Over the past decade, digital printing technology has continued to grow, fueled by technical advancements in equipment that has allowed end users to offer more service options that were previously possible only in the traditional offset print markets. The introduction of the UV flatbed printer was a key piece of the equipment puzzle; these units are helping make many of these print jobs a reality. These versatile printers have certainly opened up a host of new niche opportunities with their capabilities to print on wide variety of substrates from rigid to flexible to cardboard.
Today, the distinction between commercial and wide-format printers is becoming blurred as more shops add new applications to their service mix. With these new services many wide-format shops are seeking more profitable niche markets and packaging is one niche area that is ripe for the taking.
According to I.T. Strategies, growth rates in the packaging sector average about three percent annually with a total output product value in the range of $290 billion worldwide. This could mean huge growth opportunities for print providers looking to expand into package prototyping or providing high quality, quick turnaround, low volume on-demand package production.
Yeadon, PA-based VT Group is one of those full-service wide-format print shops that have found success in the packaging and prototyping markets. The company delved into packaging a few years back at the requests of some of its customers, said company president Bob Mormile. He added that its one of the company's fastest growing segments.
The VT Graphics arm is the company's full-service print provider. The company first opened for business as a manufacturer of corrugated printing plates for the packaging industry. "The Digital Impact division was established in 2004 as a complete digital printing facility to complement our manufacturing operations at VT Graphics. We already had an established an excellent reputation for creative packaging solutions through design and flexographic plate manufacturing for the display and corrugated markets. The Digital Impact division was a nice complement to our plate-making business. This division was created to provide a short run opportunity for corrugated packaging to expand our customer base," said Mormile.
The company's design staff utilizes a top of a line flatbed printer to provide clients anything from concept packaging development to precision full scale prototypes.
"Digital Impact allows us to use the skills that we have developed in the conventional packaging markets to create cost-effective digital solutions for high quality, short-run packaging printing. This is why we purchased the HP Scitex FB6700. The HP Scitex FB6700 flatbed industrial digital inkjet press has brought the advantages of digital processes to package printing. With the FB6700, we can print directly to sheets up to 63x126-inches and up to 0.79-inches thick, and enables high-quality cost-effective short runs for POP applications and short-run production, including test marketing, product launches, promotional campaigns, creative packaging, and 3D displays," Mormile said. He added that another key feature of the FB6700 is unit's six-color drop-on-demand piezoelectric inkjet printing process, and water-based pigmented inks that are fast-drying, abrasion-resistant and waterproof.
The other key piece of equipment that they added to compete in this marketplace was their EskoArtwork Kongsberg Digital Converting Machine (DCM) Series digital diecutters. "These diecutters allowed us to turn the challenge of short-run and special request converting into a catalyst for new business growth and increased revenues. They work well alongside FB6700," he reported.
"In addition to packaging we also produce a lot of POP and retail signage. With our set up we can manufacture digitally anywhere from one to 1,500 pieces of a counter unit or floor display without any tooling costs. The DCM tables bring reliability to the equation. It also allows us to profitably run two production shifts."