NAPCO Research Identifies Key Opportunities For Label Printers
Label printers and converters are contending with an influx of challenges that have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and its lingering effects. A new report from NAPCO Research, which surveyed more than 80 label printers and converters, highlights how digital printing is an essential tool for enabling new opportunities and combatting obstacles in today’s production environment.
The report, sponsored by HP, highlights trends in label printing ― one of the strongest segments of the packaging industry ― and outlines key opportunities for operations that print labels and those looking to add it to their repertoire.
A wide variety of package printers and converters contributed to this report, including 75 who identified primarily as label printers, and eight whose primary business is flexible packaging, but also print labels. NAPCO Research conducted an additional 10 in-depth interviews with a selection of the participating respondents. Despite disparities in size, geography, and application expertise of survey respondents, three top challenges emerged across the board, including:
- • Staffing issues, including training, retaining, and recruiting
- • Meeting customer requirements for compressed lead times
- • Accommodating demand for shorter runs
In addition to these mutual challenges, this research highlighted how digital printing has become a common solution for printers and converters. Be sure to also check out the accompanying infographic, which highlights the key findings of this report.
Solving Staffing Challenges
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers of all kinds have encountered a drastic labor shortage. The printing industry was not immune to this, and even faced substantial staffing problems prior to the pandemic, due to many production employees reaching retirement age, and younger members of the workforce being either uninterested in or unaware of opportunities in printing and packaging.
In fact, when asked to identify their top three challenges, 47% of survey respondents selected staffing issues – the highest percentage of all the choices provided (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Label Converters’ Top Business Challenges
Part of the reason why the printing industry has had a difficult time in its staffing endeavors is due to a perception problem among younger people seeking an exciting career path. Despite the fact that printing and packaging is a highly technical and creative industry, students and recent graduates often believe it to be one of heavy, industrial machinery – harkening back to printing’s down and dirty manufacturing environments of decades past.
But for those that have invested in digital printing, this high-tech printing method has been advantageous to recruiting young workers accustomed to digital platforms. In interviews conducted in support of this research, printers and converters indicated that their digital assets were more attractive to potential hires than analog, which is especially important in a time when hiring flexographic press operators is increasingly challenging.
Reducing Lead Times
Prior to the pandemic, printers and converters were facing significant lead time pressure, as brands and retailers sought new products for consumers. The past year and a half however, has made this pressure even more substantial. Throughout 2020, as consumers stockpiled products for their homes during the initial quarantining stage of the pandemic, quickly replenishing stock was essential for brands and retailers to meet demand.
While the initial panic buying has diminished, brand owners and retailers are still attracted to just-in-time delivery capabilities to help them reduce inventory and decrease time to market. Digital printing’s lack of plates and reduced makeready times provide fast turnarounds that customers desire, while also solving creative challenges brands are presenting.
Said one label converter during an interview, “There is general pressure to improve in the following: turnaround time, short-run printing, versioning, personalization, and substrate range.”
A Short-Run Solution
An increase of short-run work has plagued package printers for years, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, when asked to indicate whether customer demand for smaller quantity orders was increasing, staying the same, or decreasing, 68% of respondents reported it was increasing, while 32% answered it was staying the same. No respondents indicated a decrease in short-run demand.
In addition to an increase in short-run jobs, respondents reported growing demand for versioning and personalization. This combination of demands has printers and converters turning to the flexibility of digital presses for affordably producing short-run work and printing variable colors, images, and text in a job run.
“Clients are ordering labels more often and in smaller runs, and this is driving short runs,” a label printer from a large company of more than 500 employees said in an interview. “There is a growing demand to print multiple versions of one image. These are not new demands, but they continue to increase, and digital printing is helping us to meet them.”
Though challenges that emerged prior to COVID-19 remain, with some becoming exacerbated by the pandemic, digital printing has become both a solution to and a provider of new opportunities. For additional research and insights into how digital printing is impacting the labels segment, download your FREE copy of “Advancing Label Converting Success with Digital Printing” today.
Cory Francer is an analyst at NAPCO Research. He formerly served as editor-in-chief of Packaging Impressions.