By Cassandra Balentine
Brand owners strive to stand out on the shelves and in the minds of consumers. One way to do this is to build customer loyalty by forging a lasting, personal connection between products and customers. Folding cartons, which are paperboards that are cut, folded, laminated, and printed, are served by the digital space, enabling shorter print runs ideal for test marketing, localization, and personalization.
In its Folding Carton Market in North America 2015-2019 report, TechNavio says the folding carton market in North America will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4.23 percent over the period from 2014 to 2019.
While only a small percentage of the global folding carton market is currently digital, it is an intriguing avenue that serves new market demands for personal, short-run packaging applications and addresses certain logistical challenges.
Ken Brown, category manager packaging, Americas, Hewlett-Packard (HP), points out that brands are under a lot of pressure to facilitate a personal connection with customers. “This creates massive issues for converters using traditional printing methods, the supply chain, co-packers, distributors, and profitability. Digital printing helps alleviate their issues, enabling print server providers and converters to print what they want, when they want it, and how they want it—without limitations.”
On the logistical font, the digital printing of folding carton applications addresses challenges such as SKU proliferation, inventory and waste reduction, as well as time to market. “It enables targeted marketing by versioning or personalization of packages. Supply chains can be streamlined to economically handle decreasing batch sizes. We address these trends with digital technology,” says Christoph Gauss, head of market introduction and channel support, Océ Printing Systems GmbH & Co. KG, a Canon Company.
Filip Weymans, director of segment marketing and business development, labels and packaging, Xeikon, admits that offset still dominates the folding carton converting space, but positive consumer reactions to more personal marketing messages attract brand owners to take advantage of the benefits afforded by digital. “Traditionally, conventional technologies have had an advantage over digital printing in labels and package printing with longer runs, but this is changing rapidly with new digital printing innovations,” he notes.
Target Markets and Potential
Many markets benefit from the availability of digital folding carton technology. This includes food and beverage, over-the-counter pharmaceutical, nutritional, health and beauty, confectionery, and home goods, along with many types of consumer packaged goods. While each market is suited for digital, restrictions on food and beverage and pharmaceutical applications make these applications more complex.
“We see the virtues of digital printing in all of the mentioned segments,” points out Gauss. Determining which segments are best poised for digital depends on the individual supply chain. “To what degree the supply chain is already prepared to handle individual packages or on demand orders determines the time for digital,” he adds.
Brown suggests product lifecycle developments, frequent changes required for relevancy, increased promotional content, and regionalization as driving forces for digital printing growth. “These factors create new challenges for converters who need to react quickly and effectively, either enabling or compounding supply chains for brands.”
A decline in run lengths and shorter lead time demands drive the packaging market to digital solutions. Gauss notes that brand owners and retailers are increasing the number of stock—keeping units to better target and promote their products at the retailer’s shelf. “As a result, more product variations have to be produced, which means lower run lengths.” And this is where digital technology shines.
“The ability to offer micro runs of unique prints enables the converter to escape commodity status and offer system cost reductions, such as just-in-time deliveries, resulting in reduced stockholding, product or batch traceability, and prototypes on demand,” says Scott Hibbs, president/CEO, TRESU America.
“Digital printing works without tools, which means very fast set up, and a very fast go-to market with up-to-date options,” says Marcus Tralau, CEO, KAMA. This enables brand owners to combine the benefits of the online world with the printing world. “Regarding this huge potential, digital printing is completely underestimated in my opinion,” adds Tralau.
He explains that from KAMA’s point of view, the commercial market for folding carton production has the largest opportunity, although until now the digital penetration has been very low. “In all other market segments, the share of digital print is much higher. In the label industry we estimate a share of 15 percent, while the folding carton market is much bigger and a share of more than five percent would imply long-term growth.”
Brown suggests that digital printing is not just for short runs or product launch items anymore—it should be considered for strategic runs.
Kevin Abergel, VP of marketing and sales, MGI USA, says that digital customization means developing products with market-specific packaging. “For example, if a manufacturer sells through multiple distribution networks and supply chains, then a digital printer can provide different brand labeling for stores A, B, and C with the same design concept.”
Additionally, the same digital printer can create a Chinese or Spanish version of an original package that was based on English words. “That is a powerful B2B service to provide and helps printers win—and keep—new business relationships,” he adds.
The possibilities digital offers creative branding is a major advantage. “Digital printing allows creativity in both packaging design as well as the box structure. For example, branding can be refreshed frequently and new printing capabilities can be leveraged immediately,” comments Hamidah Mansor, digital packaging solution business manager, Xerox Corporation.
