by Melissa Donovan
Market demand is constantly in flux—macro and micro influences are both a factor. Manufacturers equipped with the right hardware are positioned to quickly pivot with change. Taking existing operations and leveraging it to their—and their customers’—advantage is essential to thriving in fluid situations. For manufacturers in any industry vertical, this might mean bringing package printing in house by introducing digital printing capabilities to control costs, better manage the supply chain, and offer a one-stop shop. Corrugated manufacturers and converters both benefit as they can quickly change from traditional packaging work to new applications.
Above: The multi-pass Roland IU-1000F flatbed is used for various corrugated board applications.
Many hardware options are available to achieve growth into new segments or bring package printing in house. Single- and multi-pass digital inkjet devices offer efficiency in the form of variable data printing as well as short runs.
Never Seen Before
Owning a digital corrugated printer is beneficial for manufacturers in nearly any industry. When market conditions change rapidly, for example during a pandemic like COVID-19, having tools of this nature in place allows for the creation of new applications or types of packaging products never considered before.
“The objective of business survival is adapting to change in markets and the needs that are being driven from the consumer and brand level,” shares Jason E. Hamilton, director, strategic marketing and senior solutions architect, Agfa North America. Printers or companies with a digital infrastructure in place that can supply corrugated packaging and display are positioned to come out ahead with a strong strategical response to market changes.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, EFI Nozomi printer users reported a 40 percent average increase in print volumes on their printers year over year. Jose-Miguel Serrano, global business development senior manager, inkjet packaging, EFI Building Materials and Packaging, believes this occurred because of digital printing’s versatility. Users of devices like EFI Nozomi “are not dependent on making plates and can have faster response to the market,” he adds.
“Pandemic life dragged with two coin sides, a tearing side and a world of business opportunities that fortunately many of our customers are managing to monetize,” notes Pedro Silva, sales director, MTEX NS.
Direct-to-board applications that have really taken off in response to COVID-19, according to Serrano, include ecommerce and subscription boxes, as there are limitations in place in regards to in-person retail.
Ecommerce has become a market for corrugated sheet plants that changed seemingly overnight, according to Matthew Condon, corrugated business development manager, Domino Digital Printing. “With COVID-19, many brands shifted from marketing efforts on the store shelves to packages delivered to the customer. Additionally, these packages are more market specific, making this an excellent application for digital.”
“With contactless pickup and home deliveries now the norm, packaging printers are more likely to see businesses producing packaging for products that would have otherwise been fulfilled differently,” agrees Randy Paar, marketing manager, Canon Solutions America.
In a sense, corrugated converters and printers didn’t necessarily change what they printed at the start of the pandemic, but who they printed for. “The input I received from corrugated providers is that they did not really need to pivot because of the strong demand for corrugated through the pandemic. Think about it, the demand shifted from in-store purchases to online, with every purchase shipped in a corrugated container,” suggests Larry D’Amico, sales director, Durst North America.
One example, EFI Nozomi users offered graduation boxes to colleges sending degrees to students when in-person graduation ceremonies were cancelled. These jobs actually led to continued business. “Some of those schools followed up with new student welcome boxes mailed to freshmen and transfer students who were starting out the school year online,” explains Serrano.
The printing facility for the City of Los Angeles, a customer of Roland DGA Corporation, worked with a Roland IU-1000F UV flatbed printer to produce signs and other pieces for the city for COVID-19-related messaging. Its flatbed held down corrugated material with such ease that the operator, Greg Analian, began printing directly to 4×8-foot corrugated boards that were then constructed into boxes for various uses.
“We have clients who, before the pandemic, only worked with traditional cardboard. Nowadays, they are supporting brands that started selling online. Food deliveries have increased and with them their packaging needs. We have customers who are making their business viable through this path as well,” adds Silva.
Condon notes another example of market change. Small distilleries produced hand sanitizer to address increased demand. Instead of requiring packaging for their beverages, the distilleries needed their suppliers to quickly create containers and boxes for this immediate marketing opportunity.
