Hybrid Printing Innovation at Zumbiel Digital
During the initial research process to find the right digital solution for his folding carton company, Ed Zumbiel, president of Zumbiel Digital, explains that much of what was on the market was either too small or too slow. However, about 80 miles north of Zumbiel Digital’s headquarters in Hebron, Ky., he took part in conversations with Kodak’s Dayton, Ohio-based enterprise inkjet team about the possibility of developing an inkjet/flexo hybrid press that would be wide enough and fast enough to produce what Zumbiel had in mind.
At first, Zumbiel says, he was told it wouldn’t work. But after about a month, the Kodak team called him back to say that after an internal discussion, they had reconsidered. The two companies got together to develop and install the first Kodak PROSPER 6000S inkjet web press for packaging. What makes Zumbiel’s digital press unique is its combination of full width digital printheads, seven flexographic print stations and in-line diecutting, along with run speeds in excess of 200 m/min.
It took a great deal of tests and trials, but once both sides were confident in the uniquely configured hybrid technology, the press was installed in June.
“After conducting tests over five, six, seven months, we were all confident that we could marry a flexographic press with a digital press while maintaining the web tension tolerances required by the Kodak PROSPER,” Zumbiel says.
One of the main drivers for Zumbiel Digital to opt for this uniquely configured press is its ability to produce packaging with elements of what Zumbiel calls “mass customization.” For the most part, Zumbiel explains that conventional digitally produced packaging that features varied designs is produced at speeds that do not lend themselves to large-scale production.
However, in the soft drink and beer industries, in which Zumbiel Digital does a large amount of business, paperboard beverage carriers are often ordered in runs of millions. With the hybrid press, he explains, the company can mass customize and/or mass randomize graphics digitally, but on a scale that better matches real world customer requirements.
“If a customer requires a couple million unique 12-packs, we can accomplish that in a matter of days, versus weeks or months with conventional digital equipment,” Zumbiel says.
Since the press has been installed, Zumbiel says that the reaction from brand owners has been highly enthusiastic. He explains that many of the brands the company has been in contact with immediately recognize the value of customization in packaging and how it can extend the brand experience. While the new technology does require some changes from a package design standpoint, Zumbiel explains that customers are willing to make the adjustments to access this opportunity.
“They see the light,” he says. “That is, all these clever CPGs recognize that production speed digital printing can help them engage their consumers in ways that were practical impossibilities five years ago. As digital packaging goes mainstream, we will see mass customization used as a pillar to support the bridge between consumers’ online social media experiences and their physical realities. It should be fun.”