Benchmarking Digital Corrugated Production Technology
In 2016, digital printing of packaging took center stage in the print industry, as the burgeoning technology was nearly ubiquitous throughout the 19 halls of Messe Düsseldorf during that spring’s edition of drupa.
But the segment that drew the most buzz at the printing mega-show was corrugated, as multiple suppliers unveiled single-pass, direct-to-board, inkjet presses designed for high-graphic corrugated packaging and displays.
Since the launch of these platforms, several early adopters have brought presses on board and have introduced their capabilities into the marketplace. But because these presses provide different capabilities than their multi-pass counterparts that had been introduced to the industry in years prior, gaining an understanding of how converters and brands are making use of their capabilities provides valuable insights into how these systems are best deployed.
Karstedt Partners, a market research and consulting firm specializing in digital package printing, has launched the first installment of "Benchmarking Digital Print in Corrugated Packaging," a three-part study benchmarking both the adoption and use of digital corrugated printing technology. According to Jeff Wettersten, president of Karstedt Partners, prior to single-pass options hitting the market, corrugated converters had seen some success with multi-pass solutions, but saw single-pass as an opportunity to ramp up their square footage of output. However, since these presses have hit the market, data surrounding their usage has not been readily available.
“Single pass entered the market, began to gain traction, and everyone had visibility on installs and heard communication on who’s installing them,” Wettersten says. “But no one had true visibility on the performance of those presses and output of those presses.”
Among the key statistics that emerged from the study’s findings is the quantity of high-graphic corrugated printing being converted to digital. According to Wettersten, corrugated industry estimates show that 20% to 30% of total corrugated output requires high graphic printing of three colors or more.
From that, converters indicated that of their high graphics business, approximately 10% to 20% represents a strong candidacy or can be considered “low-hanging fruit” for digital production, Wettersten says. These jobs tend to be considered strong candidates for digital production due to converter pain points including machine setup issues or problems running the job that could be solved via a digital process.
However, Wettersten explains that converters have an opportunity to convert more of their work to digital by pinpointing customer struggles in speed to market and product flexibility that digital is well-suited for.
“Beyond the low-hanging fruit you have opportunities for selling the value of digital print where you’re connecting to the customer’s pain point with your solution,” Wettersten says. “Now you’re selling the value equation and they’re moving jobs over because of their internal pain.”
Other key data that emerged from the study, Wettersten says, centered on the quantity of output being produced, as well as the ramp up time for presses to be fully operational. Converters who have had a single-pass platform for more than 2.5 years tend to be operating very well, Wettersten says, and are typically producing approximately 5 million sq. ft. per month.
“Many converters state when you get into that area in excess of 4 million sq. ft., digital is highly profitable at that level,” he says.
On the topic of installation and integration, Wettersten says the study indicated that currently, adopters of single-pass digital printing platforms can have the press operational in the neighborhood of six to eight weeks. This is a sharp decrease from those who installed in 2016 and 2017 when these presses first hit the market, which at the time tended to require six months to be installed and operational.
Lastly, Wettersten said that the survey indicated that single-pass systems tend to be serving a specific need in the industry. While the majority of multi-pass digital systems tended to be used for displays and display components, Wettersten explained that single-pass presses are now used for producing a significant volume addressing carton requirements. In fact, the square footage produced for cartons from single-pass digital presses now exceeds that produced for display requirements.
Because of this, Wettersten explained that brands are now viewing digital as a viable option for their corrugated cartons, which has led to new opportunities for converters.
“That’s of critical importance because cartons is a much bigger segment [than displays],” he says. “Cartons have really began to materialize and have been enabled by the speed of single pass. You have carton buyers now beginning to endorse and accept and look to digital providers for their carton work.”