Digital Packaging Summit Kicks Off with a Look at a Changing Digital Market
On Monday night, 225-plus attendees filled a room in at Ponte Vedra Inn in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, for the eighth annual Digital Packaging Summit, Packaging Impressions' free, all-inclusive event for qualified senior managers and business executives in the printing and converting industry who are eager to gather strategies and insights for moving their businesses forward in the digital production printing space.
David Pesko, event director, Digital Packaging Summit welcomed guests with opening remarks and thanks to the keynote sponsors of the event — Domino Digital Printing, HP Indigo, SCREEN Americas, and Xeikon — before handing the mic over to the first speaker of the evening.
A Changing Market
To kickstart the three-day event, Conference Co-Chair Marco Boer, VP, IT Strategies, took the stage with his opening keynote presentation, "State of the Industry, Trends & New Developments to watch as we exit COVID."
“The market is changing,” Boer said. “The good news about packaging is nothing is going to replace packaging as far as we know.”
With change inevitably come challenges. While substrates are a well-known challenge within the industry, the bigger problem, Boer explained, is labor. This is partly because there have been 5-10% fewer births since 2008. The labor challenges are not going to get easier, but automation and efficiency will be key to alleviate these challenges moving forward. It’s the unknown that makes things a little more complicated.
“Every time you think you know where we’re going – I know there are problems with substrates and labor – there’s something else that comes out of the woodwork,” he said.
A wildcard, he said, is energy and energy pricing. He cautioned that while this prediction may not come to fruition, it is something to keep an eye on. In Europe, there has been a significant increase in energy prices. If it’s a very cold winter, there are three industries that would be deemed non-essential: metal, glass, and chemical manufacturing, which includes paper. In this instance, we would see the domino effects with paper mills closing.
These variables lead to turbulence, Boer said.
“Turbulence, like in an airplane, can be can be exhilarating and frightening to other people,” he said.
Because of this, in 2023, printers and converters should prepare for a lot of last-minute substrate changeovers by planning for more contingencies and understanding there will be a lot of chaos, he explained. Furthermore, rush orders and increased versioning will become commonplace, and brands will expect sustainability.
“Some of the big brands are looking to see if you, as a converter, are focused on sustainability,” Boer said.
It’s so important, in fact, that Boer pointed to a recent conversation he had with a converter that lost the deal because the brand couldn’t find a sustainability mission statement on the converters’ website.
There are also significant challenges ahead with pricing, especially with customers that are used to fixed pricing and contracts. Pricing will need to be more dynamic.
Boer pointed out, "It's a complicated time to be in business, however there are some answers to all of this."
One piece of advice? "It's all about resiliency," he said.
Boer explained that digital printing equipment is all about flexibility because it can achieve things that conventional printing is just not capable of. It’s analogous to the flexibility of a willow tree, which doesn’t snap in a strong wind, he said.
“If you’re rigid and you don’t change, and the winds keep on blowing, at some point, you’re going to snap,” he said.
Although digital printing won’t replace flexographic, gravure, and offset technology any time soon, digital printing can complement conventional printing systems and can help printers and converters manage the peaks and valleys of their businesses, he said. Digital printing can help printers and converters provide rush orders and micro-versioned work and meet fast turnaround times.
“If you can do some of these micro-runs and not have them ganged up on your traditional equipment and free up all that capacity, you now have the ability to do much longer runs on your conventional equipment and use the digital equipment to complement it,” he said.
One of the most surprising things about digital printing, Boer said, is that of the people he has interviewed, they’ve reported that they’re finding new business they’ve never had before.
“The biggest thing it often brings to you is a culture change in how your salespeople think about the business, how your operational people think about it,” he said. “And when that all comes together, it really starts to hum.”
Boer closed out the keynote session by providing four key areas that printers and converters need to keep an eye on:
- Brand sustainability mandates
- Workflow automation
- Supply Chain Instabilities
Panel Highlights Package Printers’ Digital Journeys
Boer then introduced the next session for the evening, a robust Keynote Panel, "Looking back and forward at rapid innovation in the digital package printing equipment business," moderated by Kevin Karstedt, VP, packaging and labels, Keypoint Intelligence, and co-conference chair of the event.