“The only limit to digital printing is in brands’ creativity, imagination, and willingness to push boundaries,” says Brown.
Mansor adds that digital printing also allows for tracking and security codes to be easily applied at the time of printing to address federal guidelines and counterfeit concerns.
Hybrid printing is also an option, enabling print providers/folding carton manufacturers to use conventional technology to print basic brand colors and packages, but use an on-press digital printing capability for expanded versions of the same container. “Hybrid printing enables a conventional press owner to have the benefits of digital printing without changing all of its processes to accommodate the full digital press,” says Will Mansfield, director of worldwide sales and marketing, inkjet presses, enterprise inkjet systems division, Kodak.
Hybrid printing is typically involved when critical information is used or when versions are implemented. “For instance, if a converter was producing three versions of the same package—each intended for a different retail store—they would need to stop and change the plates at the end of each version run. With hybrid printing, all three versions can be printed without stopping the press, freeing up one to three hours of additional press production time,” he explains.
On the finishing end, Michael Aumann, CEO, Kluge, says the opportunity in digital for folding cartons is a streamlined workflow. By this, he means the ability to print variably without plate changes, flood coating with zero makeready, cutting and scoring without dies and makeready, and folding and gluing with limited makeready—all while eliminating work in progress and inventory.
In addition to responsiveness and speed to market, Vic Stalam, president, Highcon Inc., adds that the ability to handle last minute error correction and design changes—particularly in the last mile of finishing—is an advantage. “The ability to add value at the finishing stage with digital cutting and creasing, with no need to outsource the production, transport, and setup of a conventional die, is paramount in offering customers innovated, differentiated products.”
The Sweet Spot
Offset still dominates the folding carton market, however, digital’s future is promising. The effects of digital printing have disrupted many segments of the printing industry; including commercial printing, photo printing, publishing, and labels. Packaging is expected to follow suit.
“Packaging, including flexible, shrink, corrugated, and folding cartons, is experiencing a smaller shift,” notes Brown, adding that SKU and version explosion have affected run length requirements in every sector. “The focus on smaller packages and more options for consumers with new flavors, or single serve, ready to eat, etc. have mushroomed this demand.”
From experience with brand owners and converters, Gauss says the message is that the majority of jobs are currently in the digital range—between 5,000 and 10,000 B1 sheets.
“The digital print market starts with one. With that said, depending on the complexity of the carton, we see many companies offering order quantities as low as 50. We see our customers producing many jobs between 10,000 and 100,000, but the major share of work is under 10,000,” states Aumann. “If the graphics change but the carton design stays the same, the run lengths can extend,” he adds.
Custom and short-run jobs benefit the most from digital technology. “In terms of print volume, this ranges from 2,000 to 3,000 B2 sheets, depending on the application and the conventional technology it is compared with,” says Weymans.
Lance Martin, director of sales, MBO America, sees a trend toward shorter job runs with customized or variable content. “More marketers are gearing product towards specific events or themes, which creates a limited window for the packaging to remain relevant. Consequently, this leads to shorter job runs on the production side.”
Ideal candidates for digital folding carton equipment are traditional folding carton manufacturers and commercial printers, each driven to the technology for different reasons. Traditional folding carton manufacturers are getting pressure from customers for short-run capabilities to cost effectively test markets and provide specialty brand packaging. While on the commercial end, strong customer relationships may enable the jump to offering folding carton services on top of existing offerings. “In addition, they have an excellent internal prepress and press experience that lends itself to the folding carton market,” says Aumann.
Digital is not without its limitations. Aumann points out that the digital process can be limited if the main focus of a job is volume and if the job or workflow has no variability.
Mansor adds that offset printing offers productivity and durability at high image quality, which are still a constraint with current digital printing processes.
Abergel admits that digital packagingis still limited in the physical and mechanical aspects of print production. This includes large box sizes and very thick paper and substrate materials. However, as digital print production continues to expand in the marketplace, he is confident the market will address these issues.
Tralau says KAMA has learned that digital production has to be installed separately from analog long-run production. “Customers cannot switch from a job of 100,000 to a job of 1,000 sheets on high-volume machinery just like that. This is simply because the existing equipment is not made for fast changeover and short runs would block those machines—reducing outcome and turnover.”
In addition, at the moment digital is more expensive than offset. “That means the product in the folding carton has to have a certain value to make it worthwhile,” says Tralau, noting high-value items such as pharmaceutical, healthcare, beauty, and sometimes food products as good candidates.
