Packaging front and centre at drupa 2016

Packaging front and centre at drupa 2016
Packaging solutions were a highlight of drupa 2016.

As one of the growth areas in printing, suppliers to the industry, both packaging veterans and newcomers, were offering a wide range of digital and analogue innovations to streamline the packaging workflow. According to the event’s exhibitor database some 650 vendors presented more than 2,300 products related to postpress, converting and packaging. Packaging was one of six themes around which the show was organised, which also included print, functional printing, 3D printing, multichannel and green printing. While at past drupas packaging may have been more or less contained to a few of the 18 buildings in 2016 it was everywhere.
Key packaging trends at the show included:

  •  Digital direct to corrugated printing. In 2012 Bobst was showing samples, but otherwise, this topic really was not on the radar, at drupa 2016 it was unmissable.
  • Increased penetration of digital printing technologies in packaging production. This ranged from inkjet presses from the likes of EFI, Ricoh, Canon and HP to hybrid presses including offerings from Heidelberg/Fujifilm, Landa/Komori, KBA/Xerox and more.
  • An increased focus on fixed colour palette printing for offset and flexo. This was also a topic not gaining much, if any, attention at drupa 2012. Exhibitors were touting technologies that make it easier to achieve accurate colour with a fixed palette to take advantage of efficiencies.
  • Improvements in flexo plates and platemaking. Flexography has gradually gained in quality that rivals offset and gravure, significant progress since drupa 2012.
  • Embellishment solutions tuned for shorter runs and faster cycle times. Whether it was digital die cutting and creasing, digital embossing and foiling, or 3D printing, show goers were flocking to Highcon, Scodix, MGI, Xeikon, Landa and others to see the latest enhancements and technology demonstrations.

Digital Gaining Ground
Digital printing today only comprises a small percentage of total package production, with labels being the most mature market for digital printing. With the technologies being shown at drupa 2016, many of which are already available or will be by mid-2017, this dynamic is likely to shift quickly. Brand owners like the flexibility of producing short runs, not only for sampling but to address micro markets, seasonal and event-related opportunities, and even personalisation – although packaging personalised to an individual will continue to be a very small opportunity. The technology will more likely be applied to various types of coding applied to the packages for tracking, enhanced access to information and more. They also like the ability to reduce costly inventories and move toward a just-in-time model for packaging as well as the flexibility they have to change content when packaging is printed on demand.
Benny Landa, of course, put on quite a show, with a pure white stage accented by talented dancers using a StarTrek like transporter complete with smoke (no mirrors) to come and go from the presentation which was interspersed with video presentations and professional graphics to tell the Landa story. The highlight of the stand (beyond the show) was the S10 folding carton press running at 13,000 sheets per hour, a speed rivaling offset presses. The company indicates beta testing of this press can be expected in 2017, and reported a total of €450 million in orders from among the 200,000 visitors they claim came through the stand during the show. The company declined to provide a break-out of models ordered, but did announce two large-scale deals with Cimpress (parent company of Vistaprint) and Quad/Graphics. They did indicate that these sales were independent of any sales that might have occurred with the Komori version of the Landa Nanographic press, the Komori Impremia NS40, which was also on display at the show. Quality issues were still evident in samples being shown in the Landa stand, but clearly, buyers have faith that they will be resolved. Some of these contracts undoubtedly came from the base of 340 buyers who executed letters of intent during drupa 2012. Imagine Print Solutions in North America and Colordruck in Germany were identified as Landa S10 beta sites.
In an unexpected move, Xerox and KBA announced a collaboration targeting the folding carton market with a 40-inch B1 sheetfed production inkjet press, the VariJet 106. KBA also has partnerships with HP for its PageWide T1100 Corrugated Press (printing topliner) and RR Donnelley for the RotoJet product. The VariJet 106 is expected to ship in 2017, and the two companies plan an open house at KBA headquarters in Germany later this year. KBA has recently undergone a significant restructuring; while the company relied heavily on newspaper printing in the past, that now only accounts for about 10 per cent of revenues, with packaging solutions for corrugated, folding carton and flexible packaging making up the bulk of the rest.
Heidelberg also had announcements on the packaging front, most notably showing the Primefire 106 inkjet press developed in conjunction with Fujifilm. An interesting capability here is the press’ ability to eject damaged or imperfect sheets so that only sellable sheets end up in the output stacker. As a side note, the Heidelberg stand in Hall 1, though significantly smaller than previous drupas, was stunning in its openness and simplicity, reflected the substantial amount of time the company has spent in restructuring and reinventing itself to maintain a key role in a world that is quickly evolving to digital.
HP reported brisk sales of its Indigo 30000 folding carton press as well as its Indigo 20000 web fed press for labels and flexible packaging. HP reports it has now installed more than 350 of its Series 4 digital presses, which include the Indigo 10000, 20000 and 30000. Also a surprise was Canon’s technology demo of the B2+ photo quality Voyager sheetfed inkjet press which will likely have packaging implications as well. At the same time, however, Canon has quietly terminated development of its liquid toner InfiniStream folding carton press, due to a need to reconfigure the offering to better align with market requirements, but vowing to continue to develop its liquid toner technology.
In terms of digital direct to corrugated, which arguably was one of the biggest drupa 2016 stories, Bobst, celebrating 125 years in business, again showed high quality print samples, reconfirmed its partnership with Kodak for print heads, and indicated its digital direct to corrugated press was in beta testing. Code named the Geneva Press, it is roll to sheet with inline coating and die cutting. The company also launched nearly a dozen new products during the show.
EFI drew a great deal of attention (and several sales) with its Nozomi C18000 direct to corrugated press.  Nozomi is the name of a Japanese bullet train but also means hope in Japanese, implying that the press is fast (up to 9,000 sheets per hour) – and maybe also bringing hope to the industry. EFI pegs its selling price at about half of alternative solutions, in the $2m-$3m range. HP jumped into the fray, adding direct-to-corrugated to its portfolio that includes the Pagewide T1100 being jointly developed with KBA with the PageWide C500. Konica Minolta introduced a new internally developed B1 inkjet press for folding carton and light corrugated materials, to be launched in the next year or two along with its new bizhub Press C71cf label press. While most offerings were offline from the corrugating process, Screen and BHS took a different approach with the BHS Corrugated Inline Digital Print Solution targeted at corrugated box plants and including inline printing. Industry pundits we spoke to had mixed feelings about this approach, with concerns that the printing component might experience more downtime than the corrugator, affecting overall throughput. Time will tell.
There are, of course, a number of wide format solutions, including those from EFI and Durst, that print direct to corrugated, but not at the speeds these newer entrants can.
There were also several demonstrations of printing directly on three-dimensional objects, including Mimaki’s Kebab feature for printing on cylindrical objects, which has been in the market for some time; an impressive offering from Heidelberg under the name Jetmaster Dimension, and a Xerox solution as well.

