Adding Finishing to the Digital Equation
As run lengths continue to drop throughout the package printing industry, there has been a direct correlation to the growth of digital printing. This makes sense, considering the reduced makeready times and fast changeover capabilities of digital.
But, as package printers know, a job is not necessarily complete when it comes off the press. Most packaging jobs require multiple finishing steps to bring the project full circle. While digital printing can substantially boost efficiency in short-run packaging production, legacy finishing equipment can cause bottlenecks and negate the benefits of digital print production.
During the Digital Packaging Summit, held from Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 2016, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., four experts from leading finishing equipment suppliers discussed key best practices in the finishing process, as it pertains to digital package printing.
“If you’re printing digital, chances are that job is calling for more of a short run,” said Kevin Abergel, VP of marketing and sales for MGI and one of the panelists. “To make a die, to make an embossing die, to make a foil stamping die or to make a screen for short runs, it’s not very efficient. You can’t just knock through 5,000 folding cartons if it’s going to take you two or three days to get a die made on the shorter runs.”
Abergel explained that the digital finishing equipment that MGI produces inherently removes the bottlenecks or slowdowns in the analog finishing process. Much like digital printing, digital foiling or embossing does not require dies or extensive makeready times, continuing the efficiency benefits on the digitally printed output into the finishing process.
In addition to the benefits of digital finishing, the panel also discussed the advancements that have occurred in analog finishing that are keeping it on par with digital printing. John Paetkau, regional manager of Rotoflex, a post-press equipment manufacturer, explained that, in many instances, it’s beneficial for a converter to seek out a modular finishing system for their digital output. The advantage, he explained, is that as digital printing continues its rapid evolution, finishing equipment can be modified to adapt to any changes.
“Our design is a modular design — It’s almost like a plug and play,” Paetkau said. “If somebody gets a base type of machine today and six months from now they have a need for sheeting and a conveyor, or they need to add a second print station, you have that flexibility built in. That’s kind of a common thread engaging with most customers. They don’t necessarily know the future and we can ebb and flow and adapt as their needs change.”
While finishing should maintain the efficiency benefits of digital printing, there are also opportunities for finishing technology to match the customization aspects that digital printing provides. Ron Kukla, director of the Americas for Highcon, a manufacturer of digital cutting and creasing machines, offered an example of how a customer was able to use both digital printing and finishing to create a special experience for the end user.
Kukla explained that this customer produced golf ball cartons for a celebrity golf tour, in which a foursome of golfers could sign up to play a round with a celebrity. To make the experience even more memorable, this converter printed customized golf ball boxes for each golfer. The box included background on the celebrity, along with each golfer’s handicap.
“The beautiful thing for our customer was getting all the analog work,” Kukla said. “He was able to utilize digital to create a relationship that was very unique. [The golf ball manufacturer] said, ‘If you can do that, I’m sure you can do our analog work.’”
Regardless of the type of finishing being done, when seeking out a finishing solution for digital print, Marc Whitcomb, key account manager for RotoMetrics, explained that it is imperative for converters to be on the same page with their suppliers in terms of their desired outcomes.
This is new technology for many converters and there are many different configurations and equipment types available. Semi-rotary diecutting is much different from full-rotary diecutting, much like how platen diecutting varies greatly from rotary diecutting in the folding carton segment.
“When people jump into any kind of digital finishing, unless it’s an extension of your current business model, there’s a learning curve there and it can get expensive quickly,” Whitcomb said. “If you take the time to get your supplier to understand what you need to become better, quicker, it’ll be less costly in the long run.”
Abergel explained the importance of the printing process and the finishing process working in tandem with each other. With digital printing improving at such a rapid rate, it’s important to not just focus on the digital benefits of printing. Finishing technology is now on a level playing field with digital printing and the two technologies should work in concert to keep converters streamlined and efficient.
“If you’re printing digitally and you’re finishing analog for short runs, you’re losing all the advantages of printing digitally,” Abergel said. “It’s not a fluid process and it should flow seamlessly.”