Real Digital Experiences Offer Real Knowledge at Digital Packaging Summit
Inkjet ink costs money. So, try to avoid using more of it than the job calls for, but don’t ever compromise on print quality in order to save it.
This bit of practical wisdom, culled from a November 7 panel presentation called “Real Life User Experiences: From Your Peers in the Trenches” at the Digital Packaging Summit, was typical of the straight talk heard throughout the three days of the event. In nearly every conference session, attendees confronted the fact that when they adopted transformative technologies such as production inkjet for packaging, they would be the ones responsible for making the “transformative” part happen – the presses, no matter how capable, wouldn’t do it for them.
“Peer” panelist Mike Kuchynka, manager of graphic reproduction excellence at Caraustar, framed it as a question of throughput. The company, a top producer of folding cartons, is building a digital customer base that includes accounts expecting Caraustar to print hundreds of their SKUs in mere handfuls of days. Kuchynka said the challenge then becomes, “How do you get 250 SKUs a day through an operator when you are used to 25?”
The answer, he continued, is removing touches through templated workflow automation, which Caraustar accomplishes with the help of software from Esko. Comprehensive digital asset storage and streamlined order entry are also crucial to keeping the manufacturing process under control, Kuchynka said.
As for the printing, the mandate here is to ensure that every job can run to the same standard of quality on every device that Caraustar operates, including the HP Indigo 30000 digital press the company installed in one of its plants in 2016. This machine, Kuchynka said, “just needs to be another press in our system” as it matches the color output of Caraustar’s offset equipment.
As Director of Operations for Outlook Group, panelist Jim Zeman oversees the company’s production of various types of labels along with flexible, paperboard, contract, and specialty packaging. In 2017, the company complemented its flexographic equipment with a Domino N610i digital UV inkjet label press — an installation, Zeman said, that has paid off in more ways than one.
For example, shifting short-run work from the flexo presses to the Domino N610i makes it possible to reserve the conventional equipment for the volumes best suited to it. This means that the analog presses are running more profitably, Zeman said.
He added that with the help of the Domino N610i, Outlook Group has been able to take advantage of growth opportunities in SKU expansion; product safety and compliance information; variable signage and shelf graphics for retail; and variable-data labels for inventory management and chain-of-custody applications.
Greater flexibility, accelerated time to market, increased product quality, and reduced costs have all been benefits of high-speed printing with UV inkjet inks, which Zeman said “will stick to just about anything.” He noted, however, that Outlook Group doesn’t define what it does in terms of this or any other printing process: “We don’t really sell digital — we sell labels, and we print it where it fits.”
Panelist Mike Schliesmann, senior VP and business unit manager for Great Northern Corporation, also noted that moving work from conventional to digital platforms can improve productivity all around. Great Northern, a multi-location independent packager, has made a serious commitment to digital by installing wide-format sheetfed and flatbed printers from HP and Fujifilm and, most recently, an HP PageWide T400S inkjet web press.
It was Schliesmann’s observation that the high cost of inkjet ink behooves printers to conserve it on press, but only in ways that customers will approve. He said “acceptance has been extremely high” among Great Northern’s customers of the ink-saving techniques that the company has used.
Don’t think of a high-capacity digital press as a proofing device, Schliesmann counseled, when there are more economical ways to get the proofing done. A best-use scenario for a press like the 42˝ HP PageWide T400S would be to run 750,000 square feet of board through it for 20 jobs in an eight-hour shift, as Schliesmann said Great Northern has done. He added that in another project, the variably printing press processed 1 million linear feet of board consisting of numerous individual designs — a job that would have been out of the question for offset because of the cost of the platemaking alone.
Panel moderator and Digital Packaging Summit co-chair Kevin Karstedt (CEO of Karstedt Partners) asked each of the speakers for a piece of parting advice.
Finishing for digital print is “a little bit of a different animal” from what shops new to digital printing may be used to, according to Zeman, who said that newcomers will need to decide whether inline or near-line finishing is the right way to go. “A robust, clean order entry system” was what Kuchynka recommended having.
First-time adopters should bear in mind that they’ll learn only so much about their new digital systems in test mode, said Schliesmann, adding that “nothing new comes without a certain amount of pain” until all aspects of the solution fall into place.