Colour Matters
X-Rite Pantone, together with its sister company Esko, were showcasing tools and solutions enabling an end-to-end colour managed workflow, from colour measurement instruments such as the X-Rite eXact handheld spectrophotometer and the new eXact Xp for accurate measurement of film, to the PantoneLIVE cloud-based solution for communication and management of brand colours. Pantone’s Extended Gamut Guide and Esko’s Equinox software were being demonstrated to brand owners and packaging converters interested in taking advantage of the economies of fixed colour palette printing. Visitors were also able to experience the newest version of ColorCert for statistical process control in the colour environment.
There were many other new colour measurement devices on display, including the Techkon SpectroEdge ES7500, a continuous scanning spectrophotometer designed to deliver real-time, continuous spectral data at printing speeds of up to 1,000 feet (305 meters) per minute.
Visitors to the Esko stand were also able to see enhancements to the Kongsberg cutting table line and robotic loading and unloading of cutting tables for a productivity improvement of up to 80 per cent.


Future of flexo
With respect to flexo plates, the most notable announcements came from Esko, Asahi and Kodak. Kodak has already had good success with its Flexcel NX systems and launched the new Flexcel NX System ’16 at the show, one of 20 different announcements the company made. The new system dramatically improves ink transfer and controls ink flow at the edge of objects, delivering the highest resolution in the industry, according to Kodak. The company also previewed Ultra-NX technology, an environmentally conscious plate processing solution using a water wash.
Asahi Photoproducts also touted its environmentally friendly flexo plates, most notably its AWP water wash plates with Pinning Technology for Clean Transfer. Recent tests the company undertook with Italian press manufacturer Uteco demonstrated that these plates can deliver up to a 26 per cent improvement in overall equipment effectiveness, saving time, reducing waste and eliminating a significant volume of solvents used in conventional flexo platemaking. Improved registration makes these plates ideal for printing with a fixed colour palette, the company claims. Asahi also introduced a new plate, which it calls DCV. The solvent-washable AFP-DCV premium digital flexo plate with Pinning Technology for Clean Transfer is designed to produce Deep Colour Vibrance with water- and solvent-based inks for flexible packaging and paper applications.
A radical announcement from Esko was also a show highlight. The CDI Crystal 5080 XPS promises to dramatically simplify the flexo platemaking process by including all steps in one seamless flow without human intervention, reducing the overall required footprint and reducing platemaking time. The company also introduced Automation Engine Device View to allow users to view and manage multiple devices, including platemakers and cutting tables, from a single interface. The Crystal platemaker, which uses UV LED exposure, may encourage packaging converters to bring more platemaking inhouse rather than using repro houses, giving them more control over quality and turnaround time.


