Streamlining and Optimizing Operations with Hybrid Printing
As labor constraints and supply chain challenges continue to plague all manufacturing sectors, package printers have upped their search for ways to optimize their operations while delivering more agility to their customers, who are facing their own manufacturing challenges. Hybrid presses, which combine digital and flexo printing technologies as well as in-line finishing capabilities, are empowering some printed packaging manufacturers to leverage proven technologies to streamline their operations while optimizing their product offerings. Packaging Impressions talked with early adopters of hybrid printing technologies to get their insights on the technology and how best to leverage it for today’s challenging business environment.
Streamlining the Printing and Finishing Processes
“In 2010, we became the first North American printing company to buy a combination press,” Mark Turk, president and CEO of International Label & Printing Co. in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, says of the print service provider’s (PSP) purchase of a Nilpeter hybrid press with a Caslon UV digital inkjet tower. The PSP was motivated by the press’ in-line digital and flexo printing along with in-line finishing capabilities — all in perfect registration.
“The in-line concept is conducive to our customer base,” Turk says, “which is used to pulling up on the right side of our building to place an order and then pulling up on the left side of our building to pick it up. With hybrid printing, the labels are pretty much done [when they come off the press].”
Delivering Value to Specialized Markets
Having a streamlined pressroom is especially important, Turk explains, when serving markets such as beer and spirits, which are heavily regulated and therefore need agile supplier-partners. “Some people think this market is plagued by a lack of planning, that’s not the case at all,” Turk says. “This industry has a lot of government requirements, so these print buyers are waiting on someone to say, ‘OK, your label is approved.’ Once that happens, they need to get the product on the shelves [immediately].”
Not surprisingly, the beer and spirits market is also a key market for another early adopter of hybrid printing technology —The Watershed Group, which bought its hybrid press to meet the Irish and U.K.’s drinks market’s need for complex and embellished packaging. “We were the first in Europe to have a hybrid press,” Liz Waters, CEO of The Watershed Group, which has printing operations in Germany, Ireland, Poland, and the U.K., says. “We are still the first in the U.K. and Ireland.”
Watershed found the hybrid press’ in-line inkjet unit delivers delightfully tactile printing that helps its beverage brand customers deliver distinctive brand experiences. “Inkjet white on our Mark Andy hybrid press delivers a screen-printing-like result,” Waters says. The PSP also discovered that the tactile print could be an inclusive feature for other markets, specifically it could be used as a low-cost and quick method to print braille on pharmaceutical and personal care packages.
Rising to the Challenge
Meyers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has also leveraged hybrid printing technology to benefit its personal care customers. “The MPS EF Symjet has a Domino inkjet engine inside of it that bridges the gap really nicely between our pure, digital, short-run offerings and our longer run flexo,” Dave McConnon, COO at Meyers, says. “Combined with its ability to do in-line embellishments has helped us deliver shorter run, higher value pieces for demanding markets, such as health and beauty.”
One example of a demanding project was Meyers’ collaboration with Bearsville Soap Company and the brand’s bespoke print consulting company Tocci Made. Meyers, Bearsville, and Tocci Made worked together to create sustainable packaging, including cartons made from FSC-certified paper, that more clearly communicated the various fragrances of the brand’s personal care products. Compounding the challenge, Bearsville needed cartons or labels for nearly 30 different SKUs, including some small-batch, limited-edition products.
“Our hybrid press ended up being the perfect solution for what Bearsville was looking for,” Adam Peek, senior VP of sales at Meyers, says. The PSP used the hybrid printing technology to print and color match the inside and outside of Bearsville’s folding in one pass. No easy feat as the colorful cartons required rich blues, wide swathes of yellow, and more. Furthermore, Peek explains, “we could dial in the color on the hybrid press to make sure everything was consistent on the cartons but also on labels that we printed for the brand.”
Investing for the Future
Each of these pioneering PSPs credits hybrid printing for empowering them to be better business partners to their CPG customers. One of the printers with whom we spoke, Turk, has again put dollars behind his support of hybrid technology. “We’re pretty excited about the technology, which is why we’re going to do it again,” he says. “We bought our original Nilpeter in 2010; we got the Domino N610i in 2017; and we went back to Nilpeter about trading up on our first press. We signed the deal in January, and we hope to get the new press this year.”