HP at Interpack in Germany: Digital Print for Packaging’ Lots of It!

Bob Leahey
May 20, 2014

Hewlett Packard had a big stand at the May 2014 Interpack show in Germany, and used this once-every-three-years trade fair to highlight its far-ranging approach to the packaging market. HP’s exhibit had lots to offer, from production level color printing of flexible packaging, to corrugated displays and cartons, and even to monochrome inkjet package coding.

All this came in the midst of a German show where HP Indigo was something of an outlier exhibitor. InterPack in Düsseldorf is like Pack Expo in Chicago” a huge show that’s heavy on packaging and packaging automation, but light on digital printing, with the possible exception of coding and logistics labeling. Interpack is thus a natural marketing environment for companies like Videojet and Domino (inkjet and laser coders), and Zebra (thermal label printers), but for marketing fine color printing equipment it is normally much less useful. That said, at Interpack HP always had a crowded booth. Part of the reason, maybe a big part: HP leads all the color digital press manufacturers in selling brand owners on the idea of digital printing for packaging, and it was able to do so at this show with a bunch of products dedicated to packaging. Like Pack Expo, Interpack is a good place to meet the companies that make products for sale on retail shelves. These brands are the companies that drive the package printing market, and what HP put on display at Interpack was likely influential to many. A quick review:

  • HP Indigo’s existing WS4000 and WS6000 label presses were part of the stand, and the company says over 600 of the WS6000 Series have been installed worldwide since its launch in 2009.
  • Also there was HP Indigo 20000, the 30″ digital web for flexible packaging unveiled at drupa in 2012, now with four beta sites, one each at ILS (U.S), Wipf AG (Switzerland), Seikou (Japan), and RAKO (Germany).
  • HP Indigo 30000, the B2 sized sheet fed press for folding cartons, also has four betas, one each at Heret (Israel), Nosco (Philadelphia, PA), Matlet (Orlando, FL), and ASG (Toronto, Canada).
  • HP Scitex, which has placed 250 inkjet flatbeds inkjet systems, announced the FB15000, which uses HP’s proprietary High Dynamic Range (HDR) heads and aims to print both corrugated displays and packaging.
  • HP announced that its T-Series web presses for commercial printing of books and documents will soon offer an option to print in full color liner media that can be laminated to corrugated media.
  • HP Specialty Printing Systems (SPS), which supplies HP thermal inkjet technology to OEMs, announced new black solvent ink for use in the HP45si cartridge, for coding non-porous surface in primary packaging.

The developments around HP Indigo 20000 and 30000 were mostly known to us, due to an HP Indigo analyst event that InfoTrends covered recently (http://store.infotrendsresearch.com/product_p/139443.htm), but even these presses had something new to report. That was the introduction of a lamination solution from Commexi (Spain) called Nexus L20000, with solvent-free chemistry and designed specifically for the HP Indigo 20000 flexible packaging press; it will be available in 2015. HP had at its stand other, more established finishing equipment companies that work with the 30000, such as Tresu (coater for HP Indigo 30000), Kama (DC 76 die cutter, SBU stripping and blanking unit), and Scodix (digital enhancement).

HP Indigo 20000 Prints 30" Flexible Packaging Web

Of the other bulleted items in the list above, the story that interested us the most was the one that HP spoke of the least, its plan to aim an HP T-Series inkjet press at the color printing of liner for corrugated media. The T-Series systems are high end, single pass inkjet presses for commercial printing, but they have two features that are much needed for full color printing of corrugated, namely (1) a big print width of up to 42″ and (2) high print speed, up to 600 feet per minute, i.e., about 5X the speed HP Indigo label presses. What HP is proposing for the T-Series is not the direct printing of corrugated, but rather the printing of the top layer by itself, which can then be glued to corrugated board in a separate step. Lamination-type printing of corrugated is strong and growing, but almost all is based on offset and other analog printing of liner media. Just as in labels, folding cartons, and flexible packaging, though, brands want good options to print short runs of corrugated media in full color (think of all those shelf packs at Costco and free standing displays in supermarkets).

Photo of T Series Press

At Interpack, HP touted its two routes to providing that short run printing of corrugated: (1) HP Scitex 15000, with scanning heads to print corrugated directly; (2) HP T-Series presses, for the single pass printing of “digital lamination” liner media, as cited above. Both technologies are credible and attractive, but of the two the T-Series concept is basically unprecedented; it is still in development, with commercial introduction set for 2015, approximate timing not stated. Until that introduction, the HP Scitex FB15000 is not only available but has a compelling precursor, HP Scitex 10000, which is based on the same “HDR” heads as the FB15000 and so far has 30 systems operating commercially. The 10000’s full color print quality on corrugated is excellent; images made with its UV curing inks bend to 90 degrees with little or no cracking, a vital consideration for full color cartons.

HP had one last packaging application on display at Interpack, and that was inkjet coding. At the show, HP Specialty Printing Systems (SPS) introduced a new solvent ink for use in HP’s thermal inkjet (TIJ) cartridges. Solvent inks for TIJ coders have existed for a few years, but they are so far limited in their robustness, especially compared to inks for continuous inkjet (CIJ) coders, which heavily dominate the rich market for coding primary packaging (most primary packaging has a slick surface, because it is coated or made of plastic, film, glass. metal, etc., and therefore requires solvent ink). HP SPS supports over 20 OEMs, many of them small companies, that build inkjet coders based on TIJ, and for which improved solvent inks will be welcome.

Wolke M600, Based on HP TIJ, Coding Pharma Carton

Like Label Expo, Circa 2005

For readers familiar with label printing, and who know how big a presence digital presses have these days at Label Expo”where HP Indigo is usually the biggest booth, but with lots of digital competitors’ the Interpack show of 2014 recalls Label Expos of nearly 10 years ago. At the 2005 Label Expo in Brussels, HP Indigo was leading the digital contingent, but other than Xeikon the digital competition was minimal, and mainly for tabletop bar code label printing. Interpack 2014 had a similar look to that long ago show: HP Indigo leading the way with color digital printing. Given range and nature of the products at their stand in Düsseldorf this month, and the interest the new presses provoked, it’s not hard to think that in another 9 or 10 years Interpack will have more in common with Label Expo today” HP will be there, but there will be multiple other digital entrants, all vying for shares of a digital printing market that HP Indigo is spurring forward in 2014.

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