by Melissa Donovan
According to Future Market Insights’ Digital Folding Cartons Market: Global Industry Analysis 2013 – 2017 and Opportunity Assessment; 2018 – 2028, due to be published in April 2022, folding cartons are highly preferred packaging solutions because of their availability in different shapes and sizes.
“However, many brand owners make extra efforts to differentiate their product at point of sale. The objective is to achieve a high degree of consumer convenience as well as make an impact at the shelf, which in turn influences the purchasing decisions of consumers,” notes the report.
Digital printing technology is reinventing how folding cartons influence consumers. Similar to what is occurring in the overall packaging sector, digital print reduces time to market while eliminating inventory thanks to its efficient production of short runs. The growth of ecommerce accelerated these trends.
For this piece, we focus on paperboard folding carton products. Companies expanding into paperboard folding cartons from other areas of digital commercial or label print should be aware of both the printing and finishing components of the equation. While there is a lot of opportunity, there are also hurdles to overcome, especially compared to traditional packaging providers looking to enter digital.
Key market drivers for digital folding carton production are similar to those influencing packaging overall. Short runs are propelled by the need for variably printed pieces, which are more targeted to the consumer depending on the geographical area that the packaging is being sent to.
Dan Maurer, VP – product management digital print Americas, Heidelberg USA, Inc., thinks it makes sense to first define digital packaging, because it then helps to understand the key market drivers in digital folding carton production. “Digital packaging implies both the ability to personalize individual cartons and also gain production cost advantages by reducing makeready time and waste reduction of multiple SKU jobs and ultra short runs.”
“The list of market drivers is extensive and includes the demand for improved speed to market, more efficiency for short-run applications, and a desire for more and varied SKUs. Additionally, adopting a less-costly process to onboard new customers and products has become paramount. We are also seeing a high demand for outstanding color consistency and repeatability and a demand for a lower carbon footprint process. Also important is the fact that digital print production has emerged as the perfect tool for adding a level of security to packaging for tracking, tracing, and personalization,” notes Lance Martin, VP marketing, Komori America Corporation and MBO America.
Referencing shorter runs, Bernd Sauter, managing director, KAMA GmbH, explains “that orders are often not that small in sum, sometimes in total of up to one million boxes, but consist of ten, 50, or more batches with different print data or delivery dates. We also see that paper is becoming more popular as a sustainable packaging material among consumers and is increasingly replacing plastic.”
These trends are not going away anytime soon. “Given the highly competitive nature of the folding carton market along with continued supply chain and labor issues, the pressure to implement flexible, yet fully integrated automation solutions continues to grow,” comments Beatrice Drury, marketing manager, Zund America, Inc.
Supporting Drury’s claims, Doug Sherwood, national sales manager, Rollem International, has noticed more manufacturers bringing their folding carton work in house. “Folding carton is one of the stronger if not the strongest market in printing. Digital technology and easy-to-use finishing processes for folding carton makes it accessible to produce folding cartons in house, which was not the case with traditional offset printing and old school steel rule die cutting. Due to the fact there is a huge expense to send out, not to mention a lack of control of the job, digital presses and magnetic die cutters are much easier to operate than traditional methods. These solutions now make it feasible and profitable to bring carton production in house.”
“Robust devices that deliver reliability, consistency, and maximize productivity have addressed the key pain points of today while simultaneously removing the obstacles, which have—until now—prevented many businesses from investing in their own digital finishing equipment,” adds Frank Adegeest, VP, product strategy and business process, Kongsberg Precision Cutting Systems.
He says it is essential to focus on quality, “as we say, ‘getting it right the first time,’ and ensuring lower rejection rates.”
Environmental impact is another driving force for digital. “Sustainability and overall carbon consciousness are one of the key factors for many projects,” points out Raum DiVarco, GM, CUTWORX USA.
The growth of ecommerce has a big impact on paperboard folding cartons.
