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Is Digital Printing for Corrugated Packaging; The Holy Grail or Third Rail?

My first exposure to digital printing for Corrugated Packaging occurred when I joined Inland Container.  This occurred in late 2000, and Inland was in the process of developing a prototype digital press to evaluate the potential for digital printing in Packaging.  At that time, technology options were extremely limited, and the resulting image quality was at best suitable for printed stock boxes.  Still clear is the excitement; confusion and disbelief in the eyes of a customer when we showed them how they could design packaging, press a button, and see the packaging production begin in less than 90 seconds.  Job changes were managed on the fly, with versioning occurring without stopping production. The final, Aha moment occurred when the cartons were printed with a picture of each participant, each carton within the run different, at production speed. The reaction was as they say, priceless.  The problem is, and continues to be, priceless is an emotion; and emotions will not pay the bills!  Welcome to the digital promise!  The question needing to be answered is; how and when can we pay the bills with digital printing?

Our firm Karstedt Partners consults with a wide variety of companies at many levels within the Packaging Supply Chain.  Forecasting and projecting the technical requirements necessary for success with digital technologies in Packaging applications is one area we are quite familiar with.  We regularly speak with converters involved in high end graphics.  These converters consistently speak of 15%-20% of high graphics jobs being a better fit for digital printing.  Order volume is just one of the reasons frequently cited, others include difficult job set-ups, addressing urgent customer needs/lead time issues, and reduced cost.  Converters who currently have digital assets also speak to the eventual development of discreet digital markets.  These converters believe widespread access to digital printing, combined with a desire among Brand Owners to expand the use of print in promotional events, may grow high graphics demand by 20%-40% over time.  The concept of a discreet digital market is not unique to Corrugated Packaging, and has developed in virtually every segment digital printing participates in.  In Commercial Printing, the discreet market has developed around variable data, enabling customers to personalize printed literature.  In Labels, the discreet digital market has developed around JIT initiatives supporting new product launches, initial production requirements leading to full production, end of life product management, and packaging enhancements adding additional color.  Brand Owners, especially smaller Brands, consistently state the desire to extend beyond two color printing, but lack the budget to do so.  Digital printing enables the addition of color at little to no expense.  If you are printing in blue today, and wish to replace some of the blue with red, digital printing can easily accommodate that, without adding expense.   In our discussions with digital technology developers and Corrugated Converters, we define the current available US market for digital participation at approximately $1 billion dollars at the converters selling price.  The current market will most likely expand to a $2-$3 billion dollar market fairly quickly, based on the capabilities of the press.  Even at $3 billion dollars, digital printing is about 10% of the overall corrugated market, so why bother?  Our response is competitive advantage and profitability.

How do you build competitive advantage and profitability through a niche digital offering?  First, digital printing will not be a niche offering.  In the context of the overall Corrugated Market, digital printing will not have a commanding presence.  In the context of High Graphics Corrugated, digital printing has the opportunity to be a significant participant. Keep in mind, digital printing is potentially a “disruptive technology”.  By definition, disruptive technologies have the capability to be game changers.  In my first days at Inland a senior sales executive made the following comment, “if we make digital printing about the ability to print a box, we all lose”.  Converters have sufficient options for printing a corrugated box.  What is lacking is a print technology capable of addressing process inefficiencies, directly or indirectly related to the expanded process for corrugated printing, design, procurement and brand strategy.  Digital printing offers several unique advantages in this area. What are the process inefficiencies that you or your customers are struggling with?  How can digital printing be used to address them?  I was visiting with a company that manufactures air filters for the automotive aftermarket when an urgent call came in from their Sales Manager in Canada.  Their largest Canadian retailer had just stumbled upon the fact that the packaging they were receiving from the filter company was not printed in both English and French.  They were advised they would lose the business unless they could have new packaging on the shelf in two weeks.  Over 80 SKUs were involved, and the GM was not optimistic about the ability of their suppliers to respond in such a tight time frame, not to mention the expense for managing that many revisions.  Now, imagine if you had digital printing capability, even to manage the interim requirements while you completed the overall packaging transition.  A digital printer could be printing packaging within hours.  How often is your business confronted with similar issues?  What capabilities do you have to respond?  Competitive advantage can be obtained in a variety of ways.  Few truly obtain cost advantage, but many act like they have it.  Product advantage, when similar materials and processes are utilized is hard to obtain, much less sustain.  Service advantages built around digital processes have the ability of extending from product design to inventory and replenishment strategies. And, service advantages are sustainable with digital printing.

