Digital print has made an impact in document printing. Inkjet is driving the current growth in digital adoption, even as the growth rates are slowing. In packaging print the growth rates are still high, with placements and volumes growing by double digits, but those rates are starting from a very low base. Despite the growth, some market observers feel disappointed by the uptake of digital print in packaging so far. There are many factors that should drive a fast adoption of digital print in packaging:
- Faster time to market
- Proliferation of SKUs
- Localisation/customisation of products
- Reduced inventory
While technical limitations in digital print still play a role in a slower than expected uptake, the hard truth is that consumable costs of digital are quite high for the relatively long runs that are still the standard for the bulk of packaging. That makes any strategy to add value to high volume packaging a hard sell. Moreover, a flexible print production approach for short runs must be matched in all areas of the supply chain to take advantage of it.
Still digital print had a somewhat bigger uptake in Europe than in the US. For once, when comparing Europe and the US, Europe has a noticeably higher population – by about 40%. In addition, Europe consists of a high number of countries and even more languages. That means runs are smaller to begin with and keep falling. Packaging installations in Europe are typically 50% higher than those in the US.
The market uptake for inkjet differs quite a bit by the packaging market addressed and is also subject to rapid changes.
As most folding carton printers would agree: size matters. This has slowed the uptake of digital print considerably. Although brands would love to move to shorter runs, just-in-time production and faster design changes, a large format is required for many boxes and, the larger the format the more efficiently can smaller ones be nested.
For years there were some iGens, NexPresses and Indigos in use but, with the small format they offer, only niche markets were able to take advantage. This changed a bit when HP launched the Indigo 30000 for folding carton. Although the uptake was good it had only limited impact on mainstream folding carton print. There are some B2 inkjet solutions on the market such as the Konica Minolta KM-1 and Komori IS-29. Both are more targeted towards commercial, but they can print folding carton as well – yet there is no pure carton print user in Europe so far. Fujifilm has a folding carton version of the JetPress, but with P4P in Belgium and Ebro Color in Germany few are in use in folding carton sites.
The most promising foray into digital folding carton printing is from the new B1 inkjet presses. Two vendors offer products currently: Landa and Heidelberg, and Komori will deliver later in 2020.
The Landa S10 has been developed for folding carton and a couple of devices are at customer sites and producing customer runs now. Made public are the S10 at Edelmann in Germany and another press at Schelling in Switzerland. Landa expects a couple more S10 installations in 2020 for folding carton.
Heidelberg has a few installations with the PrimeFire 106 as well, with at least three installed in Germany. An installation at Rondo in Switzerland exists as well. Although the Primefire 106 reached full availability according to Heidelberg, the company also states that the uptake is slower than expected.
Finally, large format printers should be mentioned, which occasionally make their way into folding carton print. But given the speed these are more likely used for mock-ups, test runs or very, very short runs.
If folding carton is a market where inkjet is in an early stage, in flexible packaging it is even more nascent. This comes down to the substrate which requires special transport, inks that work on film and foil and a large enough format. There have been attempts with UV ink, but this is not the method of choice as most flexible packaging is for food.
EP had the biggest impact yet with the Indigo 20000. In this case the US inched ahead in the number of installations driven by large scale user ePac with 52 units ordered so far. However, ePac plans to expand into Europe as well, adding to the 50+ installations other companies already have in operation in Europe.
There is slowly some movement in the market as suppliers launch inkjet devices. Fujifilm has the EUCON but did not launch it in Europe yet. Kodak and Uteco just announced that the first Sapphire Evo was sold to an unnamed customer. Landa is tipped to install the first W10 for flexible packaging to a customer in Europe in 2020.
Apart from the full solutions developed for flexible packaging, custom set-ups with inkjet imprinting heads are in use as well. Small scale flexible packaging production is possible on Memjet printers or OKIs Pro9000 toner printer.
A few years ago, I would have expected corrugated to trail the train of digital print adoption. Corrugated packaging is typically low value, bulky, difficult to print on and confined to low quality print. Toner printing was never an option here. Some large format inkjet were used for very short runs only.
Then HP launched the T-series for corrugated preprint. DS Smith took at least three lines in Europe, with Ghelfi Ondulati taking another two. Chistiansen print in Germany has another line. As cut-sheet lines became available the interest moved to those as well. HP with the B1 format PageWide C500 has at least 3 lines installed with two in Italy and one in Austria. EFI joined HP with the B1 Nozomi 18000 and has at six lines installed in Europe so far, although some print POS as well. The biggest user is the Hinojosa Group in Spain with three lines.
The number of corrugated print lines in Europe does not sound very large, but each of these devices is capable of churning out high volumes. Accordingly, corrugated is the fastest growing packaging segment by area printed. With more and more goods shipped corrugated has enough growth potential as well.
This post is part five of an ongoing series on print markets in Europe covering: