A 'Disruptive' Digital Force
When seeking out a competitive edge in packaging, numerous finishing options can make that happen. You can start by adding embellishments; maybe the use of metallics or embossed foil, maybe a unique coating or an intricate diecut design. But will you do any of this digitally? As digital finishing technology continues to evolve, opportunities are growing and converters might be surprised at how they can use it to their advantage.
Move Over Analog
Although analog finishing has traditionally surpassed digital in terms of speed and volume, it’s no surprise that the digital finishing setup has some timesaving advantages over analog. The decrease in makeready time and waste during setup is alluring, but add in the reduction of man hours needed to run a digital finishing machine and it’s a worthwhile alternative to conventional methods.
This decrease in the amount of steps it takes to set up a job is one of the biggest advantages, according to Jim Kehring, strategic partner coordinator at A B Graphic International. With a digital setup, all the stations can be combined so an operator does not have to go roll-to-roll.
“[You] could probably be done with a job by the time a conventional press is set up,” Kehring says.
The turnaround time is also decreased because the need for trapping or to create cutting dies for each job is eliminated, in turn lowering costs and time delays, explains Allan Hanlon, senior account manager at Esko.
There are also added capabilities with digital finishing, including embellishments that aren’t possible with conventional methods. Hanlon explains that Esko’s Kongsberg has given converters the ability to digitally finish with Braille using a tool that can interpret the language and then be used to drill holes into a substrate and insert beads to create the raised effect needed to produce Braille.
Eshchar Ben-Shitrit, VP of marketing at Highcon, explains that digital finishing allows for intricate diecutting that would not have been feasible via conventional methods. The Highcon digital cutting and creasing machines can even be used to create precise pop-up features. For a vintage look, a laser can be used to etch designs into a substrate, removing one layer at a time. This capability can also be used to create security features that can be individualized for each package.
A unique option with this machine is its ability to cut and then crease packages, including boxes for wine bottles. Ben-Shitrit explains this can be used to create a dramatically different look on shelf. Another option would be to enable variable data cutting to add names or decorations to packages for limited edition products.
Variable data can also be used in embossed foil applications, explains Kevin Abergel, VP of sales and marketing at MGI. He says that variable data foiling is beginning to catch on because companies are always looking for an edge. It is popular with gift boxes and limited edition products, and when the package is personalized with your name in foil, Abergel says, it makes you feel more connected to the brand.
“From a brand owner perspective,” he says, “if a consumer can connect with the brand from an emotional standpoint, I know I have a loyal customer.”
More Than Just Output
While a finished product is essential to the success of a company, digital finishing can greatly impact a company’s business operations by streamlining workflow efficiencies, including internal and external relationships.
Hanlon believes that one of the biggest ways that digital finishing will affect the industry is the impact it will have on the way marketers do their jobs. He explains that since the need for individual tooling is eliminated, jobs can be completed on demand. The variability that digital finishing offers becomes an important marketing tool.
“It gives people who market such a wider range of options for how they market,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s more about marketing because now you don’t have to market tooling for every [variation].”
Ben-Shitrit explains that with digital finishing, a company can provide better service for customers, as well as faster turnaround times. Since setting up analog technology takes much longer, sometimes it’s not possible to produce a job for a client who has a rush job. Also, digital finishing lends itself well for a software setup that can allow customers to immediately upload a job.
In addition to the impact digital finishing can have between converters and customers, it can improve operational workflow.
For example, a highly experienced pressman is no longer needed to operate the machinery. Kehring explains that in the conventional finishing world, it takes significant time and money to make an operator profitable. With digital, it takes an average of six weeks to get an operator up to speed and profitable.
“If they can use an iPad, they can probably run the machine,” he says.
There is less of a learning curve, which can save a company time and money in the long run. Additional time savings in digital can stem from automation in workflow and cleanup, whereas conventional always requires a human component.
A Permanent Replacement?
But will digital finishing ever fully replace traditional finishing methods? Hanlon doesn’t believe that it will ever truly replace analog technology because large volume runs will always be a cost concern.
“It is never going to replace traditional finishing; it is going to augment it,” he says. Although digital finishing has traditionally been relegated to short runs, when the right job is paired with the right equipment, long runs are increasingly becoming a reality.
Kehring explains that A B Graphic unveiled its new Fast Track die for the Digicon Series 3, which can run at 490 ft./min. with a semi-rotary magnetic die cylinder that can operate in-line with the new HP Indigo 8000. He explains that recently, the team was able to run 62,000 ft. of material in one day. As digital continues to advance, Kehring predicts there is the potential for it to meet the same demands as analog.
“Eventually, our statistics show that by 2019 there will be more digital presses sold than flexo presses,” he says.
Ben-Shitrit’s beliefs aren’t too far off, there is just a long journey of growth and evolution ahead.
“I think that in theory … yes [digital could eventually replace analog],” he says. “But there will be a very long journey because it is very hard to compete with analog on what it does best. … It is accurate, reliable and cheap for large quantities. And it’s fast.”
He also explains that digital could be used for longer runs when a company wants the capabilities of a digital machine for a project that needs to be repeated. However, he doesn’t believe replacing analog entirely should be the focus of a company that has added digital finishing.
“[The focus] should be to replace analog where it is deemed a good answer and there is a lot of opportunity in replacing it,” Ben-Shitrit says.
If your goal is to add digital finishing capabilities to transition existing jobs to the new equipment, you may want to take a deeper look at all the possibilities. The key is to look at the big picture. Rather than just adding new equipment and hoping that your business will grow by producing the same types of jobs you have been producing on your analog technology, think about how the new capabilities could grow and improve your offerings and relationships with clients, which will ultimately affect your business in the future.
“Don’t make a decision based on the existing business but on what the business will look like after adding the machine,” Ben-Shitrit concludes.
Making the Investment
The flexibility and intricate design capabilities of digital finishing equipment alone may be enough to influence a converter to consider investing in the technology. But one of the most important reasons to consider digital finishing is simply to keep abreast of trends in the packaging industry and maintain a competitive edge. Digital printing is still a young technology that has only recently been embraced by printers as an integral part of the industry and it looks like digital finishing could be on the same trajectory.
“The key point is that digital finishing is the biggest new technology in the printing industry,” Ben-Shitrit says. “It will be a long journey, but if you look around at what is completely new, unique and disruptive … it’s digital finishing.”