Second is the ability for digital printing to impact profitability.  We see several ways for digital printing to enhance profitability:

  1. Incremental sales through enhanced service and product capabilities
  2. Leveraging your ability as a problem solver into additional business opportunities that fit your business
  3. Participation in the development of the “discreet digital” market
  4. Attacking areas of operational inefficiency being created through SKU proliferation.

We have covered the first three items, let’s address the fourth.  In a high graphics environment, what is the impact on your operational cost when job set-ups increase by 10%, but volume remains constant?  What if the number is 30%?  We know, you would identify and capture the resulting inefficiency, and charge the customer accordingly, correct?   If so, you are in the minority.  Even simple moves, like moving four-five set-ups per day from your existing operation to a digital press may free up a shift per day for production, rather than set-up.  We have had a number of converters, after working with them to assess digital opportunities, state that digital printing may be the lowest capital investment for adding incremental or peaking capacity, in addition to the other potential advantages of digital printing.  Resist the desire to do a side-by-side comparison on the cost of print between analog and digital presses.  Instead, look at the value generated when you use a digital press for operational relief, the results may surprise you.

For digital printing to succeed and be in a position to impact a converters business as described above, the technology must be able to participate in production job requirements. What is required?  Current flatbed capabilities generally fall into a range of 5,000-6,500 square feet per hour. This range needs to increase to 25,000 to 30,000 square feet per hour, and help is on the way.  Barberan, a company located in Spain, has introduced a single pass UV press capable of printing on sheets with a maximum dimension of 59.5” x 144” at a speed of 178 linear feet per minute.  This output rate equates to over 50,000 square feet per hour, production capable for sure.  We know little about this press or the company, other than what is on their website, but it is indicative of what the future may hold.  Seven years ago there were five to seven digital companies exhibiting at label Expo.  At last month’s Label Expo there were over 30 companies promoting digital printing solutions.   HP has been a long term participant in developing packaging solutions, other well-known industry leaders such as Kodak, Epson, Konica Minolta, Oce/Canon, Xerox, FujiFilm and Screen have either introduced products for packaging, or have announced their intentions to do so.  At last year’s drupa exposition, traditional analog manufacturers such as Bobst, KBA, Heidelberg and ManRoland announced partnerships with digital developers.  Over the next five years we anticipate a host of solutions, addressing both sheet fed, and web fed requirements, as both stand-alone and in-line solutions.

Dr. Geoffrey Moore is the author of several well-known books addressing all facets of disruptive technologies.  Dr. Moore uses the following diagram to explain the technology progression.

The chasm is where most new products die, as they fail to move from early adopters to the early majority, or the mainstream market.  Flatbed digital technology has established a beachhead in corrugated packaging, but it is clear the output of these products is not sufficient to gain the interest of mainstream markets.  The next generation of technology has garnered the attention of mainstream markets, but it still needs to deliver.  Digital printing in Labels has either passed through the chasm, or is close to passing.  New press technology targeting Folding Carton has caught the attention of mainstream Folding Carton Converters.  Efforts in Flexible Packaging are developing.  The combined efforts in all four markets have caught the attention of the Brand Owner, and they are now preparing for a future with digital printing.  Coca Cola gained a lot of positive press this summer by launching a campaign in Europe for several Coca Cola soft drinks through a promotional campaign combining traditional media such as print and TV with interactive promotions through social media and the Coca Cola website.  The cornerstone of the initiative was the use of digitally printed labels enabling Coca Cola to personalize the cans with the most popular names in designated regions.  Yes, the consumer was able to purchase the product with their name on the can.  In his books, Dr. Moore speaks about the dangers to companies who are late in adopting disruptive technologies.  The value of competitive differentiation enables those with the differentiation to participate, while effectively locking out those without the differentiation.  Sustainable differentiation means the competitive advantage endures, assuming you leverage the early gains into other areas of competitive advantage.  Digital value propositions focused on print deliver short-term competitive advantage.  Digital value propositions focused on upstream and downstream process advantages, both internally and externally create sustainable competitive advantage.  If you are a participant in High Graphics Corrugated, you may not desire to be the first to enter, but can your business really afford to be late?

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Jeff Wettersten is President of Karstedt Partners, consultants to the Packaging Supply Chain.  Karstedt Partners work with technology developers, retailers, brand owners converters/printers and suppliers in strategy development, product and market commercialization strategy, process optimization, and sales training.  Jeff may be reached through e-mail at Jeff@karstedt.com or www.Karstedt.com.

