Whereas digital printing has succeeded in establishing its value in the traditional areas of the print media industry, adoption has been a bit slower in the packaging industry with the exception of label printing, which began adopting digital print technologies relatively early.
This is due to multiple factors: there were no relevant digital systems available; the requirements of the packaging industry are completely different from those in the traditional printing industry; and the players in the slightly conservative packaging industry have taken a little more time to adopt a digital future than their commercial printing counterparts. But the tide is beginning to turn. A growing numbers of producers and customers are recognizing the benefits of digital packaging print and implementing the technology. Without a doubt, one of the "breakthrough moments" was the now legendary Coca-Cola “Share-a-Coke” campaign. Just a few months following Coke’s innovative approach to placing names on cans, for example, Ferrero followed suit with variable Nutella labels.
The market is growing
According to the latest forecasts, the volume of the worldwide print market is set to grow to €420 billion by 2020 from a current level of around €407 billion – following the significant sharp decline in the years between 2008 and 2010 from €438 billion to €407 billion. Within the global print market, packaging print is the only area that will grow significantly, with an increase of 3.3% per year, for a share of the overall market of €141 billion by the year 2020. This includes folding boxes, labels and flexible packaging. In terms of specific printing processes, flexographic printing is projected to see 2.6% growth, and digital printing 8%. Today, only 7% of packaging is printed digitally, but that share is projected to grow significantly. For packaging converters, digital printing can be a logical adjunct to analog printing and simultaneously allow them to develop new applications. But more on this later.
"Just how much digital print technologies will impact production depends on how quickly digital-printing presses for the industrial production of packaging are developed. A further – very important – factor is the cost of procurement, maintenance and repair, as well as the cost of the printing inks. In addition, it has not yet been possible to achieve all Pantone colors with digital printing. Printing onto coated papers and the drying that requires also remains a serious challenge. Once these challenges are resolved, digital packaging printing will impact production significantly, even revolutionize it." –Hubert Marte, Forum Wellpappe Österreich (Austrian Corrugated Cardboard Forum).
It is worth mentioning that the report, “The Future of Package Printing to 2019,” by Vlad Savinov, Smithers Pira, 2014, anticipates an annual growth of 17% for digital printing. This makes it the fastest-growing technology within packaging print, projected to reach a volume of US$19 billion by 2019.
The choice for consumers has become considerably greater and brands are anxious to differentiate themselves from competitors to acquire market share. Packaging is playing an increasingly important role in acquiring consumers “at the shelf” when the final buying decision is made. Packaging increasingly must influence consumers and engage all of their senses. Marte comments: “The growing trend toward smaller packaging units, ever stricter safety regulations for packaging and booming online sales will continue to drive growth in the packaging market over the next few years. For this reason, it will become increasingly important that packaging is more environmentally friendly, recyclable, printed in high quality, and intelligent, integrated into the Internet of Things with features like QR codes, more customization, etc.”
"The packaging market continues to be marked by integration and consolidation. Overcapacity and resulting price wars are the order of the day. Growth in the entire sector really depends on consumer behavior. Their buying decisions are often driven by complicated graphical and color representations at the point of sale. This requires a high level of investment in value-added processes by packaging converters to create packaging that stands out." –Eduard Fischer, managing director, Schwarzach
The European view
The European packaging market is continuing to expand due to growing population, and converters are using all available print technologies. "The key market trends we see are ever more products on the shelves and micro-segmentation to address a variety of consumer demographics,” reports Francois Martin, responsible for worldwide marketing-Graphic Business Solutions at HP. “For many years, HP has enjoyed double-digit growth in the number of pages printed digitally as a result.”
The packaging market – including the related digital printing solutions – can essentially be divided into four sectors: labels, flexible packaging, folding cartons and corrugated. Each of these areas has their own dynamics and characteristics. The label market was the first to recognize the benefits of digital printing. The other markets are now following suit, but not at the same speed or via the same route. The label market has a 10- to 12-year head start on corrugated in terms of digital printing implementation.
Advantages of digital printing for packaging
Today's media fragmentation means that consumers are continuously bombarded with information and messages that they virtually ignore as a matter of course. Packaging is certainly one of the last media channels that still attract consumer attention. But to achieve this, products must stand out on the shelf; and brand owners are responding with ever-faster product cycles and more relevant packaging, which also contributes to smaller lot sizes, shorter production cycle times and more demand for digital-printing technologies.
What drives more interest in digital printing are demographic developments, including increasing numbers of single-person households with purchasing behaviors that differ from those of larger families, including quantities purchased and shopping budget. Households of the 50-plus generation have unique requirements for packaging. Consumers are more sensitive about cost and environmental issues as well as convenience. For packaging producers, this means handling an increasing number of smaller orders. The turnaround times are becoming shorter as a result, and production planning is becoming more complex.
“Digital printing helps companies meet these new challenges and optimize their production as compared to analogue methodologies,” says Martin.