“From an ecommerce provider perspective, digital allows the print provider to efficiently accept and process smaller orders, which necessitates a digital solution to manage those orders efficiently and profitably,” explains Aarona Tesch, product manager, Fujifilm North America, Graphics Systems Division.
Two areas of ecommerce have an impact on folding cartons, according to Maurer. First, “the entry cost point of introducing a market literally to the world and getting awareness and a wide audience for a product is much easier. So products in smaller volumes, which lend themselves to digital packaging production, become more attractive and viable in the market.”
The second involves web to print (W2P) or web to box technologies. “The market impacts a certain niche of web to box—like W2P—ordering. Smaller, local companies or special events can work with a folding carton manufacturer who specializes in these short runs and can now do them in smaller order quantities at a much more cost-effective price point,” shares Maurer.
Ecommerce influences how a company markets as well as purchases its packaging. “With the tremendous growth in ecommerce accelerated by the pandemic, many companies use packaging as a way to extend their marketing messaging and influence consumers in new ways. Digital print and finishing processes lend themselves perfectly to this trend towards more specific targeting and customization,” explains Drury.
From a marketing standpoint, Martin believes that the seller has a chance to touch the customer twice—once with the engagement of the secondary shipping packaging and another with the primary product packaging. “On a broader scale, new packaging designs are emerging. Packaging for ecommerce can be different from those designed for the retail shelf since the presence in ecommerce does not demand the same design requirements.”
“That growth is changing the way smaller companies buy cartons and products, rewarding those investing in true automation and digitalization,” adds Simon Lewis, VP marketing, Highcon Systems Ltd.
The growth of online marketplaces, like Amazon, have a substantial increase in packaged deliveries today, comments DiVarco, adding that COVID-19’s impact on packaging is significant. “Coming off two years of reduced in-person dining and shopping, the average shipments are already over 600 million a year from Amazon alone. It has never been easier to order something in box than it is now.”
According to Sauter, packaging is considered a “brand ambassador,” as it “no longer just brings the product home safely, but is the first real/physical contact with the customer. It is responsible for the moment of truth.”
From a printing perspective, paperboard folding cartons are not challenging to produce. However, certain considerations need to be taken into account. This includes inkjet versus toner, finishing options, and stock availability.
“The market for folding cartons has high demands for quality, and the press must perform to meet them. The paper handling system through the press must be precise to deliver tight registration, not only for print but for finishing and die cutting processes postpress. The fast turn times expected today require a print process that delivers cured, durable print. To alleviate supply chain issues, the press should be able to print on a variety of stocks,” shares Martin.
Tesch argues that inkjet offers a lower cost in use versus toner, in addition to providing a higher quality output. “Aqueous inkjet has the same look and feel as offset versus toner. From a finishing perspective, no corona treatment is required for aqueous inkjet unlike toner, which requires treatment for finishing.”
Maurer says aqueous inkjet is attractive because of the lower cost of the ink, more friendly with the inkjet printheads for maintenance and life, and often food safe, but it is not compatible with as many types of substrates as toner and UV inkjet. “Aqueous inkjet also often requires a primer to keep the inkjet drops from wicking out and to hold a tight dot, and the primer adds cost to the printing process and can be a challenge for compatibility with aqueous and UV coatings.”
For inkjet, a conventional die cutter can be used without effecting the ink. “Toner may flake with conventional die cutting. Regarding lamination—heat effects toner and laminate adherence, therefore inkjet performs much better for lamination finishing requirements,” adds Tesch.
Maurer says toner carries the advantage of being compatible with most substrates like SBS board, craft board, metallized board, and synthetics. “Toner has come a long way and we have several customers printing great quality folding cartons on our Versafire EV and EP digital presses, and the toner is even low migration safe for food packaging, with the ability to print up to 24 point board.”
There is also a lot of opportunity for print finishing and embellishment in the paperboard folding carton space. “Providing these services increases the overall profitability of this work for the print provider,” says Tesch.
At Komori, “customers have seen an increased demand for digital embellishments, such as the ability to create a tactile feel with digital foil to deliver a unique value-added experience,” says Martin.