This article was originally published on WhatTheyThink.com at: http://whattheythink.com/articles/66614-digital-printing-corrugated-packaging-holy-grail-third-rail/

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WTT: Update from Benny Landa on Digital Press for Folding Cartons

Print 13 started out very nicely for me as my first official meeting was a breakfast meeting on Sunday morning with Benny Landa and three of my “packaging” colleagues, Danielle Jerschefske of Labels and Labeling Magazine, Pat Reynolds of Packaging World and Yolanda Simonsis of YTC Media. At the very relaxed event at a downtown Chicago hotel, Benny (as I now call him because we are “buds”) shared with us the updates on the packaging versions of the new nanographic digital press line that was introduced at drupa last year.

Kevin Karstedt and Benny LandaComing out of drupa last year I had a pragmatic set of expectations set for the release of the Landa presses to the world. This kind of technology is not easy to bring from the lab to the production floor, my feeling is that drupa was about 12 months early, but that could not be adjusted. So the early print sample quality (and the problems I saw in what they were showing) and aggressive target for beta were just that, samples and targets. I expected the quality to rise and the beta to slip so the announcement over eggs and toast that beta for the first press would be Q4 or 2014 and impressive print samples did not surprise me. What did surprise me a bit was that the first press would be the S10FC with FC standing for Folding Carton. We in packaging are so used to getting commercial printings hand-me-downs, it was a breath of fresh air to hear we were FIRST on the docket. It makes sense in that the FC does not have to print on both sides (duplex) for most carton applications so getting one sided printing commercially acceptable is the first hurtle and one we in packaging can handle just fine. Another nice thing is that the S10 frame can handle a sheet size of about 41” by 29.5” (updated on September 24th) or as they like to say “B1”; which is another pet peeve of mine, “drop the ‘Bs’ when you talk packaging”, lets see if it gets through this time…

There will be numerous articles written on this topic but few will have the “packaging spin” that this one will as I will focus on the items my readers are most interested in. I suggest you read the article by my colleague, Cary Sherburne, also on WTT, to get her keen insights; she was invited to a special session at Print13 for the commercial side of the house. Included with her article is the Landa Press Release around these announcements.

So here are my observations and comments:

New ink “ejectors” – I think it interesting that they continue to call them “ejectors” when the rest of the world calls them inkjet heads but that is part of the mystique of Landa. The resolution of the “ejectors” has gone from the drupa 600 dpi to 1200 dpi today. Speculation is that this is being done with new Kyocera heads, ooops, ejectors, but that was not confirmed or denied when I asked. This is likely one of the key reasons they have been able to increase print quality as much as they have. It is also a reason they will be able to control nozzle dropout problems as the systems go online.

The Quality “S” Curve – Shared with us was a graph they use to show where they were and are going related to print quality. They fully admit the quality has been sub-par and needs to improve. On the curve you can see they feel they are almost at “offset” quality and plan on being will within that range by next years beta. Quite honestly the image quality I saw over breakfast was sellable for most uses, better is always better and I am sure we only saw “the good stuff” but I was encouraged. Issues of printing on various coated and uncoated stocks as well as virgin and recycled boards don’t seem to intimidate them due to the way the ink layer is transferred from a printing blanket to the substrate in a solid rather than liquid form. This could be an advantage over systems that jet UV or Aqueous inks directly to the board where spread and adhesion can be challenging. This could have real benefits to carton producers looking for an edge.

Landa-print-puality-S-curve-for-blog

FDA Compliant Inks – As the print samples were being passed around the table while we were still drinking coffee and munching on something sweet, it was noticeable that there was on odor coming from the print samples as you would usually notice from digital samples. This is due to the inks being water based and maybe from the strong smell of the Starbucks coffee. The company claims the inks are all FDA compliant and with low or no odor they will be good for cosmetic and pharmaceutical work as well. This needs to be validated but it is a good sign.

The New Operator “Cockpit” – If you are reading this far into the article you have likely seen the original Landa press shown at drupa. When looking at the huge “iPad” type control screen stuck to the front of the press my business partner, Jeff Wettersten, said to me “now that looks like a forklift accident waiting to happen”. It seems that others, some of the 120 customers the company says they visited to gain feedback, told them the same thing. So the new version has this interactive cockpit for the operator to work in more of a conventional environment. On the screen are video monitors with real-time shots from critical areas inside the press and all the critical operating functions right next to the output tray. They even have a viewing table (where is the back of the light booth?).

S10FC_front_no_shadow-525

Optional Conventional Inline Coating – In their press release the company says: “An optional conventional inline coating unit will efficiently enhance Nanography-printed products with both flood and selective coating. The coating unit will support flexo rollers and plates as well as a variety of UV and aqueous coatings.”

