While flexible packaging has been traditionally entrusted to conventional processes like flexography and rotogravure, the increased popularity of the format, its versatility and a need to run more jobs faster is fueling the need to print more flexible packaging jobs digitally.
It starts three feet from the shelf. Your eye focuses on the label, taking in the images, the colors, the brand, even the texture of the substrate and whether special treatments—such as metallic inks or embossing—have been used. And when it’s done right, the engagement begins.
“We’re on a mission to always get better,” says Brian Gale, president and majority owner of ID Images headquartered in Brunswick, OH and with operations in Illinois, North Carolina and California. “It’s a competitive industry, and if we’re not improving we’re not going to have a business.”
The road from a packaging concept to a finished product can be a long one, with numerous twists and turns. Before a package can be completed, it goes through an extensive design process prior to being run on a press. And ensuring the desired package is what ends up coming off the press can entail extensive collaboration between designers, production staff and press operators.
Automation has transformed the assembly of automobiles, consumer electronics and production of many packaged goods. It saves time, reduces labor costs and improves efficiency. Many of the same benefits can be enjoyed in label and package printing, where manual and automated processes are often blended to deliver measurable benefits. But automation comes in many forms, and one size definitely doesn’t fit all.
It began with fan belt sleeves. Fred Arnold was meeting with a purchasing agent at Goodyear Tire and Rubber's Lincoln, Nebraksa plant. The agent, whose desk was strewn with fan belt sleeves, threw one at Arnold, then a partner at Fairbury Printing in Fairbury, Nebraska. "I need to print part numbers and bar codes on all these sleeves," he said. "If you can do that you'll have all my business."
Packagers and converters understand the "moment of truth," when a text or graphic element found on a product's packaging helps prod a consumer to make a purchase. When it comes to folding cartons, it could also be a uniquely shaped box, a strategically positioned foil stamp, or an attractive varnish.
Conventional presses and computer software have not always been a comfortable mix for many converters. And it’s no surprise: While CTP technologies offered clear benefits in speed and efficiency, other digital workflow tools have not always worked as desired and the shift from skilled craftspeople to software and computers have made digital workflows a tough sell. But some of the software is now living up to expectations.