Packaging is the Next Frontier for Digital TechnologiesNovember 11, 2011 By Gareth Ward
When Heidelberg predicts that digitally printed packaging is set to grow at double digit rates for the immediate future, printers need to sit up. And Heidelberg is not alone. The prospects for printing packaging of all types on digital presses are exciting every press manufacturer. If digital printing on paper is understood and developing at a steady pace, digital printing of packaging has scarcely scratched the surface. And with packaging, there is no risk that print will be replaced by electronic media.
To date, digital printing has left packaging alone while expanding in publication printing. Over the next year or so, that is going to change as existing electrophotographic technologies clash with inkjet systems to win market share in a sector where the arguments in favor of short-run and just-in-time printing are gaining ground. The positions that each supplier is taking will be clear at drupa 2012.
Traditional ways to produce packaging generate huge volumes of waste, as up to 20 percent of printed material can become obsolete before it is used. Frequent promotions and shorter product life cycles only exacerbate the problem, unless companies can order just in time or closer to the point of use. Both favor digital production methods. Then there is the opportunity presented by personalization, as a means of customer engagement and as identification in pharmaceutical applications, for example.
Heidelberg’s strategy is based on developing machines and printing lines around inkjet technology, which it previewed at Interpack. Its main board member, Stephan Plenz, declared, “Digital packaging will more than triple in four years and its growth rates is expected to be bigger in the future. UV inkjet printing is rapidly gaining importance thanks to its versatility in the choice of substrates and the fact that it can be directly integrated into packaging production lines.”
Size of market
Alon Bar-Shany, vice president and general manager of HP’s Indigo division, reckons that digitally printed packaging can take the same 10-percent share of the market that it has in label printing. Already, HP Indigo presses are being used in flexible packaging and carton printing, but it is very early days. HP will be unveiling significant moves by drupa and will have presses in place at major flexo and carton printers before then.