The various, disparate parts of what we call “packaging” have been growing, and in new directions over the past few years. Last year, we saw what could have been called (and probably was called) a “corrugated drupa,” with a number of new product announcements and vendor alliances being forged around corrugated packaging printing.
It should be no surprise to anyone that the announcements were more often than not digital in nature, as the ongoing trends in packaging are toward shorter runs, faster turnaround, more customization and versioning, and more prototyping. Product announcements from the likes of EFI (Nozomi), HP (PageWide C500 Press) (Booth 613), and Screen and BHS Corrugated (the BHS Corrugated Inline Digital Printing Solution) (Booth 2613) have led to beta testing (EFI’s Nozomi, for example, is about to be installed at a second beta site).
What’s telling about where packaging printing stands today is that this year’s PRINT 17 sees a lot of action happening at the front end of the packaging workflow, namely, with regard to software. (You can always tell the state of a production technology by the impact it has on activity in prepress and postpress.) For example, Enfocus Software (Booth 255) has revamped the preflight engine in PitStop Pro in order to more efficiently preflight PDFs used for packaging production. These files often include a lot of ancillary information pertaining to finishing and the structural aspects of assembling a finished package, so they can generate a huge list of “false errors” that a user has to manually sort through to find out what is actually a production problem. A smarter approach to preflighting these kinds of files can make this a less painful and time-consuming process.
Meanwhile, EFI (Booth 2302) recently launched (and more recently updated) its Packaging and Corrugated Packaging Productivity Suites, which offer a spate of management functions such as scheduling, estimating, shop floor data collection, ecommerce and marketing tools, third-party prepress integration, supply chain and transportation management, and so on.
There is all this movement in packaging because general commercial printers have (or are said to have) perceived new business opportunities in packaging. However, packaging production offers a variety of new challenges beyond simply buying a new piece of equipment, as it is largely a manufacturing process—even more so than printing in general. So software developers with a long history and track record in general printing are seeking to help ease the transition into packaging production.
If commercial printers are daunted by the prospect of moving into packaging in general, they’ll really quail at the prospect of so-called “smart” packaging, or integrating some kind of electronics into packaging. This has been a topic that has been bandied about for a long time now in one way or another (remember about 15 years ago, when RFID antenna printing was going to be the savior of the printing industry?), but new developments and the impending “Internet of Things”—which will either be the greatest thing since sliced bread could interface with a mobile device, or a complete dystopian nightmare (the jury’s still out)—but it may be the external enabling technology that drives a greater and greater interest in smart packaging.
For a peek at what this could involve, be sure to stop by Konica Minolta’s booth (Booth 2031) and see what MGI has been working on based on technology developed at CERN (no word on whether this involves printing the Higgs boson on corrugated packaging).