Digital Packaging Summit: The Evolving World of Package Printing
The 2020 Digital Packaging Summit went live on Tuesday, Dec. 1 as a virtual event, with conference co-chair Marco Boer, VP of I.T. Strategies, opening the event with a closer look at the state of the packaging market today, and where digital print technologies are coming into play.
Boer noted that COVID-19 has changed the way consumers buy goods across the board — a change that likely won’t be shifting back to business as usual any time soon, if at all. Because of that, packaging hasn’t faced the same challenges many other verticals in the print industry have faced this year, but, he noted, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any challenges at all.
First and foremost, said Boer, “everyone wants to be you.” Package printing is gaining in popularity, he noted, with a lot of competition arising from commercial printers, and even private equity investors looking for profitable businesses to invest in. In addition, another challenge many packaging converters face today is the demand from brands expecting their printers to “deliver magic” with faster turnaround times, shorter runs, and more versions than ever before. Finally, the pandemic has completely upended the entire supply chain, with some goods becoming extremely popular almost overnight, causing havoc on demand, even as raw materials get harder to come by as mills and extruders adopt social distancing guidelines that in some cases have halved the amount of materials they can produce, driving up costs.
Digital printing, Boer noted, can’t solve every problem, and isn’t likely to replace conventional technologies any time soon, if at all. That said, it does bring some benefits to package printers looking to streamline operations, broaden their product mix, and offer more varied options to brands facing their own set of challenges.
Some of these benefits include:
- Automation. Boer noted that in a traditional shop, one prepress operator can handle roughly 25 jobs per day in the average shift. But with run lengths getting shorter, and more versions needed at the same time, that number can rapidly climb to 100 or more jobs per day. Without automation to help streamline and speed up the process, removing manual touchpoints as much as possible, the operation is faced with either hiring more prepress operators, or turning away work, neither of which is viable in today’s environment. Automating parts of the process can help ease this burden.
- Mass customization and versioning. While not every brand or product requires customization, or even versioning, it is a growing trend, Boer noted. These days, as the younger generations are becoming a more important part of the buying economy, they are looking for more authenticity from brands, and being able to tell specific stories as part of the packaging is going to play an increasingly large part in how that is achieved. Social media also plays a part here — for better or for worse — with a viral video having the ability to skyrocket a brand’s volume overnight, along with demand for different sizes or package designs to take advantage of the phenomenon. Versioning also allows brands to make last-minute changes more easily, as well as offer packages in different languages targeted to specific demographics in various geographic areas around the country.
“If you’re a conventional converter, you’ll probably be fine — but keep an eye on things happening outside your market,” Boer said, noting that there is a lot of opportunity in digital technologies right now. “Don’t defer making a decision, if you decide to invest, do it. If you make a decision not to invest right now, put a time limit on it — three months, six months, etc., then come back and re-evaluate. If you don’t, your parallel competition may dramatically alter your future opportunities without you recognizing it.”
In fact, he pointed to the rise of digital in the wide-format and signage market as an example of what package printers should look to avoid. When the technology first came onto the scene 20 years ago in that space, screen and lithographic printers scoffed. And while they are still around, their ability to find new revenue, Boer noted, was diminished, with digital today capturing 30% of that market — and still growing. Package printers need to be aware that digital technologies aren’t going away, and will only improve, and those who don’t invest early enough will find themselves shut out of new revenue streams in the future.
“The bottom line is [that packaging] is a popular market,” Boer said. “Now is the time to make calculated decisions about new investments. Digital is not the end-all, but it is becoming an essential tool to simplify workflow, handle all those versioned jobs, and optimize print utilization. … If you don’t invest, you’ll wake up one day and realize you missed incredible growth and money thrown at digitally printed packages.”