The Next Big Thing: Might not be so big

For the past few years we have been hearing about how folding carton converters have been adding VLF offset presses to their manufacturing floors. Most often they are touted as offering great efficiencies for long run orders. Fast changeovers, automatic functions all making these very large and expensive presses very fast and efficient. We had an interview with a VP of sales for a major press manufactures at drupa who estimated that 65% of all VLF presses sold were going into carton applications. (For more on that check out our 2012 drupa Packaging Review – Folding Cartons.)

Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 162

So lets assume that efficiencies in long runs is the reason VLF presses have been so hot (we can say that because of the 65% comment above). How about the discussion I had with a close friend who also purchased a VLF last year and is doing about 20 jobs a day through that press. That press is surely not doing efficient long runs but efficient short runs.

What I have been describing is the “conventional wisdom” for the past decade or so. Find ways to make it faster, better, cheaper… And what about all the talk about order sizes going down and short runs with little lead-time being the norm? That is the reason we need those big fast changeover presses right? Maybe not…

My work is great, I regularly speak to people all through the packaging supply chain about trends and what they think are the most interesting changes happening in our world of packaging. Having done this since 1996 I can tell you I have seen trends come and go, change and then change again, I can honestly say there has never been a dull moment.

Over the past few months I have been speaking with a number of carton converters and have come across in interesting shift in thinking. As many of you know I have been working in the area of digital printing for packaging for many years. And for most of that time converters have been reluctant to look at solutions that upset post press workflows such as die cutting and finishing… they need a solution (digital or not) that is 40+ inches wide to “fit in” and “play nice” with their current workflows.

Well, there seems to be a change in that mindset. I have recently met with a number of carton converters who are actively looking at smaller format printing solutions, particularly “half size” or 28 to 32 inch wide sheetfed presses. What has changed? Why the openness to workflow changes that allows a half size sheet to be accepted into the downstream workflows? That comes back to the opening paragraph where shot runs and shorter lead-times “the new norm” has forced carton converters to look for ways to produce short runs more effectively, and that is increasingly seen as possible by smaller efficient offset presses. Scouring press releases for the past year has shown an up-tick in the number that are touting presses in that 28 to 32 inch range being installed in carton plants with quotes like; “After spending time speaking with the manufacture, we concluded that the 28-inch press would allow us to cost-effectively service the short-run segment of our customers’ business.” In addition we have spoken with a number of converters who are actively evaluating this option and have come to the conclusion that they can be made to fit into their plant’s workflow. I have to tell you, this shift has caught me a little be surprise. Just two years ago, when working with a client on this very topic, the mindset of converters was not so inviting to the smaller format. What has changed?

Mitsubishi Diamond 1000 LS



Presstek 75DI


So, for carton converters looking for productivity gains, the next big thing may not be so big after all.

For more on this topic check out our 2012 drupa Packaging Review – Folding Carton Report.