Mike Barisonek, VP sales and marketing, Epic Products International, states that post-print coating is necessary for all folding carton applications. “Without coating, digitally printed packaging scuffs and marks in transport.”
A variety of digital print solutions are on the market or the horizon that are either dedicated to digital folding carton creation, or actively support the application.
A Canon company, Océ Holding B.V, presents the Océ InfiniStream, which is scheduled to launch in 2016. It is an electrophotographic liquid toner technology designed to match offset with regard to productivity, print quality, and substrate versatility. The press will support a modular print tower concept with up to seven print stations to enlarge the color gamut. The heatless wet-in-wet transfer enables full process speed, regardless of the number of colors. The maximum 28-inch wide web fed paper transport offers total format flexibility. Combined with an inline coater, sheeter, and piler, it delivers 14,400 B2 or 7,200 B1 digitally printed and coated sheets per hour.
Fujifilm North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division, offers the J Press 720S, a digital color inkjet B2 sheet fed press. It offers a configuration similar to offset to help operators find the adjustments intuitive. Sheet transfers are accomplished with traditional cylinders and typical delivery transport with grippers. It uses Fujifilm VIVDIA inks combined with Fujifilm Dimatix inkjet printheads. The J Press 720S handles short-run packaging for versioning and local applications.
HP offers web fed, sheet fed, and large format flatbed options with different models based on needs such as speed, format size, quality, and production volume. Brown says the company helps determine the right platform for each customer.
Kodak has hybrid print systems in a large number of locations printing on carton-type materials. Mansfield says these range from unique barcodes for security purposes, to color tabs for gaming activities and customer loyalty prints and quick response codes.
Kodak Prosper Press printheads used in these hybrid applications have flexible design and mounting capabilities and are employed in web and sheet systems.
Mansfield explains that run lengths served by digital printing equipment implemented into a hybrid solution are the same or improved when compared to the original offset run lengths because the variable printhead can operate at full speed with the added benefit of not needing to stop to change plates for multiple versions.
MGI offers several solutions for the folding carton industry in sheet form and in certain pre-cut/die-cut applications.
The Meteor DP 8700 line of digital presses prints cartons up to 13×47 inches with 3,600 dpi color clarity at a thickness and weight of up to 400 gsm, 147 lb., 16 pt. for paper up to 450 micros, 8 mil, and 18 pt for plastics. The new DP 1000 can print paper up to 170 lb and 18 pt. on paper.
The Screen Truepress JetSX sheet fed inkjet press is a B2 format digital duplex machine that offers full-color variable data printing at 1,440×1,440 dpi resolution. It accommodates coated and uncoated sheets, including any gloss or matte standard stock, with no need for a precoating stage. The Truepress JetSX is versatile enough for thicker substrates, thanks to multi-level grayscale printheads and Screen’s precision vacuum flatbed paper transport mechanism. The upper thickness range is 24 pt. in simplex mode and 16 pt. in duplex mode. The ability to print on prescored and creased packaging board means commercial print houses can branch out into folded cartons, print-on-demand packaging, and personalized wrapping paper.
The Xeikon 3000 Series of digital color presses are classified into production-level presses, the Xeikon 3500 and 3300, mid-range press, the Xeikon 3030Plus; and entry-level presses, the Xeikon 3050 and 3030.
The company also offers the Folding Carton Production Suite, which includes an end-to-end solution for digital folding carton production. “Among the typical applications are folding cartons or lids, chocolate and pastry boxes, pharmaceutical cartons, and health and beauty cartons,” says Weymans.
The Xeikon 3000 Series and enhanced Folding Carton Suite possess production advantages including full rotary printing, a format of B2 sheets and bigger, substrate flexibility, and field upgradability.
Xerox offers an integrated end-to-end digital solution for folding carton production, referred to as the Xerox Automated Packaging Solution (XAPS). The technology consists of the Xerox iGen Press, together with a coater and die cutter. According to the company, it is the first inline packaging solution to automate the process from print, coat, and die cut, all inline.
The company targets vertical industries that require lightweight carton short-run jobs. Mansor estimates that about half of the iGen XAPS installations are producing pharma cartons. He adds that with the iGen sheet size, any jobs under 5,000 sheets are profitable.
Finishing is a core part of folding carton creation, and covers tasks including coating, cutting, folding, and gluing.
