Sound Bite: Finding Your Digital Fit
One of the common threads present throughout the second annual Digital Packaging Summit was that investing in digital printing involves much more than choosing a press. In order for converters to make the right decision, it is imperative to understand their internal needs, analyze their customer needs and to fully explore their existing environments and what solutions make the best fit.
Marco Boer, VP of I.T. Strategies and the co-chair of the event, opened the Summit with an overview of some of the recent developments in digital printing across all four packaging segments; labels, folding cartons, flexible packaging and corrugated. In all of these segments, Boer explained, in order to achieve successful adoption of digital, converters need to understand the necessary consumables, substrates and software that will drive a new digital asset. Once these elements have been fully vetted, an educated purchase can be made.
“The bottom line is we are at a stage now where there are a terrific number of options available in terms of digital printing for packaging, whether it’s toner, inkjet or one of the derivatives thereof,” Boer said.
The first issue to look at when exploring digital printing, Boer says, is substrates. If a converter is currently running a packaging job for a brand owner and has been consistently using the same substrate, both sides will not want to switch to a new substrate just to accommodate for digital printing.
In many instances, it is not feasible to take a substrate that performs well in a conventional printing environment and transition it to digital. While chemical tweaks in the printing process can help with this type of transition, ample research is needed to understand if a digital solution is the right fit for a company’s required substrates.
“In the packaging industry, which has been around for centuries, you’re very unlikely to swap out your substrate.” Boer explains. “You’re going to want to print on the substrate you’ve always printed on. That is a challenge for digital printing because they no longer have to print on one or two substrates. They have to print on a broad range of substrates. As you go along and you qualify these machines, make sure it works on the substrate you intend it to work on.”
Another key part of the ecosystem that needs to be addressed with a critical eye is finishing, Boer says. Highlighting that the majority of the value of a package stems from converting, Boer explained before adding an in-line finishing system to a digital workflow, converters need to understand all of the finishing processes that a customer may need.
Boer provided a tangible scenario for the audience to relate to from a recent visit he made to a converter site. The converter had placed a substantial investment into a digital press with in-line coating, but was not pleased with the result because the in-line coater could not accommodate everything the converter needed it to.
Click below to hear Boer describe this converter's case:
Another aspect that Boer said is essential to look at before making the leap into digital is workflow software. Stating that software acquisition is often met with reluctance, Boer urged the converters in the audience to strongly consider how it can help them track jobs, costs and other essentials.
“No one wants to pay for workflow software, but it’s probably one of the most tangible areas where you can make the most difference in terms of scheduling your jobs, in terms of keeping track of cost,” Boer said.
In addition to understanding the ecosystem within their own operations, Boer urged converters to partner with visionary brand owners who are also eager about the technology. Not everyone is ready to dive into the world of digital print, but when converters and brands connect on a vision, that is what will help drive technological growth.
“You really have to have your entire company embrace this in a solid way in order for this to be successful,” Boer said. “It’s not trivial. It takes leadership. There are some companies that do it extremely well. But in my experience, it always comes down to one or two key individuals. If they solve it and they do it right, then everything falls into place and you see growth like you’ve never seen before.”