Advancing the SDGs through New Printing Processes

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An Idea Serves as the Spark for a "First-in-Japan" Technology

Kinmei Printing has been in business for over 100 years. Nowadays, their offerings are not limited to printing, but also include a variety of communication services. Kinmei Printing has promoted some of the most advanced initiatives in the industry when it comes to the environment, with their factories becoming Green Printing certified—a sign that a company has achieved certain eco-friendly standards—in 2017. In 2015, the company changed the gas dryers in their offset presses to LED-UV lamps, and in 2021, they became the first in Japan to implement the certified CO2-neutral Speedmaster CX104. President Tsukada Shiro of Kinmei Printing has this to say about the company's environmental efforts.

"I was very shocked by what I read in An Inconvenient Truth by the former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, which was published in 2006. Ever since, I've spent a lot of time thinking about what the company could do for the environment. Another reason I got to thinking about the environment was my long-time discomfort with the drying process in printing presses (offset presses), specifically the process of drying the ink with hot air after printing. What happens is that the machines use a lot of gas to produce hot air. This makes the factory very hot, which then means the air conditioners have to burn through a lot of electricity to cool down the factory. Plus there's the fact that the factories just get very hot in the summer—I didn't like that either. So what we came up with was the idea to dry the ink with high-powered lamps instead of these heat set dryers. To do this, we asked the president of an American lamp manufacturer to develop a more high-powered LED UV lamp for us. After that, we went to the American printing press manufacturer Goss International with our idea, and set up an agreement with them. This allowed us to modify our offset presses, and in 2015, we became the first company in the world to use LED-UV lamps to dry ink in a offset press."

Kinmei Printing became the first in the world to implement LED-UV technology in a offset press. Photo: courtesy of Kinmei Printing

Next-Generation, Eco-Friendly Printing Press Garners Worldwide Attention

An idea by President Tsukada led to the development of a next-generation printing press that would make great strides towards reducing the environmental impact of the printing process. The benefits of implementing this sort of printing press, Tsukada says, are as follows.

"First, it 100 percent eliminates the need for the gas required to run a conventional offset press. It also reduces electricity consumption by 40 percent, which in turn dramatically reduces CO2 emissions. And because the ink used is UV ink, we're able to reduce 100 percent of the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) used by typical oil-based inks. Our initiatives, including this LED UV drying system installed on the Goss M600 web offset press, got us a lot of attention at 'drupa,' the industry's largest printing technology exhibition, which was held in Germany in 2016."

Various Eco-Friendly Initiatives, Including a Highly Recyclable Advanced Coating

Kinmei Printing's efforts to reduce their environmental impact are not limited to the implementation of this next-generation printing press. Some of the company's other advanced environmental initiatives include the development of processless plates—which earned the company the KODAK SONORA Plate Green Leaf Award (recognizing outstanding companies worldwide that are committed to sustainable printing)—and water-based varnishing, a new environmentally friendly method of surface treatment.

"The conventional printing process requires the use of an automatic processor. Having to dispose of the solution and cleaning water used in the processor increases, of course, the environmental impact of the process. So what we did was we implemented the use of processless plates—which don't have to be put through an automatic processor—in all of our factories, and reduced the waste created by this solution and cleaning water by 100 percent.

The offset presses we use are also capable of environmentally friendly water-based varnishing. This method of surface treatment is low cost and highly recyclable compared to PP processing (film coating). We've used these advantages to sell this method of surface treatment to major book publishers for their paperback book covers."

Plaque for the KODAK SONORA Plate Green Leaf Award, and certificate of registration as Green Printing (GP) factories.

Promoting Diversity in Human Resources, from Elderly Personnel to Foreign Technical Intern Trainees

Another important element in working towards the SDGs and ESGs is diversity in human resources.

Kinmei Printing has established systems in their factories that allow them to incorporate a wide variety of human resources, from elderly operators to foreign technical intern trainees.

"The Heidelberg Speedmaster CX104 we implemented in 2021 is equipped with AI-based automatic-operation technology. Conventional printing presses have certain operations that require physical strength and skill. But the automation of the plate changing and quality control processes has eliminated the need for these operations, meaning seniors and women are able to easily operate them as well. We've also brought in three Filipino technical training intern trainees at our factories. The three interns who worked with us went back to the Philippines this June. They were very thankful, telling us how helpful it'd been to be able to send money back home, since their family hadn't been able to work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that one of the intern's two younger brothers had been able to enter university due to the money that had been sent home. Hearing that made me very happy. It's my hope that we will be able to alleviate issues of poverty in other countries, even if just slightly."

A Sustainable Company Leads to a Sustainable Planet

Finally, what are President Tsukuda's thoughts on the future of Kinmei Printing and the SDG initiatives of small- and medium-sized enterprises?

"With how difficult it has become to obtain various resources, figuring out how the printing industry can reduce its environmental impact has become a matter of urgent concern. There's also the fact that Japanese customers expect a very high level of quality. What's difficult is figuring out how to reduce the environmental impact of our printing technologies (digital printing) and processes as much as possible, while still fulfilling these quality standards. We have to make moves to be more eco-friendly, even if very gradually, by providing our services and solutions in digital media—for instance, video production—instead of on paper media.

Here at Kinmei Printing, we've been able to reduce our electricity consumption by about 20 percent compared to 2013. Nowadays, we're also considering the installation of solar panels on the roofs of our factories, so that a portion of our electricity consumption can be covered by green energy. There's no doubt that small- and medium-sized enterprises must undertake more environmental initiatives. But of course, you first have to establish sustainability within your company before you can consider the sustainability of the planet as a whole.

We'll have to keep in mind the advancements in decoupling, reevaluating our traditional business practices through the lens of modern technology and resource efficiency. Doing so will allow us to meet the rapidly changing needs of society and our customers. I also believe that this will help us achieve sustainability in our businesses in a way that is connected to the SDGs."

Tsukada Shiro, Kinmei Printing Co., Ltd.

Kinmei Printing Co., Ltd.

President & Representative Director: Tsukada Shiro
Official Website:
*Japanese language site
Translation by Amitt

*This article was originally published on "Tokyo Sustainable Navi." (October 20, 2022)