PackExpo 2013 – A Hotbed of Digital Printing Innovation

Ron Gilboa
Sep 24, 2013

PackExpo 13 began yesterday with a rush of attendees lined up to enter the show. This Las Vegas based event is a magnet for brand owners, manufacturers, food processors, and converters from over 127 countries and representing 40 vertical markets. Over 26,000 buyers attend this show looking for the latest innovations in packaging and food processing solutions. Many of these buyers are interested in food processing safety or green manufacturing techniques. InfoTrends is here on a quest to find out about digital printing technologies that enable buyers to find new ways to decorate their products efficiently, drive demand while maintaining product safety, and lessen environmental impact.

U.S. packaging machinery shipments dropped 4% between 2011 and 2012. However a closer look at the data shows that shipments for converters and print service providers actually grew by 9% in 2012. This leaves us feeling positive about the future growth of printing technology, and especially when it comes to digital printing in this industry.

Source: 2013 PMMI Shipment Study (PMMI is the Association for Packaging and Processing Technology)

As we were walking through the busy aisles of PackExpo, it was clear that brand owners are driving demand for ever growing innovation, including digital printing. A key driver for digital printing technologies is the transition to mass customization of packaged goods. A continued growth in the number of SKUs is a promising trend for digital print, since it allows brand owners to meet the needs of specific demographics and geographies, while also addressing new regulations that require tracking of individual packed items.

On our first day at the show we took in the sights and had the opportunity to explore technologies that enable brand owners to develop new applications aimed at maintaining brand value, providing differentiation, and benefitting from the latest of go to market enabled by digital printing and related technologies.

Figure 1: Arjobex Security synthetic clay coated media

Key for any successful product marketing or decoration are the right substrates, those that allow for high quality output while offering security features that help fight counterfeiting. Yesterday we saw several examples of these solutions from Polyart which demonstrated digitally certified synthetic substrates for digital printing such as the Polyart Digital that is certified for HP Indigo printing systems. Polyart also showed a clay coated synthetic paper suitable for label applications that has embedded security featuring Arjobex Security, which enable brand owners to authenticate their products as well as provide tamper evidence where needed.

Figure 2: MEPCO Label Systems Digital sampler

As we continued our journey through the show we met Ms. J. Tracy the president of MEPCO Label Systems who shared with us a range of labels produced using the company’s EFI Jetrion systems. With runs up to 5,000 linear feet, MEPCO uses their digital system to produce labels that meet clients need for quality and most importantly short turn around. Naturally the company produces traditionally printed labels as well but their transition to digital has begun and will continue as the company expands their offerings.

Figure 3: Colordyne CDT-1600PC

With color being one of the key drivers in differentiating products on store shelves, we saw several vendors showing both production and table top printing solutions including the Colordyne CDT 1600S and Colordyne CDT1600C cut sheet and roll fed respectively. These systems are based on Memjet print heads. These were accompanied by the CDT 1600 PC a production system that can be fitted with a range of finishing solutions that deliver a finished converted product that is ready for the manufacturing plant.

Figure 4: RENA Systems MACH 8

Memjet also had other partners at the show including RENA systems which had three systems on display including a table top roll feed label printer called the Mach X that is capable of printing on 10” diameter label rolls with widths up to 9” using water based dye inks. Also on display was RENA’s Mach 5 envelope printer as well as their latest introduction the Mach 8 sheet fed printer. The Mach 8 system is a sheet fed system aimed at augmenting manufacturing lines with the ability to add simplex color documents with print resolution from 1600×800 to 1600×1600 dpi or just about over 60 images per minute (ipm) or 30 ipm respectively. This sub $25K system is becoming commercially available now with a running cost of approximately 2.3 cents per page for ink and serviceable inkjet components for a typical business communication document with approximately 40%-50% ink coverage.

Continuing the path of adding color we saw additional systems by Atlantic Zeiser, HSA USA as well as a range of coding systems from Kirk Rudy.

Figure 5: Atlantic Zeiser Omega 36 with New LED curing

The Atlantic Zeiser team was on hand highlighting their ability to use a 360 dpi print head ranging from the Omega 36 to the soon to be released Omega 330 covering a print swath from 36 to 300 millimeters. These enable marking and coding for systems that can be configured in line with manufacturing lines for products in the pharmaceutical industry for blister pack applications. But as with many other vendors in this market space, Atlantic Zeiser has their first offering in the color printing arena with the Gamma 70P a CMYK printer with UV curable ink. This 70 mm wide printer prints at 360 dpi and 8 levels of gray at 80 feet per minute. Atlantic Zeiser systems can be integrated into tracking systems that ensure process integrity, a critical element in delivering end to end solutions in their served markets such as the pharmaceutical industry.

Figure 6: HSA USA Xaar Based Inline Color Printing system.

At HSA USA we saw a range of systems integrated with print heads from the entry level HPO systems to a robust color unit comprised of Xaar 1001 print heads delivering 1000 active nozzles, 70.5 mm print swathe, 360 dpi, 8 grayscale, and 720+ apparent dpi. This system can be configured with various inks including solvent, oil, UV cured, or specialty fluids.

As we were leaving HSA USA we met with the Kirk-Rudy team where we witnessed the integration of card printing technology with RFID in a product tagging application intended for retail environments. In these sites, tracking of products and improved customer experience are enhanced via a card stock tag that is embedded with an RFID antenna and then personalized with printed information to create an informative tag. The systems verify the tag’s integrity, link the RFID tag with the product database, verify the code, and then add the printed data to match.

In our quest to find compelling new technologies on display on this first day of the show we looked at Packsize On Demand Packaging which takes sheets of corrugated board and cuts them into boxes of varying sizes automatically. This could provide a potential link to digital printing since the concept of on-demand corrugated packaging manufacturing goes hand in hand with on-demand digital printing. When combined, a potential converter or product manufacturer can harness digital manufacturing processes to eliminate warehousing and reduce the cost of multiple package SKUs. With a complete system introduced at the show Freebox technology by System Packaging was on display demonstrating the creation of corrugated boxes in various sizes on-demand. An interesting element of the demo, beyond the box manufacturing process, was that the boxes were preprinted with inkjet in green and white to reproduce the company’s logo on a green background. Additionally the system had an inline inkjet coding print head. Systems such as this combined with digital print technologies will have an ever growing impact on the packaging market as end user demand for increasing levels of customization increase.

Many of the products we observed on the first day of the show used the eco-friendly branding: gearedforGREEN. These products included garments produced from resinGEAR which is B2B line of sustainable products, all made in North America including a full line of eco-business clothing, and all made from rPET (recycled polyester from soda & water bottles). The recycled material is turned into fabric, sewn into garments, embroidered or printed using silk screen or direct garment printers. Forming a 100% recycled product, or as the group calls it, rPET (pronounced “repeat”) garments.

After an eventful first day at PackExpo it is clear that digital printing technologies and on demand production are ushering an era of innovation that is enabling brand owners to deliver value to clients while improving operations, reduce impact on the environment, while maintaining safety, shelf appeal and graphics richness.

Stay tuned for our second day coverage.

An example of InfoTrends’ ongoing research in the packaging market is the study “Packaging and the Brand Owner: Europe,” which is currently underway.

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