In the panel session, customers of the four keynote sponsors of the event shared their insights and experiences with each company’s digital printing technology.
To lead into each panelist’s time on stage, representatives from each keynote sponsor discussed their company’s specific advantages. Keren Yakolev, head of product and business development for HP Indigo, discussed how HP Indigo’s customers are able to “say yes” to nearly any job that comes into their facility, due to HP Indigo’s portfolio of equipment spanning label, flexible packaging, and folding carton production.
Andrew Boyd, president of Blue Label Packaging Co., discussed his company’s journey with HP, having brought in its first digital press in 2003 and growing exponentially in the nearly 20 years since. As the company has grown, Boyd explained that among digital printing’s many advantages, its ability to add automation to several processes stands out.
“I think what we look at as an industry, if we’re going to be competitive, we have to look at every opportunity to automate those processes,” Boyd said.
Representing Domino, David Ellen, global divisional director of Domino Digital Printing, discussed the several factors that create the “Domino difference,” which includes a robust service and support network, innovative financial packages, and a variety of technology solutions that allows customers to find the right fit for their business.
Steve Grace, president of Grace Label, shared how by adding digital printing equipment from Domino, the company has been able not only to achieve the advantages that digital brings to the table, but has also improved the conventional side of the business. Additionally, he said the Domino press has resulted in an increase in sales without having to add new staff.
“We’ve been able to grow with the digital asset,” Grace said. “Sales went up 10% to 15% per year in the last three years without adding a person.”
Representing Xeikon, Kent Wolford, sales director, labels, North America, shared how Xeikon has developed a strong sustainability story, while providing high quality digital printing across labels, folding cartons, and flexible packaging.
Adam James, co-general manager of CS Labels, discussed how his company transitioned completely to digital print in 2012 leveraging Xeikon technology, having invested in both Xeikon dry toner and inkjet platforms. Additionally, he shared how CS Labels and Xeikon have collaborated in the development of Xeikon’s flexible packaging capabilities.
“We help them and they help us with flexible packaging,” James said. “They are a supplier and we are a customer to them, but they are a partner.”
Mark Schlimme, VP of marketing for Screen Americas, discussed why Screen views labels and packaging as a major market for the company’s future, and how inkjet technology will help printers work through challenges such as supply chain and labor constraints.
Karen Stevens, president of Label Solutions, shared her company’s journey to becoming entirely digital. The company’s most recent digital additions are two Screen presses, one which was recently installed and the other which arrived in July.
Stevens explained that during the vetting process, Label Solutions involved a group of employees representing a variety of departments within the company. After a thorough review of available technology, she said Screen was the clear choice.
“Everyone made this decision together,” she said. “We narrowed it down to two and unanimously it was Screen.”
Printers Discuss Current State, Future of Sustainable Packaging
In the evening's second panel discussion, Boer was joined by a package printer focused on the corrugated market and another focused on flexible packaging and labels — Chuck Delaney, VP marketing and retail sales, Dusobox Corporation, and Derek Sims, director of sales, Fortis Solutions Group.
The urgent need for sustainable solutions was emphasized by Boer, who shared that fewer than 1,000 landfills are left in the U.S. To which Sims commented, "We're gonna have to be good recyclers." Sims also challenged the audience to rethink recycling and their capacity to support recycling efforts. While collecting recyclable materials is primarily a function of municipalities and, therefore, somewhat out of the control of package printers and converters, Sims noted that packaging material choice is often something printers can influence. He encouraged the audience to leverage that power to support a positive feedback loop for recycling.
Delaney noted the consequences of when that positive feedback loop is supported. Discussing the current market for OCC (old corrugated containers), he informed the audience that "OCCs dropped to around $125." Delaney continues, "What does that mean? Well, it means that nobody's making any money [on collecting and returning OCCs to the recycling stream]. In fact, it's starting to cost us to ship it back to the mills."
Sims shared Fortis' approach to making more sustainable packaging choices. "This might be helpful for everyone," he said. "We put it in three buckets." The first bucket is recycled content; the second is the recyclability or the material's ability to encourage recycling of the majority of the packaging; the third is the amount of plant-based resins or commercially compostable content.
To close out a successful Day 1, attendees gathered under the palm trees and the full moon to network and discuss takeaways from the evening program.