food is packaged,” Dr. Walter explains. The Doctor of Chemistry appreciates her technically advanced development environment. “To test new composites quickly and reliably before moving into industrial production, we have a miniature version of a Bühler three-roll mill as well as a K8 bead mill in the laboratory,” she says.

Miniature versions for maximum quality

For Mark Traber, Director of Global Sales of Bühler Grinding & Dispersing, this is a very exciting project. “The design of an efficient process solution starts in the lab. We simulated the production lines beforehand on a laboratory scale using dispersion technology for the smallest quantities,” he explains. “In addition to the quality of the color, we were able to demonstrate that the quality characteristics achieved can be reliably scaled up for a large-volume production. This enables Epple to bring new product developments to the market in the quickest possible time in the required quantities, and at target costs. Compared to conventional manual production, this is a serious quantum leap.”

A magazine with symbolic character

In Flawil in Switzerland, less than 10 minutes by car from Bühler in Uzwil, the printing presses are running at full speed. Three hundred print sheets per minute of the Diagram magazine come shooting out of the 24-meter-long Heidelberg XL106-10 printing system at a staggering speed. This is where stories come to life, where cyan, magenta, and yellow unfold their colorful diversity – as well as giving an unmatched finish to the latest issue of Diagram.

“We use around 28 tons of printing ink every year and we need to be able to rely on perfect color quality at all times. Fortunately, with Epple we have a supplier we can trust 100 percent,” explains Daniel Ettlinger, CEO of galledia group ag. “The fact that the printing inks are produced on Bühler systems and that the Diagram magazine continues to complete one exciting virtuous circle after the other between the three companies, is more than just a great anecdote for us. It represents the commitment of Bühler, Epple, and galledia to quality, trust, sustainability, and innovation.” 

Perpetual motion

Exactly 6.6 kilometers away, Mark Traber focuses on a color smear at the Grinding & Dispersing Application Center in Uzwil. Traber studies color samples and discusses particle size and gloss properties with his colleague, Frank Tabellion, Head of Process Technology and Product Management. “This is where we begin the new cycle in cooperation with customers like Epple. Each process optimization is geared to customers’ concerns and requirements. All parties involved will only remain competitive if we listen to them closely, develop solutions together and then test them in the industrial environment,” explains Traber.

Despite all the pressure in the industry, Traber enjoys those moments when he browses through a publication produced with this unique cycle. He draws a clear conclusion: “The developments in terms of sustainable raw materials, efficient production and transparency make me very confident about the future of the printing industry. As in every business sector, we always need to remain agile, recognize trends early on and provide appropriate solutions.” In the future, too, it will be the inexorable drive for innovation on the part of all of those involved that will continue to drive this invisible virtuous circle dynamic. Everyone is striving to be one shade more subtle, one roller revolution faster, and one color intensity more intense – from the supplier, to the producer, to the end customer, and back again.

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