Wide-web digital printing for flexible packaging takes another step ahead

HP Indigo 20000 Digital PressIn this my final installment on the HP Indigo Worldwide VIP event held last week in Israel, here’s an update primarily on developments in wide-web digital printing for flexible packaging.

HP 20000 output

Output from the HP Indigo 20000 digital press during a live demo at the company’s Ness Ziona facility.

Transforming the packaged-goods industry today are three major trends – theme-based packaging, micro-segmentation of product lines, and SKU proliferation, says Francois Martin, worldwide marketing director for HP’s Graphics Solutions Business. For example, between 2007 and 2012, retailers carried an additional 10,000 SKUs – now about 48,000 for the average grocery store. These trends, in turn, have forced brand owners (and their converter suppliers) to require shorter runs of many more package versions, a reduced supply chain with less waste and storage costs, and distributed package printing near their product manufacturing sites — all aspects that wide-web digital printing helps answer.

When it comes to flexible packaging, HP estimates a total addressable market for digital printing of these materials at $200 million (with a 31% CAGR) from 2012-2020. This equates to about 2 billion units.

HP 20000 print engine assembly

HP Indigo 20000 print engines being assembled at the Kiryat Gat press and ink manufacturing plant.

HP Indigo’s solution is the 20000 Digital Press, launched earlier this year (top photo). So far, 10 of the largest flex-pack converters in the world have purchased a system, and the first installations are planned for the end of 2013, the company says. We witnessed a live press demo at the HP Indigo offices in Ness Ziona.

Some specs: The roll-fed HP Indigo 20000 runs a 30-in.-wide (29-in.-wide image format) web with up to a 44-in. repeat. It supports 90% of all applications by printing on film, paper, aluminum and biodegradable substrates as thin as 10 microns and as thick as 250 microns. Off-the-shelf material printing is made possible by an integrated coating station, which includes an unwinder, corona treater, priming unit and dryer. Standard CMYK is augmented by adding opaque white, as well as by optional 6- and 7-color printing. Speeds of 112 fpm in 4-color, and 147 fpm in an Enhanced Productivity Mode are offered. Five-color printing cuts that down to 88 fpm.

Partner vendor AB Graphics’ digicon 3000 finishing system will be integrated in-line with the HP Indigo 20000 digital press, allowing one-pass production of labels and a variety of flexible-packaging laminates. That equipment provides unwind, substrate pretreatment (if necessary), drying, a flexo/gravure printing or adhesive application station, solvent or water-based lamination, diecutting, slitting and rewinding. The digicon 3000 will be shown at Labelexpo Europe in Brussels (Beligum) this September.

My Thoughts:  It’s been eight years since I was last at an HP Indigo event in Israel, and I was truly impressed with how far the technology has come. Compared to the breakthrough Omnius, introduced back in 1995, throughput is now six times faster on a web 2.5 times wider. Will digital printing eventually approach the sheer productivity of flexo or gravure? Possibly, but that’s not the point, really. A 2,000-fpm CI-flexo press fits the need for churning out a warehouseful per day of the same printed packaging; a 150-fpm digital press that can make every impression unique fits the shorter-run direction that a growing part of the industry (and its customers) is headed toward.

HP Indigo is going partly to the pull-through method of promotion. As vp-gm Alon Bar-Shany explains, they are looking at Labelexpo Europe as a “packaging show,” not just a labeling show. They will bring brand owners to Brussels (as well as interpack 2014 next spring in Düsseldorf, Germany) to get them excited about the possibilities and realities of digital print. Still, he admits they want to create a preference for HP Indigo, not just digital.

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