'Burning Questions' and Encouragement from OEMs at Opening of Digital Packaging Summit
Packaging printers and converters come to the Digital Packaging Summit for answers — and in an opening keynote, conference co-chair Marco Boer (I.T. Strategies) was ready with answers to what he said were the conferees' "top 10 burning questions" about the outlook for digitally produced packaging and labels.
Boer said that "FUD" — fear, uncertainty, and doubt concerning digital packaging business models and ROI — was real and that the complexity of the technology could be daunting. But he reassured the audience that the vendors "are really co-dependent on your success" and should be looked upon as partners in achieving it. Following Boer's remarks, a panel of OEM vendor representatives pledged the same thing.
The gist of Boer's Q&A was as follows:
Why is it so hard to sell the benefits of digitally printed packaging?
It doesn't have to be, said Boer, if printers can find ways "to do something a little bit different with that package that you couldn't do before." Also helpful is to "concentrate on the fit" by choosing the right applications and the right solutions to produce them.
Where are we on the digital adoption curve?
Still at a stage, according to Boer, where there continues to be opportunity for growth. Digital label printing systems, for example, have been adopted by only 20% of all label producing sites, placing the technology "right at the edge" of broader implementation.
When will digitally printed packaging make economic sense?
In conventional run lengths, said Boer, possibly never. But in appropriate quantities and applications, the economic justification is stronger. It will occur "in pockets, not across the entire market," he advised.
When will converting equipment catch up to digital printing?
Converting remains "a bit of an afterthought" in the adoption of digital printing, Boer acknowledged, adding that most first-time adopters tend to make do with the postpress equipment they already have after the digital press comes in. A better strategy, he said, is to determine converting needs first and then pick a digital press that corresponds to them.
How much revenue is made from digital printing?
A chart presented by Boer put the worldwide retail value of labels, corrugated, folding carton, and flexible packaging at $10.8 billion in 2018 and projected that it would be $22.1 billion in 2023 — a CAGR of 15%. Some buyers are willing to pay eight times more for a digitally produced package than for a conventional one, according to Boer.
How do you deal with resource intensive pre-print functions for short runs?
Because the demand for versioned short runs is growing, noted Boer, printers and converters will have to put more effort into managing these complex products. The upside, however, is that service providers could find themselves making more money from the data management function than from the production per se.
Where does hybrid print fit in?
It's a best-of-both-worlds scenario, according to Boer, with the conventional part of a hybrid press furnishing the long-run economy and the digital component providing the variable output — a good arrangement for printers and converters who have both volume and a demand for versioning.
Where do digital printing food grade inks stand?
This is very tough to answer, Boer said, because no uniform standard exists and because the food packaging safety ordinances that have been promulgated "are really not enforceable." As a result, printers have to trust what the ink vendors tell them about the safety of their products.
What is the obsolescence cycle of digital printing equipment?
It is dictated, Boer said, more by economic considerations than by the mechanical condition of the machine, which can continuously be upgraded to extend its usefulness. While it might be possible to keep a digital press in operation for 10 to 15 years, its owner probably will want to add a newer, more productive piece of equipment within that time frame.
How does one cut through the jargon to compare technology, cost, etc.?
The best way, Boer counseled, is to "ask the same questions multiple ways, from different sources," and compare the results. Also essential is making the most of educational events like the Digital Packaging Summit. "This is your opportunity to get smart," Boer encouraged the audience.
Like its sister event, the Inkjet Summit, the Digital Packaging Summit is an invitation-only conference produced with the support of sponsoring vendors that cover all the expenses of a pre-qualified group of attendees. Representatives of the Digital Packaging Summit's keynote sponsors welcomed the audience and offered overviews of their companies' solutions for the digital production of packaging and labels.
Moderated by conference co-chair Kevin Karstedt (Karstedt Partners), the panelists included David Ellen, global divisional director, Domino Digital Printing Solutions; Brian Cleary, Indigo labels category manager, HP; Mark Schlimme, VP of marketing, Screen Americas; and David Wilkins, VP, Xeikon.
Each outlined what his company has to offer packaging and label printers both in technology solutions and in business development assistance. Ellen spoke for them all when he urged members of the audience to treat investment in a digital press as one of the most significant decisions they would ever make.
When selecting a press, he urged them, "do your due diligence on your book of business. It's your business, and it's your money."