Folding Cartons Make the Digital Leap
As SKUs continue to multiply, run lengths decrease, and brands demand faster turnarounds and explore personalized packaging, digital printing continues to gain traction in the folding carton segment of the packaging industry.
With several digital carton presses now commercially available, multiple folding carton converters are creatively using digital printing technology to serve their customers’ needs.
McBattas Gets Personal
According to Carole Sprunk, business development manager for McBattas Packaging and Printing, digital printing has opened the door for the company to create personalized packaging. One successful example, Sprunk says, came in the form of a folding carton designed to hold a water bottle, with each individual carton featuring the recipient’s name.
“For this project, we printed the cartons, fulfilled the water bottles and drop shipped to several locations based on a mailing list,” Sprunk says.
The Fairbury, Neb.-based converter’s digital printing equipment includes two Canon imagePRESS C700s and one Canon imagePRESS C10000VP color digital press. McBattas is the first company in Nebraska to install the Canon imagePRESS C10000VP color digital press. With this installation, the company is positioned to highlight its short-run, thick-stock capabilities, ideal for package printing.
According to Sprunk, the technology behind the digital presses will allow the company to grow its short-run, print-on-demand and variable data capabilities. “With the three imagePRESS digital presses, turnaround time, competitive pricing and productivity are spurring growth for our company,” she says, adding that the Canon imagePRESS products are workhorse machines that have allowed the company to grow its solutions offerings.
“With the C10000 specifically, we are using it for full packaging capabilities and producing significantly large volumes of work for some of our largest customers,” Sprunk relays. “Similarly, its quality meets any print standard for packaging that is currently offered, and provides a more affordable option for companies like ours to get into short-run digital and just-in-time packaging.”
Sprunk also adds that digital printing of folding cartons has helped McBattas gain more of a national presence, leveraging its ability to serve the promotional products industry, which often relies on personalization.
“We have had good luck with our supplier partnership with [promotional products industry network] Proforma,” she notes. “We hope to continue supplying to the promotional products industry, as well as growing our direct relationships. Developing vendor-supplier relationships has increased our customer base.”
Because McBattas Packaging and Printing was an early adopter of digital printing in the folding carton segment, Sprunk says the knowledge and expertise the company has gained through its experience with digital has been beneficial as more stakeholders in the packaging supply chain learn about the technology.
“The education surrounding it is also getting better,” she says. “Vendors are more aware of demands. Customers are gaining knowledge. Printers are getting more comfortable. This has worked well for McBattas. At times, we’ve felt like an experiment in the world of digital folding cartons, but with time and persistence, it is paying off.”
Additionally, Sprunk says that through the use of digital printing, McBattas has helped its brand owner customers develop deeper relationships through packaging.
“The competition is very real and cutting edge,” she says. “We aren’t just producing packaging, but are helping brands speak to their customers. Our customers can order what they need when they need it and change their art as often as they want. We want to create relationships with our customers and watch them grow.”
Momentum in Many Markets
In the fall of 2015, Keith Thompson, president and CEO of Kaufman, Texas-based ABOX Packaging, was several years into reviewing the benefits digital printing could bring to his company. He explains that until that point, the digital options available did not match the board size and caliper requirements he desired.
But, after taking a tour of HP’s plant in Alpharetta, Ga., to see the new HP Indigo 30000 digital press in action, he knew his hunt was over.
“We decided that this was something that ABOX needed to get into right away, and actually bought the press within 24 hours of seeing it perform,” he says. “Speed, no makeready and quick turnaround time on short-run jobs was the caveat.”
The press was installed in October of 2015, Thompson says, and with a maximum board size of 207/8x29.5˝, along with a caliper range from 10 pt. to 24 pt., the press had an immediate positive impact. In fact, the company opened ABOX Digital, its digital printing branch, in Forney, Texas.
“The decision to finally enter the digital space in packaging was very easy to make with these barriers removed, along with the incredible print quality now realized with this press,” Thompson explains.
Another important aspect of the digital decision was to satisfy customer demand for short-run, promotional packaging, and product launches. Thompson explains that the capability to digitally produce these small packaging runs provided a great complement to the large volume roll-outs that would run later on the company’s offset presses.
Thompson explains that ABOX has been successful in leveraging the personalization capabilities the digital press provides, particularly through the usage of HP SmartStream Mosaic software. But, ABOX has also found that digital technology has been instrumental in increasing the security aspects of its customers’ packaging.
Embedded Link Technology is a tool that ABOX shares between its digital and offset presses. This is a code that is not visible to the eye, but can be scanned by a user to prove a product’s authenticity.
“One of our customers used this technology to prove the package contained non-pirated or duplicated product,” explains Sara Sommer, executive VP of ABOX. “However, even more secure methods like the guilloche have also been used and must be printed digitally. This allows each carton to have an embedded security code and each carton is different. If a duplicate code is scanned, it will show [up as] invalid.”
Another benefit of digital printing, Sommer says, is that brands can be more reactive as their products change. She explains that this can help decrease their packaging inventory, which can eventually become obsolete.
“The cosmetics, beauty and medical segments are constantly changing their ingredients and warnings,” she explains. “Now they can order very short runs — whether it’s a launch or full production — one SKU, that one time, and then change the next time.”
ABOX serves a wide variety of vertical markets, including the office supply, food, medical, cosmetics and video game segments. Thompson explains that with digital, ABOX is able to offer its clients more flexibility and foresees his company expanding its digital fleet in the future.
“We have had three open houses and demos for HP and we love to show the equipment and to talk to people about digital,” he says. “I don’t think that digital is going to replace offset but it is going to gain momentum over the next five or 10 years where it is going to be a rival to offset.”
Brands Drive Digital Growth
Much like the label segment, which has seen the largest infiltration of digital across the four packaging segments, Ben Markens, president of the Paperboard Packaging Council, says SKU proliferation is one of the leading causes of digital’s growth in folding cartons.
“Brands are offering different flavors and varieties of the same product in packages that have the same structure but different graphics,” he says.
Additionally, Markens explains that as smaller, more locally-based brands continue to gain popularity among consumers, the short run benefits of digital will continue to pay dividends.
“While digital printing is offering more flexibility for carton converters to take on new jobs, it is also allowing them to do really short runs or one-offs,” he says. Markens adds that because a digital print job can be set up and produced quickly, it offers brands and converters the ability to collaborate on more creative, customized packaging projects.
“If you look at some of the major brands, instead of creating customized packaging, they want smaller order quantities, interesting printing and decorations, which digital can do,” he says. “There is a whole host of things that you can do because the makeready time is basically zero and that makes things very interesting in the folding carton space.”