Printing on a grand scale

The trend towards the individualisation of packaging is giving digital printing a boost to growth. This young technology is no longer only used for limited editions and personalized products. The first steps on the way to individual mass production have been taken.

Coca-Cola, Nutella and Kinder chocolate – these are the prominent names that printers and printing press manufacturers repeatedly use to praise the advantages of digital printing and the possibilities of individualization. But many other brands already have products with personal messages in their range. Under the campaign motto „Der Moment seid ihr!“, Rotkäppchen is once again drawing attention to itself with „Sag’s mit Rotkäppchen!“ (Say it with Little Red Riding Hood) in the trade: When buying Rotkäppchen sparkling wine, it is possible to design labels individually and have them sent home. This year for the first time even with a picture.

What comes across as playful is anything but a marketing gag: „Individualisation makes a big contribution to increasing sales,“ explains Jörg Hunsche, Market Development Manager at HP Deutschland GmbH in Böblingen. Such promotions have the potential to increase brand awareness and gather knowledge about one’s own target group. „Brand owners today claim to know their customers better, to interact with them, to be on the market faster with new products and to deliver product variations in ever shorter product cycles,“ says Hunsche. Digital printing meets these demands.

Major press manufacturers such as HP are driving the digitalization of the packaging industry and educating the public. Digital printing is on everyone’s lips, but what it can do is not sufficiently known to many brand owners. Mitzi’s infinite apron collection“, for example, shows what is technically possible today. This is a special edition of wine labels depicting a dirndl, which Marzek Etiketten + Packaging GmbH realised for the Iby winery. The starting point for the apron collection was the basic design by Pepo Bella, an artist and graphic artist from Burgenland. This „apron basic design“ is varied again and again with the help of the individualisation software HP Mosaic. Through rotation, scaling or colour changes, any number of unique variations of a Dirndl can be created. Each label is unique, no matter if in small or million edition.

Digital printing can assume more than many people

Or the example Since 2007, customers have been able to mix their favourite muesli online. And 80 ingredients allow an infinite number of combinations. LabelPrint24 had to provide each can with an individual label in high quality and in runs of several thousand pieces per day. The entire production process was automated for this purpose: The individualised labels are printed within a few hours on an HP Indigo WS 6800, finished and delivered the next day as a label roll to the production line in Passau. The customer can choose different can designs, assign a name to his muesli and describe his muesli creation in his own words.

However, digital printing does not aim to replace conventional printing processes, but rather to supplement them. Marketers now have the technology to create creative packaging and even launch short-term promotional campaigns for specific markets and target groups. There are no limits to creativity, practically everything can be digitally printed: Labels, banderoles, flexible packaging, corrugated board and folding boxes – regardless of size and run. Cross-media contact points with social media and mobile apps can also be integrated into the packaging design. In addition, digital printing provides greater flexibility in production and thus provides packaging finishers with higher margins even for short runs. The existing offset, flexo and gravure presses will continue to be used where their strength lies: for large runs.

Advantages and disadvantages of digital printing

• Fast printing without makeready times
• Economical production of short runs at the highest quality level
• Takeover of short runs from offset production in order to relieve the pressure on the offset machines
• Significant reduction or elimination of paper waste
• Expansion of the online business
• Personalized packaging and mass customization are only possible with digital printing

• High training costs due to integration of a digital printing press: Employees from sales, IT, order management, planning, prepress, finishing, quality control need to be trained
• The machine must be integrated into the web shop and the prepress workflow, into production planning and into machine data acquisition.
• Fast processing and production of a large number of small orders poses completely new challenges to the organization and operational processes

Individualization and process cost advantages

Patrick Donner, Managing Director of Traffic GmbH in Schwülper, sees the unique selling point of digital printing less in the ability to print small runs cost-effectively than in the opportunity to produce completely individualized packaging – and that in runs from one to one million. „We can produce, individually print, digitally refine, variably lacquer and foil differently large packing in a pressure process , explain it. The print quality can be compared with offset printing.

According to Thomas Pfefferle, Managing Director of Colordruck Baiersbronn W. Mack GmbH & Co. KG, individualization, personalization and mass customization are just one side of the coin. „Digital printing offers process cost advantages in the supply chain between the packaging manufacturer and the customer, because it is no longer possible to produce on stock, but quasi ‚on demand‘ according to demand. The packaging industry has the opportunity to benefit from these developments and generate added value.

The first to benefit from this are those sectors that already have a large variety of types with small batch sizes. This applies to almost all sectors, from the pharmaceutical and electrical industries to food in regional diversity. Pfefferle has meanwhile noticed a rethinking in the packaging industry: Up to now, packaging has always been produced in the largest possible batch sizes, standardised, in stock and thought of with the rarest possible changes to the printed image.

In digital printing, on the other hand, only what is currently needed is ordered and produced. Nothing is stored anymore. „Even if digitally printed packaging in small lot sizes produced according to demand is in itself more expensive than the larger lot size in offset printing, this saves several times the process costs. However, this is often not so transparent and often falls by the wayside,“ is Pfefferle’s experience.

All processes must be digitized

However, digital printing is only one component of digitisation. All the possibilities of this technology can only be exploited if the associated processes are also digital. PackEx GmbH, which was founded a year ago in Worms and has now started operations, wants to demonstrate how this can be done to perfection. The startup is a subsidiary of the August Faller Group and processes its print jobs completely via a web-based software solution. PackEx’s B2B app can now be installed via the Google Chrome Browser and users can order folding cartons quickly, cost-effectively and resource-efficiently online.

This is made possible by the consistent digitalization of all production stages in the manufacture of standard folding boxes. Thanks to the smart ordering process and significantly shorter production and delivery times, small batches of 1 to 5000 units are to arrive at the point of sale within 72 hours by express parcel delivery.