How Printing Technology Investment Dictates Industry Direction
In the packaging industry, printers and converters have more printing technology options than ever before, and strategizing around the types of printing they are investing in has become increasingly important as they adapt to the latest packaging trends being dictated by brands and consumers. Tracking the type of printing equipment printers and converters have recently added or plan to add to their facilities paints an intriguing picture of an industry continuing to strategize how to best pair conventional and digital printing technology.
Earlier this year, packagePRINTING, in conjunction with NAPCO Research, conducted a survey of label, folding carton, flexible packaging and corrugated converters to gain an understanding of the printing technology they have invested in, and the reasons behind their decisions. While the results show a strong interest in digital printing throughout the industry, the survey also indicated a strong need for a diverse equipment arsenal, balancing the strengths of both conventional and digital equipment.
The Digital Printing Direction
As the newer printing technology on the scene, the first objective of the survey was to gain an understanding of converters’ views surrounding digital printing technology investment. Of the 109 respondents, more than half indicated that they have added some form of digital printing over the past 18 months, with results nearly evenly split between inkjet and toner-based products.
Part of the reason investment in digital printing has been so significant in recent years is most likely due to its recent emergence as a viable printing technology for both label and packaging applications at production levels. Though digital printing has been widely adopted in the label business, it is still gaining steam in the folding carton, flexible packaging and corrugated segments. With the push to be early adopters of digital, combined with industry trends pushing more short-run work, the demand for digital printing has been on the rise.
In fact, the rise of short-run work proved to be the top driver of digital printing investment — even more so than variation, personalization and customization in printing. This was a particularly interesting result, due to the fact that when digital printing solutions first hit the market, much of the buzz surrounding the technology was due to its lack of plates, allowing for variable or personalized output. With much of the packaging industry viewing digital as a tool to improve workflow however, it will be interesting to see how digital press suppliers market and position digital printing technology.
Conventional is Here to Stay
While digital printing showed its emerging prowess, the results of this survey indicate that package printers and converters view conventional printing as an equally important part of their production process, and one worthy of additional investment. In fact, a nearly equal amount of respondents stated they had invested in conventional processes in the past 18 months as had invested in digital printing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, flexography, which has been the most widely adopted package printing technology for years, received more investment than offset across the multiple packaging segments, at 32% and 21% respectively.
In a positive sign for the industry, the top driver for conventional press acquisition was increasing capacity. This is likely due to increasing demand for packaging and a need for printers and converters to have the ability to adapt to the rise in demand.
Technologies Working Together
Another encouraging attribute of the survey was the indication that printers and converters are seeking future investments in both conventional and digital printing technology and intend on pairing them together. The long run work that the packaging industry has thrived on for decades is not going to disappear, so having the state of the art conventional equipment that can handle this output remains necessary for printers and converters.
However, the short runs that have been a catalyst for the rise of digital are also going to remain an essential part of business and having the digital solutions needed to cost-effectively take on this type of work is of equal importance.
In an industry where so much conversation has been about whether digital or conventional printing will come out ahead in the race to become the printing technology of the future, the results of this survey indicate that printers and converters are seeking a balance, desiring the right technology for the right kind of job.