Using B2 inkjet flexibility for packaging print

By Ralf Schlozer / Published:

While many commercial print applications are under pressure due to substitution from electronic media channels, packaging is immune to this pressure and widely regarded as a future-proof print application. Nevertheless, it is a competitive market with several large and specialised printing companies, who have made considerable technology investments, already in operation. At the same time, niches exist, and small customers remain underserved.

Not all printing presses that allow for short-run packaging printing are easily affordable. B2 inkjet presses bring a good compromise to the table with a format sufficient for a range of packaging types, good productivity, high print quality, and substrate flexibility. Since the presses have not been designed as pure packaging printers, they offer a relatively smooth transition into short-run packaging print and customers benefit from economies of scale across industries and a wide service network.

However, because B2 inkjet presses have not been developed primarily for packaging print, some limitations also exist on what packaging requirements can be achieved. Specialty colours, inline varnishing, or support for heavy carton media is currently missing. Vendors have been diligent in enabling their devices for a broader range of packaging applications, nevertheless.

Already with the JetPress 720S (JPress in North America), Fujifilm introduced a packaging printing kit to support heavy and stiff materials. Specifically, increased vacuum power on the impression cylinder helps to hold heavy substrates in place. This lifts the maximum thickness of substrates to 0.6mm. In addition, Fujifilm is offering a food-safe inkset for food packaging. A first installation took place in March and existing devices can be upgraded, although an ink swap is not intended to be made frequently. Finally, Fujifilm announced a high pile feeder and delivery, adding an extra 30 cm (11.8”) of pile height. This would improve the productivity of larger runs of thick substrates.

Also with packaging print in mind, in 2022 Konica Minolta launched the e-version of the AccurioJet KM-1. The KM-1e has upgraded sensors and electronics for improved printing on packaging substrates and on dark or transparent substrates. Using UV inks, the press was already capable of printing on carton up to 600µ thickness in simplex modes and specialty substrates like PVC, PP, PET or Tyvek. Also Komori sells a B2 inkjet press, the IS-29, which shares the hardware configuration with the KM-1.

Bringing print in-house at AB Packaging

The flexibility of the AccurioJet KM-1e allowed French packaging provider AB Packaging to bring the complete print production in house. AB Packaging offers different types of blister packaging. Previously, offset printed board was externally sourced, while PVC printing was done internally on an MGI Meteor. Two years ago, a project was initiated to bring all print in house. The intent was not only to speed up the process considerably but also to allow for a much tighter control of the quality. Most packages consist of cardboard and a PVC blister, although other materials are used occasionally. All these materials can be printed on the KM-1e, which was the main reason to go with this device. Typical run lengths range from 500 to 1,000 sheets, although longer runs up to 26,000 sheets have been printed as well.

AB Packaging is expecting quickly rising volumes as the company has patented a “green blister” packaging, which makes PVC superfluous. According to French environmental law, PVC packaging will be banned from 2025 onwards and goods producers will need to adapt their packaging by then. The company is also planning to bring finishing in-house for even tighter control of quality and response times. The KM-1e proved to be easy to use and very consistent and reliable, although it took some training for the operators to get started. The great flexibility in materials is a great benefit, although material changes can mean more downtime due to the set-up procedures. For now, AB Packaging is banking on the expected growth in sustainable packaging although other applications might be added in the future.

Green Blister example and KM-1

EGGER Druck + Medien and the JetPress 750S

An example of a company growing with high-value short-run packaging is EGGER Druck + Medien in Germany. Originally a commercial printer with a long tradition, the company switched to packaging printing in 2009. An important success factor has been the self-developed web portal for ordering packaging prints in small to mid-volume quantities. The focus has been on high-quality products, elaborate finishing, and full service, including finishing, assembly, and logistics. A steadily increasing demand allowed the company to grow from 20 to 60 employees since. However, CEO Xaver Egger noticed some changes in demand in recent years. Run lengths were still coming down, the product portfolio is broadening, and turnaround times were getting squeezed. Hence the decision was made to retire the existing digital press and focus even more on inkjet printing by investing in a JetPress 750S aqueous inkjet press. For EGGER Druck the high quality of the press is a perfect fit and since most jobs are single-sided, the manual perfecting is not an issue. Weighing down on productivity is setting up the press for different substrates for short runs, however, this is not a major issue as mainly standard substrates are used. Occasional jobs with higher volumes, starting at about 2,000 sheets, or requiring a larger sheet size are still produced in offset.

So far, the press is operated in two shifts to handle the volume demands. The company plans to expand the product portfolio into even shorter runs, below the previous minimum order volume of 25 copies. The digital press also allows for on-press proofing, something very appreciated by customers of high-value packaging. Also, the reduced throughput time allows for premium rush jobs and faster delivery times in general. Customer feedback and ratings have been very positive so far, a prerequisite for attracting more high-value short-run packaging customers.

Fujifilm JetPress 750S at EGGER Druck + Medien

Bridging Packaging and Commercial at Rehms Druck

Rehms Druck in Germany is another user of the Konica Minolta B2 inkjet press. The company invested in one of the first AccurioJET KM-1 in Europe in 2017 with explicitly three applications in mind: general commercial print, packaging, and direct marketing. Rehms Druck is a full-service provider with a large customer base, aiming at proving a “one-stop shop” service for their customers. The company experienced good growth in all segments with a 50% volume increase in digital print in three years and packaging volumes growing even during the pandemic. Digital print became a major revenue source for the company – in addition to the established offset print.

Volumes increased to the extent that at begin of 2023, the original KM-1 and two toner systems were replaced by two AccurioJET KM-1e models. The reliability and stability of the inkjet presses drove the decision and the added capacity will be used across all application areas. To increase the portfolio in packaging Rehms complemented the inkjet presses with a Motioncutter laser die cutter and an MGI embellishment system.

Moving with the market

These three companies demonstrate how packaging can be successfully produced on B2 inkjet presses. Venturing into a new market, bringing production in-house, or reacting to shifting demand can be realised with a moderate investment.

Nevertheless, expect some teething problems in setting up the workflow, choosing the substrates that work best, and adapting finishing. Look to suppliers for advice on substrates and finishing as materials often behave differently in inkjet compared to offset, including changing finishing set-ups. Additionally, these types of presses are not optimised for frequent substrate changes, which should be kept in mind. Batching of short runs can minimize this limitation.

Switching production presses can be a challenge, especially as experienced press operators are tough to hire. Inkjet presses have the advantage that they are easier to operate, have lower maintenance needs, and have good production and color stability – thanks to a simple print process and integrated automation features. Often users find that offset operators are eager to move to a digital press.

While there are limitations on what can be achieved with a B2 inkjet press, there are considerable market opportunities as well, especially when moving into markets not occupied by big players. The flexibility of the B2 inkjet presses is the key to addressing a wide array of applications along with packaging. Sometimes you can have it both ways: moving into packaging and addressing short-run commercial print as well.

About the Author

Ralf Schlozer

Ralf Schlozer is Independent Print Analyst. Ralf provides analysis, sizing and forecasting the market for digital printing technologies and associated applications and business processes. Connect with Ralf on LinkedIn

Leave a Comment