2 plants may not be enough
As Fujifilm celebrated the opening of the first of its two new ink manufacturing plants in Delaware on Thursday, its chairman said Friday he might need more.
“There may not be enough capacity,” said Ian Wilkinson. “So we have to think about what we do next.”
Its 20-acre New Castle site will house Fujifilm Imaging Colorants Inc.’s first dispersion ink manufacturing facility in the United States. The $19 million investment will create more than 21 new professional, management, engineering and skilled labor jobs, in addition to its current 90.
Jobs is rooted in the science of producing water-based digital inks, which allow printers much more flexibility in product usage. They are intended for heavy commercial work.
Analog printing, Wilkerson said, typically requires a large order to make it worthwhile to set up. But digital inks allow companies to specialize by item.
This means a printer can put a person’s name on a single pair of new sneakers or modify food packaging to include symbols related to a specific geographic area to attract shoppers to a store, a- he declared.
Although the commercial printing process may be the same as that used in a home printer, the size of the machines and the quantities of ink required are enormous.
Wilkerson brandishes an office printer cartridge he had just changed.
“You have like five milliliters of ink in there, maybe, and it costs you $40, $50 or something,” he said. “Here at this facility, our water-based ink capacity is equivalent to eight Olympic swimming pools.”
Many people over 40 may think of Fuji as a film company that sold rolls of film or single-use cameras, competing with Kodak at the time.
Now, Wilkerson said, it’s a multi-faceted business with its biggest source of revenue coming from the medical sector.
When it became apparent in the 1990s that digital cameras were going to take over the photography industry, Fuji decided to leverage its core competency in imaging and imaging technology, said Wilkerson.
In the medical sector, it sells, among other things, magnetic resonance imaging devices.
Fujifilm entered the inkjet business in 2005, Wilkerson said.
Until now, the pigments used in Fujifilm’s water-based inks were made only in Scotland and had to be shipped worldwide from there. Oil-based inks are made in other places using other types of specialized equipment, he said.
Having factories in Delaware provides the company with many advantages, Wilkerson said.
The new investment allows them to shorten supply chains and save money on freight while increasing the sustainability of the business, he said.
Fujifilm will manufacture its own concentrate, then pump it to its own factory a few meters away. This makes it easier and faster for the company to ship to the United States and Latin America.
“So we needed volume because things are going very well,” he said. “But we also needed geography.”
Wilkerson said the company considered multiple sites for its ink plant, but moved to Delaware after finding local officials who were cooperative, business-friendly and happy to add skilled jobs.
The 8,100 square foot factory is in addition to the 40,000 square feet of manufacturing space currently occupied by Fujifilm at the site, which employs 90 people.
The building currently under construction will add an additional 11,000 square feet. The opening is scheduled for March.
Like other companies, Wilkerson said hiring has been slower than it would have been three years ago, but he expects no problems filling the 21 new jobs.
It’s also happy to say that Fujifilm is now experiencing something of a full circle moment.
While most people stopped using cameras in favor of their smartphones in the early 2000s, some young people stopped using phone cameras in favor of cameras that worked like Polaroids.
They take a picture and a small square of emulsion-covered paper pops out. When the ink self-develops, there is a photo. People stick them on the walls as part of the decor, he said.
As this trend spread in popularity, Fujifilm bought the Instax company and is once again manufacturing cameras and photo film.
“Fujifilm is constantly evolving,” Wilkerson said. “So even in an area that has almost disappeared, it comes back again. It’s a more diverse business than people realize.
Wilkerson said the global ink market is probably not growing, but changing.
One example of change, he said, is newspapers, which are losing circulation and moving to digital sites.
He thinks Fujifilm is well positioned because of its high quality inks and patented technology. and expects it to expand.
Wilkerson said he’s not sure the company wants to expand at its current site in New Castle, which it has owned since 2006. Part of the property is forested with obvious wildlife and the company wouldn’t want to. not lose that, he said.
In the meantime, he would like Delawares to get more familiar with the business.
To this end, Fujifilm has asked its team to be the company’s ambassadors. They participate in public events, such as river cleanups, and on Saturday Wilkerson heads to the Delaware Art Museum to take part in its Beyond Juneteenth Egungun Festival, of which Fujifilm is a key sponsor.
“We want to become more active in the community and we need people to come and work for us,” Wilkerson said. “So we are looking for opportunities to support the community.”
Betsy Price is a freelance writer from Wilmington with 40 years of experience, including 15 at the News Journal in Delaware.