Packaging opportunities arising

Packaging opportunities arising
A proliferation of SKUs and artisan food and drink is presenting new opportunities for commercial printers in packaging, reports Gareth Ward

If commercial print is under pressure because of digital competition, packaging printers are sitting pretty. The cartons they produce are not about to be replaced by emails, text messages, Snapchat or Facebook communications. But this does not mean that carton converters are immune to the challenge of digital communications. The value of the Share a Coke campaign lay not so much as people seeking out bottles adorned with their name, but in taking pictures of their trophy and sending it to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Brands are becoming aware of the social media impact of any marketing campaign. This has become the case too with another campaign, currently underway in the UK where those finding a winner’s token inside a bar of Kitkat can submit a picture of themselves and a short caption to a website and receive in return a chocolate bar in a wrapper with their picture on it.

This type of campaign needs digital printing, but not every carton or pack needs personalisation. Brands are looking for the shorter runs that come close to the remit of digital printing, but fall within the experience of commercial printers who have become accustomed to fast turnarounds of short runs in recent years. This is experience that these printers can carry over into carton printing.

The opportunity is led by the proliferation of SKUs as brands seek to fill in gaps in a product family and find niche customers. A shampoo brand a few years ago might have had 10 different SKUs; now that brand can have 60 variants says Marcello Akierman, marketing manager for HP Indigo and PageWide presses.

“And instead of taking delivery of a mass of cartons every couple of months, the brands want 30 SKUs delivered every two weeks.” Businesses that are not alert to these changes will lose out.

Artisan

Already large carton companies are reluctant to take on smaller customers, perhaps start up businesses, that cannot guarantee a certain volume of orders a year. Across the globe farmhouse table businesses are producing artisanal beers, ciders, cheeses and spirits. All need packaging that reflects the quality of their products, and almost all are short run jobs.

These businesses provide the opportunity for commercial printers to expand into carton printing. The same customers that are buying brochures and marketing literature will also have a requirement to package the products that the brochures advertise. The relationship exists, perhaps through a different department admittedly, but there is a point of entry.

Most sheetfed litho and digital presses will be capable of handling folding cartonboard, if only the lighter weights. Some thought and preparation can open the door to a new revenue stream.
Cartons are frequently printed with UV inks and almost always with a UV coating to both lift the impact of the ink and provide the scuff resistance that is necessary to protect the printed finish during the journey from packing line to retail shelf. How the product is used after leaving the print factory needs to be a consideration for carton printing. The varnish will be applied though a coating plate: the glue is not as effective on a varnished surface as on a non-varnished area.

Those aiming to print cartons seriously will need to consider how they handle spot colours. Producing a brand colour from CMYK is rarely satisfactory, hence the popularity of a PMS colour in an additional print unit. However, switching from one job to another and one spot colour to another in a short run just in time environment damages productivity. The answer is that mainstream carton converters are looking at seven colour presses, using orange, green and violet inks to achieve the colour gamut that covers the PMS range. The secondary colours provide the degree of consistency in colour that brands need. And retailers are accepting this way of printing. A standard configuration for a carton press used to be six colours and a coater, now it is seven or even eight colours and two coaters, for just this reason.

And those presses will bristle with all manner of technology to monitor colour quality and consistency as customers are expecting zero defect deliveries. A feature that points in this direction is a PDF checker that firstly checks the printed sheet against the approved PDF until the point that the sheet has been signed off. Then all subsequent sheets are assessed against the pass sheet. The smart aspect is that the job can be masked so that only defects that appear in the important areas of the image will be checked. A blemish that occurs in an area that is not important will not be marked as a defect.

This has now extended from the press into preflighting with the newly announced Enfocus PitStop 2017. It includes a number of packaging friendly features alongside this, another sign that printed packaging is becoming an industrialised process, including exchange of colour data in a number of formats including the output independent CxF standard. Enfocus is sister company to Esko which is synonymous with packaging prepress and flexo plate production. It has the full suite of applications to manage the design of packaging to include management of the regulatory text, barcodes and so on that are a vital element on any carton. Hybrid Software is growing quickly as an alternative to Esko’s dominance, while Chili Publish offers online editing of carton templates, to facilitate an online store for consumers to personalise cases of beer for a party or sporting event for example.

