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More opportunities for digital converters

As digital label converting is capturing an increasing share of the market, converters are becoming more aware of the other opportunities that may be offered by their digital presses, says Marcelo Akierman, HP’s EMEA label & packaging market manager

While the cross-over points between digital and conventional label converting have continued to rise . bringing an increasing number of label jobs into the cost-effective range for digital production . so have its advantages for other applications.

Shrink sleeves, flexible packaging and folding carton production at present remain a small part of the packaging sector for digital, but changing marketing trends, especially in the use of social media websites by brands to build relationships with individual customers, indicate an increasing role for personalised and a more customer/market-segmented packaging.

The benefits of digital packaging printing are the same as for label converting: accurate colour matching, just-in-time production, cost-effective short runs, added-value variable data for personalisation, versioning, coding and marking, and other security features, and the ability to print on paper and plastics substrates ranging from 12 micron-450g/m2.

The expansion of digital label and packaging converting has encouraged finishing suppliers to offer new solutions to meet the requirements of shorter packaging runs. With finishing solutions for shrink sleeves, flexible packaging and folding cartons suitable for use with digital converting now available, and a growing awareness of the advantages of digital packaging, the industry is now technically attuned to the growth opportunities.

While still in need of some education in the potential of digital print, major brands have been quick to leverage the power of social media. By doing so, they have placed themselves in the gateway to digital print, with web-to-printability to connect social media users to interface direct with print service providers to fulfil personalised offers from the brands.

These techniques and technologies have been used around the world with great success to sell added-value, one-to-one products printed with consumers’ names, images and designs on merchandise ranging from soft drinks cans to beer bottles, facial tissues and other consumer goods.

Social media and brand sites are able to integrate consumer experience across a range of ‘touch points’, constructing a bridge between the virtual and the physical. From an initial interaction on a social media site or blog, other media can be brought into play, including signage, direct mail, email, mobile messaging, other websites and printed products from commercial print items to personalised packaging.

While the social media driver for many printed products is already well established, it is now possible to add labels, shrink sleeves, flexible packaging and folding cartons to this list.

Big brands as well as small, innovative companies can utilise their web presence and social media sites using digital packaging to build one-to-one relationships with customers. With personalised drink labels and sleeves for bottles and cans, and other forms of packaging capable of being promoted though websites or conventional methods, the benefits of digital short run, versioned and personalisation puts packaging creation and buying within reach of an unprecedented market.

The added value of short runs, personalisation, and integration with other media and online content (such as microsites with personalised URLs) enables companies to measure response rates, collect additional CRM data and further build relationships with customers.

Other digital packaging benefits include the ability to print trial packaging cost-effectively and on the final substrates; reduced time to market; reduction or elimination of costly warehousing; reduced waste through only printing what is required; and the flexibility to respond to just-in-time delivery requirements.

The new HP Indigo WS6600 and WS4600 digital presses, launched at Labelexpo Europe 2011 strengthen the case for digital packaging converting. The new Enhanced Productivity Mode (EPM) can increase press throughput by up to 30%, with speeds up to 40m/min and 21m/min respectively with full colour.

A new Digicon Series 2 finishing solution with “dual-finishing option” from AB Graphic International, an HP finishing partner, can be quickly configured for inline or near-line use. For folding carton applications, sheets from the Digicon can be cut, creased and hotfoil stamped by a sheet-fed finishing system from Kama.

With the flexibility and versatility that digital converting can bring to the packaging sector, label converters, brands and consumers are facing a dynamic future.

First WS4600 in UK

Label converter Readyprint has installed the first HP Indigo WS4600 digital press in the UK. The new machine will complement the Kidderminster-based company’s range of flexo label presses.“I’m convinced that, within three-to-five years, those companies without a digital capability will have a struggle to retain their ability to meet customer demands,” says Syd Reading, Readyprint founder and managing director. “Althoughwe had the option of contracting out digital print, we decided that we wantedto retain control of the process and the quality.” He has also invested in finishing equipment from AB Graphic International.

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