Don't Wait, Automate
In just about any manufacturing or production environment, time is money. Taking time-consuming steps out of the process through automation lowers production times and boosts profits. This simple equation is true for package printers who are migrating to a more automated and streamlined production process.
“Automation is becoming absolutely critical,” states Nick Benkovich, director, portfolio product management for EFI. “If you look at the commercial print market from the past couple of years, the margins have become tighter, the run lengths have become shorter and the delivery times have become shorter. And we are starting to see the same effect in the packaging world.”
One major trend that is pushing the need for more automated features and software is an increase in shorter run packaging jobs.
“Not to the point of variable data printing like we see in commercial printing, but shorter run, promotional-type items where things really have to flow without touchpoints,” Benkovich says. “If I am printing 500 boxes for a specific promotion, I can’t spend two hours setting up the job. Those two hours just ate every penny that I was going to make. So we are seeing more and more package printers move to a more simplified order acquisition where in many cases, there is no sales person involved.”
This could include electronic delivery of the order, automated scheduling capabilities and real-time data collection so that operators don’t have to touch the job.
Benkovich concedes there has been a slower rate of automation adoption with package printers than their commercial printer counterparts, mainly because the demand hasn’t been there in the past.
“The push to do shorter run packaging jobs is really new,” he explains. “The high costs of materials and set-up really
restricted the ability to do shorter runs.”
Ultimately, package printers should seek an automated workflow that is versatile enough to handle the different ways packaging is printed, including compatibility with flexo, offset and digital equipment, says Larry Moore, Esko’s VP of partner programs for North America.
“We see more and more short order times with just-in-time delivery, and a pretty good adoption rate within the packaging market space for expanded gamut printing,” Moore notes. “A lot of this is driven by more regionalized product launches, to ultimately reach out to the consumer in a more personal manner.”
Moore says that big consumer product companies don’t want to warehouse large amounts of packaging. So it makes sense to have regionalized products and packaging, allowing companies to quickly respond to changes in the market.
“Unfortunately, the consumer space is almost as volatile these days as the stock market,” Moore adds. “The pulse of a region can quickly change based on some emotion or mishap or event. With these smaller, more regional product launches, it allows the brand owners to respond much more quickly.”
Moore notes that from a package converter standpoint, smaller runs and regional products can keep converters from potentially being stuck with an excess of useless inventory.
“But if you have the tools that allow you to automate the production process, you will be able to quickly respond to such changes,” he says.
One company that has benefited from adding automation tools is Dion Label Printing located in Westfield, Mass. Founded in 1969, Dion Label Printing has grown into a multi-million dollar label and packaging printer. With nearly 50 years of printing experience, more than 80 employees and multiple teams, the company specializes in working with clients to bring brands to life and increase speed to market both domestically and worldwide.
Business Development Director Stacy Falconer reveals that Dion Label Printing has used Label Traxx solutions to automate its processes since 2004.
“We chose Label Traxx over other solutions, as it gave us the ability to incorporate all aspects of our manufacturing and administration processes into one system,” Falconer says. “With Label Traxx, we can coordinate everything from order entry, prepress and production, finishing and QC, and shipping through invoicing. We can tie Label Traxx into select vendor ordering systems and also maintain employee information.”
Dion Label Printing specializes in pressure sensitive labels, tags, tickets, shrink sleeves, pouches, specialty applications and FDA certified medical products. The primary markets it serves include nutraceutical and over-the-counter pharmaceutical, medical, candle, health, beauty, specialty food, beer, wine, spirits, ski, recreation and industrial.
With the implementation of JDF integration, repeat orders are easily transitioned from order entry directly to production without the need for operator intervention, Falconer points out.
“Job costing versus actual data can be analyzed and additional data from run time, material, etc., can be reviewed for process improvements,” she notes. “By linking our purchase order system to select vendors, we are able to streamline ordering and receiving of materials.”
All Dion Label Printing products are manufactured in its 30,000-square-foot facility. Everything from artwork to platemaking, production and finishing are completed in-house for guaranteed quality control and efficiency.
Dion Label Printing has both digital and flexographic printing capabilities, allowing the company to provide printed jobs ranging from long runs in the millions down to short runs in the hundreds.
While all printers can improve their processes with automation solutions, Moore explains that packaging automation has specific benefits.
“Many of our workflow products are actually designed specifically with packaging in mind,” he says. “It is important for package printers to automate to drive down costs. In the world of packaging today, there are some common demands, including color management. You have to have strong database-driven tools to automate the management of color.”
Moore notes that color management automation is something that he sees as a shortfall with many converters.
“They could greatly automate and save themselves an absolute fortune,” Moore maintains. “But their methods of color management are so antiquated you wonder how they make any money at all.”
Benkovich points out that the combination of automated tools, color management software and shorter run products is paying dividends in the competitive consumer product space.
“It is becoming more about ‘how do I attract someone in the store?’” he explains. “I’ve walked past that box of Corn Flakes and it has looked the same for 20 years. What can I do to that box to make someone stop and get their attention?
“We are a very visual society and people are affected by imagery,” Benkovich continues. “How do I present my product as different or unique? Technology in the packaging space has led us to the ability to do shorter runs.”
Benkovich maintains that there is also room for converters to add more automation to the back end of their operations.
“I see all too many package printers who are still in the world where they produce the job, then somebody will take a printed job ticket, walk over to a FedEx station or UPS station and key in all the data again,” he says. “It is just a bunch of extra effort. For shorter run jobs, you can’t afford that.”
Moore states that smaller packaging companies are often quicker to change and add automated features than their larger competitors.
“It can often be easier to adopt new processes at smaller companies,” he concludes. “The bad thing about a big tree is that it frequently has deep roots.”