Simplifying Complex Packaging Opportunities with the AstroNova TrojanLabel T3-OPX

By Elizabeth Gooding / Published:

Packaging, in all its forms, is unquestionably a major growth market for digital printing. Usually when positioning inkjet printing in the packaging segment we are talking about large presses tailored specifically to folding carton, corrugated packaging, flex pac or labels. While inkjet supports short runs through customization, typically dedicated packaging presses are designed for to break-even at relatively high production volumes, yet much lower than their analog counterparts, and command initial investment of over $100K up to several million USD for corrugated packaging solutions. The pricing for inkjet label solutions start at a much lower price point, but are typically limited to printing labels. To have a presence in multiple areas of the packaging sector would typically require multiple investments and the space and labor to run multiple presses.

Recently we learned of AstroNova, Inc. which delivers a multi-faceted inkjet packaging printer priced like an entry-level label printer. AstroNova worked with HP Specialty Printing & Technology Solutions (SPTS) to develop a single solution that would provide direct-to-package printing on a very wide range of packaging and label types. “The solution needed to be built with industrial grade quality while being cost-effective for even small shops to acquire and operate,” said Mohit Bhushan the Global Director of Product Management for AstroNova Product Identification Solutions. AstroNova has a long history of collaboration with HP SPTS going back over 10 years including co-development of several successful printers using HP Thermal Inkjet technology (HP TIJ) . Their latest collaboration, the TrojanLabel T3-OPX launched in September 2019 and commercial shipments started in January 2020 just ahead of the surge in packaging demand driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. AstroNova has fulfilled hundreds of orders for the T3-OPX from multiple countries across 5 continents, often tailored to the unique needs of their customers. You can see a video on the device here.

According to Bhushan, “AstroNova has a rich history of delivering innovative and affordable solutions. We approach the market with a consultative approach and a commitment to being a total solution provider to our customers.” The TrojanLabel T3-OPX is both an “out of the box” printing system as well as a component that can be integrated into production lines.  The print module is configured for easy integration with 3rd party equipment and AstroNova supports this process with technical drawings, I/O controls, software APIs, and robust documentation.  The standard system delivers print widths of up to 11.7 inches (297 mm) on material widths up to 40 inches with substrate thicknesses up to 4 inches (100mm), but the range of material widths and substrate thicknesses can be expanded with a different conveyor table. “AstroNova has multiple ongoing printer module integration projects with different conveyor system manufacturers to run specialty substrates and serve a variety of end-use applications.” Bhushan said. Here are some highlights of customers using the system with and without additional integration:

Package Prototyping

A large multi-national conglomerate specializing in solid and corrugated board manufacturing, converting and package printing leverages the system to produce quick turn-around physical samples for customers seeking tailored package designs.

Personalizing Paper Bags

A European commercial printer expanded their market with the production of digitally printed paper carrier bags. After integrating the T3-OPX with a unique conveyor and feeding solution to accommodate paper carrier bags, the company was able to deliver short run printing on bags of varying thickness and print widths with almost no downtime.

Multi-Shape Food Packaging

A leading US-based manufacturer of corrugated products for the bakery and delicatessen industries integrated the system directly into their production workflow allowing full-color custom printing on a full line-up of food packaging including trays, triangular boxes, circles.

Multi-Material Localization

Another food industry supplier, focused on micro-ingredients, uses the system to version labels for local language and regulatory compliance across 25 countries. Printing directly onto moisture and leak-proof product packaging as well as the protective corrugated shipping materials, a single print solution covers multiple needs.

Branding Industrial Crates

An industrial packer specializing in wooden crates used the system to print high-resolution brand imagery directly onto wooden panels. The company integrated the system with a heavy-duty conveyor transport including a laser alignment featured to simplify accurate panel loading.

Manufacturers, printing companies and converters can use a single system to print high-quality, full color imagery directly onto an incredibly wide array of flat, ink-absorbing surfaces including cardboard, paper bags, blister envelopes, folded boxes and even flat wooden planks, as well as on labels at speeds of up 18″ per second (90 fpm or 27 m/m).

In addition to the substrate flexibility enabled by the HP TIJ printheads, another critical factor making the  T3-OPX efficient across multiple segments is the automatic height calibration function that sets the proper print height for each substrate thicknesses. This enables changeovers and improves productivity while reducing operator intervention.

Print operators, or manufacturing line operators, are supported with an intuitive interface and a built-in job library to define and reuse common product configuration parameters. Other tools include a built-in cost calculator for easy job analysis and pricing along with remote diagnostics.

The T3-OPX  lowers the barriers to entry for companies who want to expand their capabilities to support a new breed of packaging buyers and end consumers. “To meet customers’ needs today, you must be able to print on the packaging – directly onto formed materials, without the added cost and complexity of pretreatment and post coatings,” says Bhushan. “Finished products must be durable, scratch resistant and water resistant.  The process should allow for late-stage customization and package design versatility.” The HP TIJ printheads, together with CMYK pigmented ink cartridges, provide vibrant, durable color output that is cost-effective to produce.

The  quality and versatility of the T3-OPX has been proven with diverse customers in multiple industries worldwide. The combination of speed, efficiency, and affordability  along with excellent print quality, has the potential for strong return on investment for companies entering or expanding their reach in the packaging segment.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Gooding

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Elizabeth is the Editor and Co-founder of Inkjet Insight. She has a rare ability to see print related issues from many perspectives. She has managed creative teams on complex design projects, selected outsourcers for major brands and helped print organizations to retool operations, focus their market positioning and educate sales teams to accelerate growth. She works with a team of top analysts to translate experiences into tools, data and content to help print organizations evaluate the potential of inkjet, optimize their operations and grow pages profitably. She is a founding member of the Inkjet Summit advisory board, the co-author of an award-winning book on designing for inkjet and a curious consultant constantly seeking innovative ways to drive new pages onto inkjet presses.

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