“Be unique, be stunning, and let the packaging stand out—that’s what brands need and that’s where a lot of value-added is for digital print production. Where unique, incomparable effects and products are produced, good margins can be achieved. ‘We earn our money with finishing’—is what we hear from customers, and we recognize that printers are becoming more interested in postpress. There are three major reasons—bringing in-house higher added value, shortening delivery times, and having full quality control,” explains Sauter.
Martin believes the opportunity has never been more prevalent for print companies to bring finishing of folding cartons in house. “The market is calling for shorter runs, customization, and embellishment like raised UV, foil, and embossing, which can all be done on finishing solutions designed for the digital print market.”
As brands seek to capture market share with standout point of sale offerings and packaging designs, Adegeest says small businesses are forced to cope with the continued development of new substrates, inks, and finishes. “Demand means that the care and attention of hand finishing is not sustainable for a business with its signs set on a strong future. Having the right tools to handle these new processes manually is simply unrealistic, but thankfully the advances in digital tooling technology have kept pace.”
Tesch admits that there is a trade off between inline and offline finishing, and it depends on the print technology being used. “From a toner perspective, inline finishing has challenges in that the job might have to run through twice. From a labor and automation perspective, inline is desired but given the providers’ requirements, sometimes it’s not practical and offline provides a better workflow,” he says.
“Offline finishing offers significant advantages over inline in terms of versatility and adaptability to specific production requirements,” notes Drury.
It’s possible to achieve the advantages of both inline and offline. “We minimize the setup times in the single machine with a high degree of automation but at the same time, with the nearline principle of our machines we offer a great deal of flexibility in the finishing workflow and for production planning,” explains Sauter.
According to DiVarco, one of the key considerations for short-run projects is physical handling. “Post-print handling is equally as important so the cost centers are not wasted in reproduction,” he adds.
Companies expanding into paperboard folding cartons from other areas of digital commercial or label print face different hurdles compared to traditional packaging providers entering digital.
Often, these companies may not be accustom to strict color requirements. Maurer explains that folding carton buyers produce specification drawings that require PMS inks, and the printer will need to produce these cartons with or without a PMS ink. “Folding carton buyers have very tight requirements on color accuracy and color consistency, even requiring delta E color data from production runs to be returned with the jobs. A printing plant needs to be equipped to produce this quality level and have the manufacturing processes in place to track it.”
Areas where digital folding carton are seen to hold significant value are pharmaceutical, cosmetic, liquor carton, and consumer products markets, according to Maurer. “Additionally each of those market segments have significant value to a consumer from personalization and multiple SKUs or versioning.”
Quality demands are also particularly high and must be ensured consistently. “Side by side on the shelf, even small differences are immediately noticed,” points out Sauter.
“Tackling short runs and lead times requires a streamlined workflow, which must be addressed in conjunction with the printing press itself. Since much of folding carton work is made just in time that means consistency from job to job and month to month will be required and the press must be able to match brand colors easily over time,” adds Martin.
In Tesch’s experience, digital packaging providers tend to shy away from “challenging jobs that require too large of a sheet size, such as 40 inches or too thick of a substrate like 30 point.”
“We find our customers tend to struggle most with digitally finishing recycled and uncoated stock,” points out Drury.
On the flip side, Sherwood notes that those packaging houses entering into digital also have to overcome their own, albeit different, considerations. “The challenge for existing packaging houses who are now getting into the digital packaging space is although they have die cutting and folding gluing equipment, most of it is geared toward longer runs so they have to adapt to the short-run mentality, which can be a difficult transition for many of them.”
Digital paperboard folding carton production—both the print and finishing components—-present many advantages whether it’s reduced inventory, meeting demand for varied SKUs, or value-added features like embellishments. Considerations need to be taken into account including inkjet versus toner, finishing options, and stock availability. There is a lot of opportunity in this space whether you are expanding into paperboard folding cartons from other areas of digital commercial or label print or a traditional packaging provider entering or adding digital capabilities. dps
Mar2022, DPS Magazine