The SIHL Group is a leading producer of printable media within the fast-growing global market for digital printing with locations in Switzerland, Germany and the USA. Its range of products include films, papers, and specialty materials for inkjet, solvent, UV curable, latex and toner-receptive wide format plotters, printers, and presses. With a rich history dating back to 1478, SIHL has become a champion in its field today. The company prides itself on its sustainable production processes, and to know more about this, we met Patrick Le Galudec, who is the Sales Director- Asia Pacific at SIHL. Here are some of the insights we derived from him:
Tell us something about SIHL and its vision? How long has the company been into existence?
SIHL is a Swiss-owned company with a long history dating back to the middle ages, when we started off as a paper manufacturer. For the past 15 years, SIHL has been into coating and is dedicated to inkjet and digital technology. It is transforming the way coating is done on paper, films, non woven, and all other sorts of materials. We ensure best imaging and best performance with inkjet technologies. The beauty of inkjet is that it is a non contact technology and it can apply colour or special features on almost any surface, provided the surface is treated to match perfectly with the inks. Our focus is on preparing the media so that it best matches with the inks.
SIHL is greatly focused on sustainable materials and processes. Please shed some more light on this.
SIHL is committed to environmental standards and we have invested heavily into using recyclable and renewable resources, which include paper and paper fibre based materials. These materials are treated to emulate and replace plastics or plastic based non renewable materials. Our materials are recyclable and disposable in a way that they are least damaging to the environment.
Plastic based signage materials, especially PVC, is widely used due to its strength and durability. How do you ensure that your products can compete with PVC?
PVC has a lot of properties and advantages but it can still be replaced. We at SIHL are promoting two types of materials. First is non woven, which is basciallypaper reinforced with some modest addition of polyester fibre. We had developed high performance inkjet coating that can be put on top of media to make it fire-retardant that takes more time to burn so that people get time to evacuate the area. The coating is optimised to capture the colour so that the image is bright and vivid, restituting it in the best possible way. The visual design and the media surface is strong enough to withstand the rubbing or cleaning. This line of product has been designed keeping in mind the needs of interior decor, store decoration, POS etc.
The other family of products that we have are wet strength papers, which are designed to be hygrophobic, that is, instead of absorbing the water and dissolving itself, the paper will repel the water and remain strong. On those papers, we have exclusive inkjet coatings compatible with long lasting outdoor inks – be it latex or eco-solvent. The inkjet coating captures the colour, while also providing an image that is strong, fingerprint- and scratch-resistant. This product is perfect for short term outdoor display, be it under rain or harsh environments. It will not last for a lot of years outdoor but it will last several weeks even in a monsoon environment, and once it is no longer needed, it can be scrapped or torn away and disposed off like paper.
Nowadays, everyone is talking about eco friendly materials. In such a scenario, how does one ensure whether the product is actually what it boasts to be? How do you as a company ensure that your products meet the standards of sustainability?
By nature, advertising is not environment-friendly. It is a necessity for trade and it also makes life a bit more enjoyable. Therefore, in our humble way, we tried to use materials which are man-made, that is, cellulose fibres and papers sourced from cultivated forests. In major parts of northern Europe, the only human activity that can be done is farming of trees. People cultivate forests, cut trees, and later replace them with plant new trees. They cut selectively to ensure that the nature is reasonably preserved. Everything in the trees is turned into usable things, be it cellulose fibre, glue, or paper fibres. The paper fibres can be later turned into paper and can be used for display, and it can be then repulped by separating colour and fibres. So, there are some consequences of human activity, but we should try that we inflict least damage and pressure on the enviroment. The paper we use, if there is no recycling option, can be burned without damaging the health of the people. That is why we say that our materials have low impact on environment, and we maintain sustainability in our production process.
Are your products Green certified?
The paper base we use is FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council) that means we use papers made from pulp from trees in cultivated forests only. Our process can be tracked from the tree to the output at our factory; everything can be separated into things that are FSC-certified and those that are not. We have typically all sorts of papers, including our papers made with fibres. We are open about it and that’s the commitment of our company.
We also check whether our materials can be composted through industrial process, or whether they can be composted at household level. So there are new questions, which means new tests and new validation in order to remain loyal to the cause.
For how long have you been into manufacturing of FSC materials?
It has been around 10-12 years, while we started the non woven range around 8 years ago.
Being in the sustainable business for over a decade, what changes have you seen in this area? Do you think people and businesses have become more acceptable in terms of eco-friendly materials, even when it is at a higher cost?
I would say people are now more sincerely committed now. What we see as a big change is that people have gained more understanding on what is cultivated forest and what are renewable resources, and probably more sincerity from players in the industry.
What message do you have for the signage industry in India?
What we recommend is looking for low impact ways of communicating, ensuring that promotions minimise the side effects on the environment and people. It should be done while also reducing the cost and effort it takes to remove and recycle the advertising products. We believe that it has to be done and explained in a sincere way, even if we have some products whose performance in terms of eco-friendliness is not as good. It is better to explain what we are doing step by step for the betterment of environment, rather than big promises and no delivery.
SIHL is a Swiss company with manufacturing base in Germany. Coming from a completely different market, how would you compare the signage market in India and Europe?
Indian market is very different and we have to accept the same. We want to provide resources which are not available in the same quantity in India. Europe has plenty of forests and large quanitities of water. India has to manage its scarce water resources and has to protect existing forests. So we can compliment each other. There are things India is better at, for example, textiles. We have to utilise the best of Indian services in order to support our distribution activities in Europe.
Since all products you are selling in India are imported, how do you plan to compete with Indian manufacturers, since obviously your prices would be much higher due to duties?
SIHL at India is bringing in a subset of SIHL products which are considered of value in the Indian market. India is a competitve market and SIHL is not the cheapest company. However, our prices are perceived as reasonable in categories where India is not self sufficient. In these categories, taxes are also not so punishing. We want to bring in products that are different and generate value for Indian users.