Digital printing and production technologies are on the rise throughout every packaging segment, and with adoption increasing, several successful strategies for implementation have emerged. Throughout the PRINTING United Digital Experience’s two dedicated packaging days, printers and converters across all packaging segments shared their experiences with digital and how their companies and customers have benefited from it.
In flexible packaging, the industry’s fastest growing segment, digital production technology is still in its early stages. However, PRINTING United featured two companies that have implemented the HP Indigo 20000 digital press, albeit with different strategies in mind. During a panel on Oct. 29, Carl Joachim, co-founder and CMO of ePac Flexible Packaging, shared the story of how his company has grown to have 17 worldwide facilities based entirely around digital technology.
For ePac, which began operations in 2016, Joachim said the advent of digital printing technology allowed the company to fill a gap in the marketplace. As brands and consumers continue to appreciate the benefits of flexible packaging, small and medium-sized brands have expressed a desire for high-quality flexible packaging in smaller volumes than their larger-sized counterparts. By strategically launching digital production facilities positioned in various geographic locations, Joachim said ePac can then work with the brands operating within those communities. With digital printing, Joachim said brands benefit from a straightforward ordering process, and can enjoy added flexibility in run lengths and packaging designs.
“When we started ePac, we knew we wanted to create a platform that was simple,” he said. “If we wanted to focus on small and medium brands, we wanted to take the complexity out of it.”
Joining Joachim on the panel, was Lou Dolgin, corporate business development and marketing leader for American Packaging Corporation (APC). While ePac’s production equipment is entirely digital, Dolgin detailed the decision drivers behind APC installing an HP Indigo 20000 alongside a fleet of flexographic and rotogravure equipment.
With its expertise in producing high-quality, high-volume runs on its various conventional presses, APC has amassed a roster of larger brands that Dolgin said are beginning to understand the benefits that digital printing can bring to them. He explained that the company has conducted some educational outreach to teach the brands that it serves about the flexibility and personalization digital provides, while simultaneously freeing up the company’s conventional equipment for more high-volume production.
“We think digital is going to play a bigger role in our space,” Dolgin said. “We’re looking at larger runs that could be on press for two or three days. Digital provides customers with a lot of flexibility and gives them opportunity for them to learn.”
Another segment seeing a rapid increase of digital production in recent years is corrugated packaging and displays. During the PRINTING United Digital Experience, two corrugated companies that have installed single-pass, direct-to-board, inkjet presses shared their stories. Justin Best, VP of graphics and production for Jonesboro, Ark.-based Precision Digital Printing, shared the story of how he and members of his family launched the start-up business based entirely around the EFI Nozomi C18000.
Best explained that when the company launched in 2018, single-pass technology was new on the scene, and required a significant investment, both financially, and in physical space. Seeing an opportunity to serve the corrugated industry as a direct-to-trade digital printer, Best said Precision Digital has emerged as a go-to resource for high-graphic, full-color printed corrugated work that is suited to the advantages digital provides. While multi-pass digital printing solutions had been on the market for some time, Best explained that when customers see the speed and turnaround times that single-pass provides, they start to understand how advantageous the technology is.
“When we would show them that this sheet came directly after this sheet, that was a big learning curve for people,” he said. “You could have one PDF of 10 pages and it could print all 10 pages with no changeover.”
As digital printing in corrugated has increased, it has coincided with the meteoric rise of e-commerce, an industry that relies heavily on corrugated packaging to quickly and safely transport products directly to consumers. Seeing an opportunity to provide an online ordering system for custom-printed corrugated, The BoxMaker, a Seattle-based corrugated printer, launched Fantastapack, backed by its own single-pass solution, the HP PageWide C500.
Justin Stacey, the company's VP of e-commerce solutions, explained how the e-commerce setting differs from traditional brick-and-mortar retail, in that the first physical touch the consumer has with the product, is when the box arrives at their front door. By enhancing the unboxing experience with high-graphic, customized corrugated printing, brands can foster that heightened experience. And as the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed e-commerce ordering to historically high levels, the flexibility that digital provides has allowed Fantastapack to help brands and retailers in need.
“What ended up happening is most companies that needed to stay in business had to pivot into e-commerce, or had already started into e-commerce,” he said. “We were at the right place at the right time. The backbone of our whole architecture and the company itself is to support e-commerce through digital print.”
While digital printing is providing increasing opportunities and flexibility to a variety of CPG brands, it is also proving its worth in medical and industrial segments that require durability and variable data. Craig Moreland, owner and CEO of Coast Label in Fountain Valley, Calif., shared his experiences with UV inkjet technology from Durst, and how his company has benefited from the Durst Tau 330E digital label press.
In addition to the high-quality color and the impressive opacity of the white, Moreland said the UV inkjet technology helps create a label with the durability needed by the industrial and medical markets the company serves.
“A lot of the labels we run have pretty complex converting needs,” Moreland said. “UV Inkjet is a very durable print technology and typically doesn’t require lamination or varnish to be durable.”
Another strategy shared by the PRINTING United panelists who have installed digital printing equipment, is the ability to provide sample packaging at production-level quality. In a Nov. 4 panel, Chris Kline, GM of Cincinnati-based Wingate Packaging, a producer of a variety of folding cartons and paperboard packaging, shared how his company launched its First Article Program through the use of its HP Indigo 30000 digital press and digital cutting and creasing equipment from Highcon.
Kline explained how companies have often relied on rudimentary printing and cutting technology to piece together cost-effective packaging samples. But with digital printing and converting equipment, he said Wingate can provide them with samples that will match the packaging they would achieve in a production-length run. With Wingate’s First Article Program, he said customers can receive three packaging samples to use in their marketing efforts. Once they have a final design determined, Kline said that First Article customers have the freedom to seek full-scale production elsewhere, but many choose to remain with Wingate, as the company has a robust fleet of offset and flexographic printing platforms in addition to the digital press.
“We can produce up to three production quality samples that were printed on the HP and cut on the Highcon laser cutter, versus a copy machine and CAD table,” he said.