This requires digital printing and the technology is starting to fall into place. After adding the necessary coaters, frequently from Tresu, the HP Indigo 30000 is now a viable press for carton printing, as is the Xerox iGen range. The Xeikon 3500 has been offered with a carton production suite to manage the imposition of carton blanks across the web.

Smaller cartons are well within the scope of other digital presses. Kodak has customers producing gift packaging on the Nexpress, where the extra colours on the fifth toner station provide an element of value added finishing.  It is also about to install a Prosper inkjet press at a US carton printer, potentially the most productive digital carton press in the world.
The limitations on most digital presses is the weight of paper or board they can handle. For many 350gsm is the limit. For cartons proper the press will need to cope with 550 or 600 micron. Xerox can specify its iGen4 or iGen5 to run this thickness of material. It falls within the capacity of the Konica Minolta KM-1 B2 UV inkjet press (see also Komori IS29). As inks and the press are more expensive than rival presses using aqueous inkjet, packaging is a sector that KM can have to itself.

However this press, like the iGen4 is a four-colour only machine, and while the colour gamut of the Japanese inkjet technology is wider than offset litho, it cannot yet print a white, spot colours or metallics that are common in carton printing. The HP Indigo by contrast has the capability to run six colours, white and special colours.

Apart from the high profile social media led personalised print campaigns, digital printing is perfectly suited to print the volumes needed for product testing in a limited number of stores or regions before there is a full commitment to a litho production run. It is also ideal when a fast turnaround is needed. Supermarket Waitrose has received packaging back ‘within hours’ says packaging buyer Kate Graley, an advocate for digital printing. She has no concerns about the quality the technology delivers.

This also opens the way to digital thinking for litho print. Modern presses, whether from Heidelberg, KBA, Komori, manroland or RMGT, are all capable of running identical quality in short batches. This also requires consistency in platemaking to ensure that the dots on every plate are identical. Chemistry free processing helps, though plate life is shortened by UV inks and consumables. Consequently, there is no need to print large volumes at one time in a central location and then find that 10 per cent or more has to be thrown away because ingredients have changed resulting in costly waste.

Short batch production of packaging is following the path set by just in time production of books, and opening the same sort of opportunity to non -pecialist carton printers as it has to non-traditional book printers.

Like books, cartons need dedicated finishing equipment. It is possible to cut and crease on a Heidelberg Cylinder and most of the old letterpress machines have been converted to this purpose. Heidelberg’s answer is the Easymatrix, an entry level plate that is positioned to replace cylinders in commercial printers, while enabling them to take on carton work.

Developing

Until this came along Heidelberg had worked with Kama which has spotted the opportunity with short run cartons sooner than others. It developed the ProCut platen in both 58 and 76 formats with fast change dies, automated registration and the ability to switch from job to job in two minutes, says chief executive Marcus Trenau. “We saw the opportunity from cartons early on, and started developing machines for the packaging market,” he says.

The missing link to date has been the folder glueing line, the last step in the carton production line. Heidelberg is promising an entry level Diana Easy folder gluer for later this year, and Kama launched  the FlexFold, a carton gluer at drupa last year, again with sub five minute makeready in mind. It has installed six to date.

But the answer to finishing for short run cartons may well lie in a truly digital approach, using lasers to cut out from the same PDF file used to carry the artwork. There were a number of laser options to be seen at drupa, one from SEI working inline with the HP Indigo carton press and another shown by Heidelberg’s close partner Polar. One from Petratto also combined a digitally controlled means of positioning creasing bars.

To date the ultimate device is the Highcon where a matrix is applied directly to a creasing cylinder and the shapes are cut out by laser. It is an investment for the future, when your business has left commercial print behind and cartons are now the main product line.
Carton printing has a secure future - you cannot eat your corn flakes off the internet – and the technology is now available to enable non-traditional packaging printers to enter the market and to capitalise on emerging packaging trends.

Source: Australian Printer

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