Embellishing the future
Embellishment of printed packaging, including die-cutting, foiling, embossing and more, has long been a staple for many brands, especially for luxury packaging. But accomplishing these in a conventional workflow can be costly and time consuming, making it difficult to economically add these features for the growing number of small lot productions. Prior to drupa 2016, there were a number of digital offerings targeted at shorter runs, but this discipline really came into its own at drupa 2016. MGI, Highcon, Scodix, Landa, Xeikon and others saw huge volumes of traffic – and significant sales – as visitors flocked to see the new possibilities they offered.
Scodix claims sales at the show doubled its installed base, and in addition, the company signed more than 40 letters of intent for its E106 B1 press running at up to 4,000 sheets per hour. The new press can be modularly configured with any or all of the options Scodix offers, including spot varnish, Braille, digital embossing, variable data finishes and foil, all in a single press.
Highcon launched a number of new digital creasing and cutting machines at the show, raising its highest speed to 5,000 sheets per hour for the Highcon Beam (from its initial launch speed of 1,500), bumping digital cutting and creasing (including variable cutting) to a new level of productivity without any apparent sacrifice in quality.  It also introduced an entry level model for smaller operations, the Highcon Pulse. Highcon’s stage show, which featured models in paper dresses created using Highcon technology, was a big hit, drawing SRO crowds. And its work was featured in a huge paper sculpture hanging over the escalators bringing visitors in from the North Entrance. Paper Artist Peter Dahmen and his outstanding work were also featured in the stand, drawing crowds and delivering inspiration. Highcon also introduced the Highcon Shape, expected to be available in 2019. It produces large scale 3D products using any paper, including waste paper from printing operations. It uses a technology the company calls Rapid Layer Manufacturing, with some very impressive objects being shown, including furniture and one-time molds (the example here was a mold used to produce a cement bench).
Landa was demonstrating Landa Metallography Technology, claiming a zero waste process that applies a metallic effect at less than 50 per cent of the current cost. This presumably will be available as an inline option with Landa presses. Another interesting embellishment development running inline with a digital label press was found in the Xeikon stand: Xeikon Fusion Technology, a future development for the company, will enable full control of embellishment capabilities from the DFE, modularly and inline. Xeikon sees an interest in digital modules for hot and cold foiling, for applying screen prints, matte, gloss and structured flood and spot varnish — including raised varnish, and a digital Braille module for pharmaceutical applications.
MGI also had an impressive stand and the company continues to boost the capabilities and productivity of its embellishment systems. This includes integration of digital presses with the company’s iFoil technology for inline hot foiling on demand. The foil can be overprinted with the CMYK toner to create diverse colour tones and sparkling effects in an almost unlimited range of colours on just about any type of paper. The company also showed the latest Jetvarnish 3D Evolution, a Spot UV Coating and Foiling Solution for B1+ and smaller sheet formats.
MGI, Highcon and Scodix were handing out stunning books showcasing their work that will provide inspiration for months to come to the lucky visitors who were able to take them away.
While it is not exactly embellishment, one other development from HP Indigo bears mentioning. HP Indigo Pack Ready Lamination is a lamination technology for flexible packaging that requires zero cure time, helping packaging converters dramatically improve speed to market. Instead of taking anywhere from a few days to more than a week to cure, with Pack Ready, laminated films are immediately ready for use due to a patented process consisting of a laminate film and special Pack Ready resin. The laminate film is bonded with the printed film and the two films pass through a corona treatment unit to enhance surface tension and then are bonded at a heat level based on the substrate being used.


Touching the future of packaging
drupa was a show to remember for packaging. These highlights are only the tip of the iceberg.

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