Where is Digital headed for Folding Cartons?

Eighteen months is a long time in the world of politics, consumer electronics, the growth of an infant and the gain or decline of a 401K but in the development of digital printing solutions for folding cartons that time is not so long at all. Sure, there have been some notable developments coming from HP Indigo which introduced the 30000 digital press at drupa 2012 and is now going into beta with it. But overall, the digital production landscape for folding cartons has been not changed significantly in the past year and a half. That is not to say the desire by the folding carton community is not looking for a digital solution, all indications are they are.

Here are some of our thoughts on the folding carton and packaging front for digital and analog presses. At a 73 percent share, sheetfed offset dominates the new equipment market. Market segmentation of sheetfed offset typically groups press sizes into the following configurations: less than 24 inches, 24-36 inches, 37 to 42 inches and 43 inches and above.

We have talked with many of the OEMs in this segment in our desire to understand where they see themselves and what they feel their outlook is for the segment. From those discussions we offer the following observations:

• Press options for the under 36-inch segment are numerous with no shortage of participants. Heidelberg is the dominant player in this segment, with a 35 percent share in the 20 x 30 inch format size and a 48 percent share in the 30 x 40 inch format size. The bulk of Komori, Ryobi, Mitsubishi, Gallus, and Omet sales also come from this classification.
• Press options in the VLF (very large format) size—or above 40 inches—reduce dramatically. KBA is the market leader, followed by Heidelberg, manroland and Goss.
• Packaging applications are beginning to become the driver for sales in the VLF format. A sales manager from a large press supplier estimated 65 percent of VLF presses sold are being purchased for packaging applications.
• In the folding carton sector digital solutions in the 20 x 30 inch format size are getting the greatest attention. Hot-button issues at the converter level are the requirements for flexibility, derived through flexibility in format size, quick setups and changeovers, and solid integration of prepress to press and press to post-press.
• Digital capabilities in the 27 x 40 inch format size are now being introduced. FujiFilm, Screen, HP Indigo, MGI and Landa all have displayed technologies targeting this format size. Having missed the boat on this format size, traditional analog suppliers have announcing strategic partnerships with digital developers.
• Entry into the 30 and 40 inch digital format size has opened the door to potential expansion into Folding Cartons by Commercial Printers. Trade associations and digital vendors have promoted this expansion and while there may be some merit to the idea it brings many more challenges than just printing on cartonboard. (Authors Note: OEMs with systems that can accommodate substrate thickness over 18 point are using that as “license” to say they serve the “folding carton” and “packaging” markets.)
• The introduction of off-line converting equipment specifically designed for packaging applications makes an off-line digital printing solution much more attractive.

Digital4Packaging (D4P) is a forum to present ideas concerning the fast-charging application of a range of digital technologies that are transforming package printing. Kevin Karstedt, CEO of Karstedt Partners LLC, began his career in the “digital” world of packaging in the mid 1980s. His firm has worked with consumer product companies from the Fortune 1000 and 100 lists, package printers and converters from all market segments, and suppliers of products and services targeted at the packaging marketplace. The company has published a number of industry reports and is one of the foremost thought leaders regarding technology innovations for packaging and packaging graphics. More information about Kevin can be found at Karstedt Partners LLC
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