Epic Products manufactures post print coaters for the digital sheet fed market. The company’s CTi-635 and CT-660 coating systems apply either UV or aqueous coatings and offer the ability for glue tab knock outs.
The Highcon Euclid is a fully digital cutting and creasing machine for converting paper, labels, folding carton, and microflute. The Euclid incorporates the company’s patented Digital Adhesive Rule Technology—or DART—to produce creases and high-speed laser optics for cutting and etching. The Euclid II+ options include Highcon’s Integrated Digital Stripping Unit, optical registration, and a fine cutting accelerator. The machines handle printed labels and cartonboard from eight to 24 pt. and microfulte, up to 47 pt., and sheets—whether printed conventionally or digital—from 12.5×18 up to 30×42 inches.
KAMA primarily offers solutions for sheet-fed workflows. The company says it’s been watching the potential of digital printing to enter the value chain of converting and finishing since 2008. It offers finishing solutions to fit the needs of digital, such as the FlexFold 52 inline gluer for short-run folding cartons.
Kluge offers post-press equipment including UV coating systems, laser and steel rule cutting systems, as well as folding and gluing systems for the sheet-fed market. The company brands these solutions as CartonsInMinutes.
MBO America’s Folding Carton Solution can produce blanks or completed cartons inline with any digital press or as a near line solution. It commonly features two models, the BSR 550 Servo rotary die cutter and the customizable 091.1 Transport System.
The company’s rotary die-cutting process allows products to be made without any holding points, or nicks, which are required for flatbed die cutting to hold the product during transport. Martin says these can create flaws around the edges of the product and require subsequent production steps to remove the scrap around the edges. “With the nickless product coming off our rotary die-cutting process, these additional steps are completely eliminated from production,” he explains.
The BSR 550 Servo is a rotary die cutter that serves a variety of digital printing needs. With the capability of inline or offline configurations and a variety of feeder options available—palletized, continuous feed, or pile, its 21.5-inch working width is ideal for digitally printed products. It serves a variety of functions including cut, perforating, score, micro-perforating, embossing, debossing, and kiss cutting.
The BSR 550 is quick to set up and can run 12,000 sheets per hour. “The run length really doesn’t matter too much if all you want to do is produce blanks,” points out Martin. He notes that the folder/gluer requires more setup time, which is figured in when determining ideal run length.
The 091.1 Transport System from Herzog + Heyman, a wholly-owned subsidiary of MBO, has many available features relevant to folding carton job applications. Martin says its heat resistant vacuum belts allow printers to mount hot glue or dryer systems directly inline with other functions such as variable data inkjet printing, tipping, plow folding, or window patching. The system also has workload awareness, meaning that as more products are added to the table, the system automatically compensates so maximum speed and control are maintained at all stages of transportation. “This is significant because producers do not know the size variation or volume of their products from one job to the next, so the 091.1 Transport System can automatically adjust to ensure the maximum production efficiency for the job at hand,” adds Martin.
The combination of the 091.1 Transport system with a folder gluer kit and the BSR 500 Servo rotary die cutter allows printers to produce folding cartons at high speeds with accuracy.
For deluxe packaging enhancement, MGI’s JETvarnish 3D and iFOIL digital print finishing solutions provide textured spot UV coatings and embossed foiling solutions for paper, plastics, and synthetic substrates with sizes up to 20×42 inches.
The TRESU iCoat is a coating system for integration into digital printing lines for sheet-fed folding cartons. The solution is capable of immediate coating after the printing stage and is designed to integrate seamlessly alongside other digital printing presses, providing a lean, single-pass converting solution designed to provide efficiencies in logistics, material waste, setup time, and manpower.
Working at up to 5,000 sheets per hour between 180 and 500 gsm, the coater includes a flexo unit capable of applying spot and flood varnishes. It also features corona treatment, quick-change sleeve technology, and the ability to switch from UV to aqueous varnish within a few minutes. TRESU iCoat offers a simpler alternative to an offline workflow that requires stand-alone coating equipment. TRESU iCoat 3000 TWIN applies two varnish coats to digitally printed folding cartons. Integrated inline, it contributes to a seamless single-pass, sheet-fed print/coating operation.
Digital in Folding Cartons
While digital currently only makes up a small portion of the overall packaging industry—which research firm Smither’s Pira estimates will total over $100 billion by 2020—its potential to serve target applications is attractive to traditional converters and commercial printers alike. As new digital and print technologies continue to hit the market and evolve, we will continue to track progress. dps
Oct2015, DPS Magazine