Packaging is the Next Frontier for Digital Technologies

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.

The prize is worth the effort. The worldwide market for digitally printed foils, cartons and labels stood at just €2.5 billion in 2009, the vast majority of this from labels. The world packaging market is currently valued at $429 billion according to Pike Research and is expected to surpass $500 billion in sales within five years. Paper and paper-based packaging are the largest sectors, with more than 40 percent of the global packaging market.

Many packaging companies have tested digital printing over the last decade, but almost all have abandoned these trials claiming that the business model did not exist or that the quality was not adequate.

But the problem of meeting demands for faster turnaround has remained, pushing litho press manufacturers into delivering presses with high levels of automation to handle short runs effectively. This means adding tools to monitor quality on press and to reject sheets that fall short, using scanners to check that what is printed is exactly the same as on the PDF that the client approved, and using all the plate changing, presetting and color control tools that have become standard for commercial printers.

Packaging printers with this level of press are comfortable printing a run of 100 sheets among others where the job may need several pallets of board. And litho continues to offer advantages in terms of inline varnishing and foiling that digital does not yet offer.

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