Already In House
Now that we know the application and customer possibilities, it’s important to identify the advantages to having a digital corrugated printer in house to achieve them. Certain features—special ink sets, vacuum zones, and media transport feeds—are integral to making success a reality.
“Having digital printing in house for packaging greatly minimizes makeready/downtime, changeover, and time to market for new products. In conjunction with a digital cutter, companies could also make samples and mock-ups prior to going into production almost instantly,” explains Mark Swanzy, COO, Xanté Corporation.
In many of the aforementioned scenarios, print requests were presented overnight—digital printing is capable of meeting these changes quickly. “Without digital, many corrugated sheet plants do not have the resources to react as traditional print methods cannot handle quick print changes and short SKU demands. Digital can help converters keep up with demands of quick change, and shorter SKUs, as well as support test marketing efforts for their customers,” shares Condon.
Hamilton cautions that the printer is only one aspect to consider. “Workflow, design, and education to the market go hand in hand with a corrugated digital printer.” All of this must come together to “excel in critical areas such as speed to market run lengths, variable image, and content applications and the uniqueness of mixing different substrates into a display or package.”
The Domino X630i is a single-pass digital aqueous inkjet corrugated press. It prints at speeds of up to 246 feet per minute. A controlled vacuum belt keeps substrates in perfect position for printing and transport. Sheet sizing is 63×118 inches.
Corrugated printers must be able to handle corrugated board. “Properly transporting the material through the machine is a more complex problem. If you do not have a printer with the proper vacuum and hold system specifically designed for corrugated, running this application will be a challenge,” advises D’Amico.
With the Delta SPC 130, Durst adapts its single-pass technology for the corrugated industry. The system combines a well-engineered mechanical design with easily accessible sub-assemblies and selected components to guarantee durable quality, high performance, and reliability. The Delta SPC 130 is equipped with Durst’s SPC drop on demand printhead technology and features a non-hazardous ink system and an IR/UV drying process designed for high productivity.
When it comes to single-pass devices, “personalization, versioning, and variations are possible for longer runs at productive manufacturing speeds,” says Serrano.
The single-pass EFI Nozomi printer platform in particular provides the opportunity to reproduce vibrant and accurate colors on brown kraft corrugated boards using white ink. The new EFI Nozomi C18000 Plus model offers an advanced transport feed and patented vacuum table systems to eliminate warping.
The Precision Packaging Series PKG-675i from Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc. is a unique corrugated and folding carton box printer designed for packaging. Print on a variety of media, such as white and brown kraft flats and pre die cut corrugated, folding cartons, and SBS boards. This feature-rich digital packaging press offers a small footprint, measuring at only 7.91×7.48×5.22 feet.
A digital corrugated package printer already in house is a plus, according to Silva, because of “the variety of applications, easy and practical personalization prints, and balanced price/quality ratio.”
The MTEX NS MULTI+ is one of those versatile single-pass devices, a flatbed digital corrugated printer for professional custom packaging. It offers 800 to 1,600 dpi resolution at print speeds of 150 or 300 millimeters per second.
Xanté’s Excelagraphix 4800 is a digital inkjet box printer powered by Memjet’s Waterfall Printhead Technology, employing a stationary printhead bar system that allows for single-pass print speeds of up to 416 corrugated flat sheets of 48×24 inches per hour.
For multi-pass devices, they need to be “robust to handle the different type and characteristics of the boards and the type of cutting or scoring needed for a project,” says Hamilton.
The Agfa Jeti Tauro H3300 LED features the ability to transition between board sizes and specifications to maximize production throughput. The ability to hold down and manage two-sided content is essential.
Vacuum zones that can handle unruly board are important. “Corrugated substrates are very porous, so a strong, high-flow vacuum is required to hold the sheet down while printing,” notes Paar. The Canon Arizona 6100 HFV series features a high flow vacuum system that allows users to easily switch between applications. The vacuum is even strong enough to pull down warped plywood sheets.
