Stunning full-color graphics, customizable content, and drastically reduced turnaround times have taken the corrugated industry to new heights since high-speed, single-pass, digital presses first emerged. And although the technology is still in its early stages of adoption, it is quickly demonstrating its value to corrugated printers and their customers.
During the virtual Digital Packaging Summit, held Dec. 1-3, 2020, three adopters of the technology shared their experiences with single-pass digital corrugated production, and the impact it has had on their companies and the brands they serve. Hosted by Jeff Wettersten, president of industry consulting and research firm Karstedt Partners, the panel featured Jeff Tedder, north/central region sales manager for Hood Container, Robert Seay, VP of digital printing solutions for the Hummingbird division of Georgia-Pacific, and Troy Best, VP of Sales and Operations for Precision Digital Printing.
To open the conversation, the printers shared how having digital equipment benefited their company throughout 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. Tedder explained that the flexibility of Hood Container’s digital equipment, which includes a Barberán Jetmaster 1680, allows the company to get products into the marketplace faster, which is important as retail demand increased.
“The advantage of digital for us is the transitions,” he said. “It’s the compression of the supply chain. We have people waiting on the sidelines waiting on retail installations, and to get that product in the marketplace, it’s a true advantage.”
In addition to the flexibility that the digital technology provides, Best explained that it has opened the door for customers to explore new opportunities with their graphics. As a direct-to-trade printer based entirely around the EFI Nozomi C18000 digital press, Precision Digital Printing has been able to introduce other corrugated manufacturers to the advantages of digital and open their eyes to what can be accomplished.
The responsiveness of digital combined with the quality of the print, Best said, has been instrumental in the growth of Precision Digital Printing.
“Our customers are going out and selling a product based on the ease of getting into new markets,” Best said. “Customers are not limited to one, two, or three colors — they can get really into the art. Customers have seen how efficient it is to get samples so their customers can see them before they order.”
One common misconception of digital printing that Wettersten presented to the panel is the notion that it should only be used for short runs. While the panelists stated that their digital equipment does perform well with short-run jobs, it is not always the ideal production approach.
Seay explained that Hummingbird utilizes digital preprint equipment in the form of the HP PageWide T1100S. Unlike sheet presses, he said Hummingbird produces printed rolls that then get shipped to box plants, and the economics of that doesn’t always lend itself to short-run production.
“Can we do short run? Yes. Do we like to do short run? Not all the time,” Seay said. “We produce digital preprint and that’s different from sheet presses. We produce rolls that go to box plants. We prefer to do at least a half roll or a full roll. It has to make economic sense to go to different box plants.”
While the corrugated industry is steadily becoming more comfortable with digital, brand owner education has also become a priority as printers seek to promote the advantages of the technology to their customers. Tedder explained that while digital may not be the right solution for all packaging projects, when used to the best of its abilities, it can serve as a lithography replacement. By starting the education process internally, he said companies will be poised for success in introducing digital to their customers.
“If you don’t understand what it’s capable of, you’re destined for failure,” he said. “I’ve converted some of the largest CPGs away from lithography into digital. There are certain limitations, but there are advantages.”
But whether it’s increased efficiency, high-end, full-color graphics, or quick turnaround times, Seay said that the added value that digital printing provides is quickly evident to brand owners.
“We really try to look at what the value is that we’re providing brands and trade partners,” he said. “It does change the game — digital versus other print methodologies.”