My question to Landa and the others with digital printing solutions is; “Why would I want an analog coating system on my digital press?” The pragmatic side of me knows the difficulties of integrating a digital coating station but the idea of a static coating system on a digital press just seems counter intuitive to me. There has to be high speed jetting (ejecting) systems out there that could jet coating solutions at the speeds and (low) resolutions needed for digital coatings. I am sure that these conventional coating solutions are simply stopgap solutions and that a true digital solution is just a matter of time but I would have thought that if anyone were to bring that to the market first it would have been Landa.

Note that when looking at the overall diagram of the S10 the coating unit is called out as the white unit after the print engine and the large gray unit between the coater and the delivery is the dryer for the coating. The print unit does not require a dryer as the ink is dry from the time it is transferred from the blanket to the substrate.

Not a Niche Printing Press – The notion that the Landa presses will be for short run digital use was totally dismissed. It is clear that mainstream production is the target for the Nanographic technology. In the presentation Benny showed the popular slide of where digital and analog technologies play now with a gap in the middle of production volumes where his presses nicely fit. It is clear they do not see their presses playing niche roles in the production of folding cartons or even flexible packaging in the not to distant future but playing a major one in terms of jobs and volume produced.

Question of Throughput – A few questions were raised at the meeting that I worked with the Landa team to clarify and I have received that clarification on this question today. Originally the system had eight ejector bars (two each for CMYK) this gave the system the ability to print 13,000 sheets per hour. Now the system has a standard configuration of one set of CMYK ejectors that will give a 6500 sheets per hour rating. They say there is a future option for an added CMYK set of ejectors to get the system to 13,000 sheets. This however will likely jeopardize the extended color gamut plans the company plans.

Extended Color Gamut – Benny was very excited about, the use of extended color gamut printing using, CMYK +OVG on the Landa presses. It is interesting to see the level of excitement the company seems to have on this topic, it almost felt as thought this was a new line of thinking. In fact, this topic has been discussed in packaging circles for the better part of the last decade. Outside of a few instances it has yet to gain major traction while it is of keen interest to Brand Owners and Converters alike. I see the obvious upside potential of its application but also see the issues holding it back from full scale adoption. These Nanographic presses coming into the market may add some weight to the positive side of the scale, may help the tipping point, for extended gamut printing to become mainstream. That is yet to be seen but it is an intriguing prospect.

Not So Final Note – My final thought on this article… undoubtedly there will be many more on the topic… I am pleased with the prospects that my new BFF, Benny has laid out for us. Yes the timing is not what some had hoped but it is what realists projected. While it is not rocket science, it is pretty complicated and they had a long way to go coming out of drupa. Frankly I am impressed with the progress they have made and thank the Landa team for including me with “the Packaging People”.

Check out Benny’s latest video update on Karstedt Partners TV. Bookmark the station too…

 

This article was originally published on WhatTheyThink.com at:

http://whattheythink.com/articles/65575-update-benny-landa-digital-press-folding-cartons/

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2 B or Not 2 B That is the Question for Folding Carton Manufacturers

2 B or not 2 B that is the question…

This post will be short and hopefully sweet… I just got back from Drupa and was very impressed with all the digital solutions companies like Landa, HP, FujiFilm, Heidelberg, Komori, Bobst, EFI, MGI, Screen, Myakashi and many others who are showing systems for the packaging sector. Many of them are looking at the folding carton sector with new offerings. It seems that any press that is sheetfed and can handle substrates over 18 point is automatically called a Packaging Press.

Now comes the advice… if you really want to sell to folding carton manufactures…loose the B. Outside of the commercial printing market the terminology of B for press or paper sizes is not used. I cannot tell you how many times this topic comes up when speaking with a carton manufacturer following a demo. Second parts of the advice, in the States use inches as the form of measurement don’t fumble around with millimeters and having to convert. Outside of the States using millimeters or centimeters is just fine. This goes for board thickness measurement as well, use point sizes or even thousandths of an inch (0.024 inches would be 24 point) in Europe continue using microns.

Get the Point? Learn what the package printer is used to hearing, speak their language if you want them to listen to you…Oh, and one more…don’t tell them how many “pages” can be produced…they work in jobs or sheets…

Just a quick note on the topic, hope it helps. When we start talking about presses going into the Flexible Packaging sector we will have to do this all over again…They don’t care about Bs either…

Helpful links:

ISO 216 on paper sizes from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_216

Paperboard from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paperboard

 

Get the details of our analysis by ordering our ‘Trends Assessment of Folding Carton Solutions Report’ which will be available on our website shortly after our return from Drupa.

The report is a high level assessment of what we think the key developments are in digital printing and finishing for the Folding Carton Sector coming out of Drupa. If you would like more information or be notified when the report is available, send us an email at kevin [at] karstedt.com.

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