What’s in the Box?
As traditional trade bindery work has become harder to find, trade binderies and print finishers have started to think about additional non-print products they can produce using their unique finishing skills and processes. One of the most interesting is the “luxury packaging” market.
We see tons of packaging in retail every day, but luxury packaging is a different breed. Who hasn’t been impressed with the meticulous boxing of an Apple iPhone or iPad? The impressive packaging of a high-end writing instrument, jewelry or a Rolex or Omega watch? Much of this type of boxing comers from China, where it’s largely a manual process. Scores of workers will cut and groove the board that makes up the tray and box cover, then perform the cutting, punching, magnet placing, lining and box assembly. This has been the way much of this production is accomplished. But it has many drawbacks. The “turn time” between placing an order and receiving the goods is significant. Second, you can’t order small quantities (not economically). So you may receive a shipping container full of finished boxes just when the client wants to make a design change.
Now making boxes employs skills similar to casemaking for hard cover books. Both start with board that is lined with fabric or other material, and grooving, punching, cornering and gluing are common to both. So a box-making machine would be no great surprise to a trade binder. And one such system was unveiled at drupa. Kolbus, long known for high-speed perfect binders, introduced its Boxline at the show. The system (and it is a system) consists of seven independent modules which can run independently or be combined into an integrated production unit.
The individual modules are for grooving, corner punching, box making, magnet inserting. Lining, box case processing,and placing. What’s remarkable about it is it’s speed (40 finished boxes/min.) and the fact that is can change box types in about 10 minutes. It also requires only three staff to run. And these are mostly at the end of the line, collecting finished boxes. It’s not a low-end system. It requires an investment nearing two million dollars. So what are the advantages? First, short-run production. Just like the book market, you could deliver very short-run orders to a client, which could greatly expand the potential client base while also allowing prototype runs. Second, you would be producing locally, which could yield quite an advantage in product delivery times. Finally, wages continue to rise in China, so the minimum manning requirements of such a machine might enable competitive pricing with off-shore suppliers.
Still, it remains to be seen whether there is a market for such a system. The high capital investment sets a high bar for potential customer commitment. You would have to be pretty confident of the business this would bring in. Luxury packaging is also a market that most trade binderies are not familiar with, so there may be a significant learning curve in pricing and customer acquisition. But the machines are a marvel of German engineering and impressive as hell to watch in action. The Kolbus investment in development for this system must have been major. So we can only wait and see whether that investment will pay off.