Stephan Ratt, CEO of the Ratt Pack Group (Austria), agrees. “We currently see growth in minimum order sizes in the non-food sector. That means more firms here are entering the fray by acquiring digital-printing presses.”
The world of digital labels
HP has now installed more than 1,000 digital presses in the market, and considers that digital printing has become mainstream. Xeikon has well over 300 systems installed, and more than 50% of its sales now come from the packaging industry. Traditional companies such as Heidelberger Druckmaschinen have gone down the digital path via Gallus, and since Labelexpo 2015 are fully on-board with digital with the Gallus DCS 340. This converting system, developed in a joint project by Heidelberg and Fujifilm, is equipped with the latest generation of inkjet printheads and prints at a quality level that was previously achievable only via offset printing. It delivers high-end, UV-inkjet print quality with a native resolution of 1,200 dpi at a speed of 50 mpm, with the flexibility and efficiency of digital printing combined with the benefits of flexo printing. Also unique to this solution is integration of inline finishing. The Gallus DCS 340 prints digitally from roll to the finished, die-cut label – all in one pass. French company Autajon bought and tested the first system, and has now ordered three more.
Label print shops increasingly recognize that digital printing can be used as a logical adjunct to the long print runs in flexo or offset printing. Designs can be changed rapidly. It's almost as if label design is turning into fashion design. Some wine bottles are becoming style icons as a result. And the next digital wave is already on the horizon: flexible packaging, folding cartons and corrugated will be riding this tide.
The market for flexible packaging is significant and will continue to develop digitally in the coming five years, but it is subject to social change (primarily due to external mobility). People eat and drink on the move (nomadic mobility). Flexible packs are gaining popularity and increasingly replacing rigid packaging. In the food sector in particular, flexible packs are easy to handle, and they fulfill the current trend for less waste and a smaller carbon footprint. The convenience factor cannot be ignored in this segment, either.
Digital printing provides manufacturers of flexible packaging the opportunity to grow their businesses. The formula is a simple one: high-quality packaging, produced digitally, with just-in-time delivery. This is why the technology is currently gaining ground, supported by presses such as the HP Indigo 20000 that issued a clear signal to the packaging market with its launch.
Swiss firm O. Kleiner KG was the first company to install an HP Indigo 20000 and specialize in the production of flexible packaging using flexo, gravure and more recently, digital printing. “Digital printing is gaining importance in flexible packaging printing," says CEO Martin Kleiner. “The HP Indigo 20000 introduced a quantum leap in digital production of flexible packaging and opens up many new opportunities for flexible-packaging print with its printing width of 736 mm.” O. Kleiner KG has leveraged its HP Indigo 20000 to produce small runs as add-ons and to provide new options for customers in the smaller run sector. A good example of this is closures for small jam jars. While flavors such as strawberry are produced in large runs, other flavors such as raspberry have smaller batch sizes. These will in the future be produced using digital printing. Further applications include test packages or personalized packaging.
Digital Colossus in preprinted linerboard
Following barely two years of development, HP and KBA presented the world’s first HP PageWide Web Press T1100S to a group of visitors in Würzburg, Germany in November 2015. This gigantic inkjet rotation with a web width of 2.80 meters and with digital preprinting of the top layer is opening up new options for the flexible production of corrugated packaging in different sizes and run lengths that were not economically feasible before. “Finishers and their customers need to develop both customer-appropriate and effective packaging whilst reducing costs,” comments Eric Wiesner, gm-PageWide Web Press Div. at HP. “With the combined expertise of HP and KBA, we have now launched the world’s most productive roll printing press for corrugated. The HP PageWide Web Press T1100S allows finishers in the high-end sector to offer added value by combining pre-print and digital printing in one machine.”
The first customer for the HP T1100S was DS Smith Packaging. The company was interested because in comparison to standard analog-printing technologies, the system offers considerably greater productivity and flexibility, particularly with small and medium sized runs. Thanks to its high productivity of over 30,000 sq meters of printed area per hr, the press can be used cost-effectively for large runs as well. The Brits are clearly taking the project very seriously as they have already been experimenting for a year with the T400 system purchased specifically for this purpose.
Looking ahead to drupa
Visitors to drupa 2016 will certainly see several solutions that demonstrate the implementation of digital technology in the packaging industry. One example: Benny Landa’s nanotechnology that this time will be shown with a complete system for packaging production. It is a fascinating sector that will be stimulated by all of these developments. And above all… this is a growth market. Good news for the industry!
Michael Seidl is the publisher and editor-in-chief of various specialist publications in Central and Eastern Europe. These include media such as Print & Publishing, Packaging and Visual Communication. He is well connected within the print and media industry, and in Austria and beyond. Michael is also a co-founder of the IMA – International Media Alliance – where media from Asia, Australia and Europe combine to form an industry alliance.
More info: www.drupa.com