“Having a true flatbed printer in house makes it possible to handle many types of applications,” explains Jay Roberts, product manager, UV printers, Roland. The Roland bi-directional IU-1000F is equipped with four vacuum zones, allowing the operator to load small pieces of material to full bed sheets. Its carriage clearance allows it to adapt varying media thicknesses of up to 4.33 inches.
Change on a Dime
The key word during the pandemic has been “pivot.” It’s been used, reused, and double-reused, and it will continue to be in relation to digital printing whether pandemic-related or not. Digital inkjet printing is inherently designed to be adaptable—allowing the user to change colors, text, and more at a moment’s notice.
“Printing and finishing equipment adapts quickly to the needs of the world and supplies many traditional print pieces along with new applications,” notes Ed Bokuniewicz, product marketing manager, IP group, Konica Minolta.
Adaptability or versatility is important to customers of packaging printers and converters. “The brands that most packaging producers serve, for both packaging and corrugated display work, have long wanted better options in terms of versatility and just-in-time production. Having the right, targeted packaging or display materials—and avoiding the waste, warehousing costs, and obsolescence that analog production often requires—is smart marketing,” explains Serrano.
“Digital printers are far superior to analog presses for running short-run applications. Because of this, digital is able to quickly adapt to many new opportunities, especially where short runs are required. This capability especially extends to campaigns that require regional modifications,” adds D’Amico.
Having a printer that adjusts to different size pieces of corrugated board is advantageous. “Being adaptable is key as production is not a cookie cutter environment. For a press to be able to adjust board sizes enables sustainable production to positive profitability,” adds Hamilton.
“Since a digital printer requires a new artwork file between jobs, it’s extremely fast and efficient to switch from one job to the next with very minimal downtime. This allows operators to alter job queues and meet customer demands and deadlines very easily,” suggests Swanzy.
Printers that are not specially designed for corrugated provide more versatility in regards to production and material. “This versatility allows a company printing corrugated today to change their application offerings overnight with the same equipment already invested in. The flexibility provides a higher degree of security for the business as they reinvent themselves as needed in response to changing market conditions,” explains Paar.
Market changes are constant and being prepared to adapt when presented with the opportunity to do so is important. Digital inkjet corrugated printing devices will continue to play a prominent role in new applications, whether derived from COVID-19 or some other outside force.
Online ordering is one buyer habit that continues to increase and these orders require packaging. This growth was occurring prior to the pandemic and Serrano believes that COVID-19 accelerated the trend. “The growth in ecommerce is real and will extend beyond the growth caused by the pandemic. Shopping malls in the U.S. were in decline before the pandemic. It just accelerated a trend that was well underway.”
Silva agrees. “The pandemic context clarified a trend that was already registered and studied in the market. Final consumer purchasing behavior has changed. Ecommerce is part of the daily lives of many people. We believe that due to style, necessity, or even more critical for security reasons this is a trend that is here to stay.”
“The pandemic, I feel, created a permanent change in our buying habits. The online focus will continue to create growth and opportunity in the corrugated packaging segment,” adds D’Amico.
Print is a prominent and essential form of communication, says Bokuniewicz. “Digital printing gave us print on demand and when a crisis happens, digital printing rises to meet the need immediately. The human creative mind is amazingly able to adapt to new conditions and with the versatility of digital printing equipment, new print applications were printed. There will be a new normal and new forms of lifestyle and digital printing will be part of the change.”
Condon believes the path of digital printing to corrugated board will resemble the path labels took. “These devices will continue to play a role as brands are going to continue to try to market to as many focused segments as possible. This change was seen in label converting. Brands continue to look at unique ways to market to the end user, and the corrugated package is the new frontier.”
To capitalize on these unique trends, Hamilton advises converters, printers, and manufacturers to “be hyper-aware and nimble going forward—capturing new opportunities as they present themselves.”
Digital Earns its Stripes
Digital printing’s strength is flexibility. Nothing could be truer than what many manufacturers, package printers, and converters experienced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. For those with digital printing capabilities already in house, the growth of ecommerce enhanced the need for packaging—a demand not disappearing anytime soon.
Mar2021, DPS Magazine