For the innovative converter, the packaging segment provides a host of opportunity. In fact, according to data garnered by industry consultants and associations, the packaging segment—which includes flexible packaging, tags and labels, folding carton, and corrugated boxes—it is a top growth area...
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Not only can printing and converting be performed almost entirely inline using flexography, the process works on just about every substrate, from film to paper, to board, rigid plastic, metal, and glass.
Flexography is projected to remain the leader in packaging printing for the foreseeable future. In a report commissioned by PRIMIR, Benchmarking and Worldwide Market Trends for Flexographic Printing, LPC forecasts four to five percent annual growth for flexography through 2013, with sales representing more than 60 percent of the $440 billion printed packaging market.
Digital Plays Its Hand
Digital printing is making a play to be the production process of choice. Industry experts agree that packaging is the biggest analog-to-print opportunity in the graphic communications market. The numbers are telling: According to InfoTrends' 2010 Market Assessment: Color Digital Printing in Packaging and Label Converting, digital package printing will grow 15.7 percent annually, rising from $1.8 billion in 2009 to over $3.7 billion in 2014.
Currently, the only area within the packaging arena where digital printing has made significant inroads is in labeling production, but that will change as packagers identify market segments where there is a fit, and print engines continue to improve.
"The next frontier in package printing is going to be digital." says Brownell. "Kodak's technologies in this area allow us to go wider and faster, and it will be more economical and sustainable, compared to what exists on the market today."
Kodak, already a presence in packaging prepress and plates, is now looking to move continuous inkjet stream technology into packaging printing.
"In the future, there will be more of a level comparison between offset, flexo and digital—the speed will be there, the width will be there," says Brownell. "The dialogue will be what fits my particular business best."
For some, that type of dialogue is already happening. "We are really seeing digital printing as a total lifecycle solution, which can go from mock ups and prototypes on the press through full production," says Kathy Popovich, marketing director, Innovative Labeling Solutions.
"The HP Indigo WS6000 digital press, with its print frame size and faster speed, have allowed for better economics," adds Popovich. The WS6000 digital press operates at 98 fpm with a print frame size of 12.48 x 38.58 inches. The Cincinnati-based packager, which installed its first digital press in 2005, was a 2008 beta site for the Indigo WS6000; in 2011 it traded in its HP 4500s for two additional WS6000s.
"In 2008, digital accounted for 15 percent of our total product output; now it is about 50 percent and going up," says Popovich. "We do everything on the Indigo—labels, flexible packaging, shrink sleeves, even cartons."
Targeted Packaging Gaining
Targeted and more customized packaging are gaining ground, a strong factor in promoting digital printing. Brands are incorporating labels and packaging into their marketing mix, driven, says Popovich, by consumer demand. "Today's consumer is used to a lot of interaction and engagement; the digital platform allows that interaction to happen," she says. "Brands are creating one-to-one relationships with consumers as a way to build loyalty. On mykleenixtissue.com, for example, consumers can custom design their own tissue box."
"In grocery stores there are more SKUs than ever before, causing shorter and shorter product runs," acknowledges Brownell. "Versioning is becoming a big trend in packaging; the products on the shelf can be designed for specific regions, with specialized decorations."
The arsenal of presses used at Hammer Packaging, North America's second largest private packaging company, reflects the changes in the marketplace.
"We need large format and small format presses because the volumes are changing," says James E. Hammer, president and CEO of the Rochester, NY-based company. "We used to just do large format, but there are so many more line extensions with more SKUs. Bud Lite, for example, used to have one brand and one flavor; now there are between 12 and 15 different flavors distributed to different markets."