That’s the question facing package and label converters across the world as customer demands, consumer whims and production technologies change…seemingly on a weekly basis. So, naturally it was another lively panel discussion on the topic of “Digital or Conventional Printing: Discover the right choice for your business” at last week’s TLMI Technical Conference in Chicago. Before a nearly SRO crowd of 150 attendees, the panelists—Gary Bernier of HP Indigo, Brian Bishop of Gallus, Sean Skelly of EFI Jetrion, Mike Ring of Xeikon, Paul Brauss of Mark Andy, and Tom Clawson of Nilpeter—were moderated by Denny McGee of MPS (in a referee uniform, no less).
Here’s a quick rundown of pithy quotes and comments from the presentation:
Clawson: Servo-driven flexography is the rule in conventional printing today with gearless plate sleeves, great prepress advancements in the past few years, auto- and pre-registration to cut startup waste, quick changeovers to boost productivity.
Ring: Digital is a complement to current conventional technology, not a complete replacement.
Skelly: There’s a current analog-to-digital transformation underway, but the solutions will exist side by side. The market is driving the need for digital-printing solutions because of shorter runs, the demand to cut waste. Converters need to have a plan for the future.
Bishop: Digital and flexo are good complements to each other; they can be competitive on shorter runs.
Bernier: HP Indigo has just sold its 1,400th press for the labels and packaging market. Digital is not a replacement technology for conventional; it lets users extend their capabilities for customers.
Clawson: Digital has helped make flexo a better process because of what it forced flexo to accomplish: better registration, rapid changeover, wider color gamuts, higher quality prepress, sleeves to boost productivity. Digital is good enhancement, but digital will not take over flexo.
Brauss: We feel the idea is to make a [conventional] press that makes the operator a better operator. Then, you can deal with material costs by cutting waste and boosting final print quality.
Ring: Technologoy is moving rapidly; every five years digital tech takes a leap forward. There’s flexibility in the platform to go wider rather than replace the entire press. Don’t have preconceived notions of what digital can and can’t do. Have a strategy. Digital for digital’s sake is not the right approach.
Skelly: Don’t put your best pressman in flexo onto the digital press and then try to get them to forget what they know. Repeat training is often needed to get the most out of digital.
Bernier: Every label is different so there’s no true crossver point at which digital will always be better than flexo.
Skelly: It’s wrong to NOT talk about all the finishing needs; it’s not a finished label until it’s finished. An entire solution needs to be talked about from MIS to diecutting or laminating and inspection.
Brauss: We can’t dodge the math. It’s our responsibility to get these [digital vs. conventional] numbers in front of the converters. What’s the application that will get them the best solution?
Bishop: I do believe people will continue to run the older technologies and make money at it. You need to know where are the payoffs in the capital investments that you’re making.
Clawson: There are tens of thousands of analog presses out there. Digital is making only a tiny mark in the field now. To run some of these new substrates, it takes an analog press, but basic lineshaft presses will go away over time.
Skelly: We encourage converters to develop their own roadmap. If you’re outsourcing a lot of work to do digital, maybe you should bring it in-house. Figure out where [digital] fits and where analog fits and go through the economics.
My Thoughts: Now’s your chance to check out the latest in digital printing from EFI Jetrion, HP Indigo, Xeikon and about 20 other suppliers at Graph Expo 2011 this week in Chicago. Brauss and Skelly’s points are probably most telling. Crunch the numbers to help your company make the best decision.