Software across the converting industry has been rapidly developing to meet new challenges. With a raft of innovations on offer, there’s a software application for every need. Taking your time to choose carefully however, is the key to leveraging software across your business, says Dave Howell.
The converting industry has been a focus for software development since its inception. Packaging production requires a number of processes that must all be choreographed together to produce increasingly complex form factors. Whether this is physical primary, secondary or tertiary packaging, or software to run today’s digital presses, software has evolved to new levels of sophistication.
Kodak, in its packaging workflow whitepaper, aptly states: “Brand owners increasingly view packaging as owned media – the last chance to affect buying behaviour at the shelf. All of this presents a number of challenges for the highly competitive packaging industry. The good news is that there are tools and technologies available to help stakeholders in the packaging supply chain achieve these objectives, from design and specification through production.”
With the converting process often having many steps that require precision process handling, it’s important that integration is available, as is detailed control over the process itself. A good example is Matris Ambalaj Süreç Yönetimi. “We wanted to be able to handle process management for our clients and understood that this approach required us to reorganise and create a fresh infrastructure,” says Mehmet Çiftçi, head of Matris. “We got the ball rolling by partnering with Esko, using WebCenter as our online packaging management platform to make process management for all types of packaging possible.
“WebCenter is one of our latest investments,” Mehmet reports. “It was the solution I was waiting for in order to be able to perform process management directly for the client. One of the reasons we chose WebCenter is Esko’s release of its SaaS (Software as a Service) alternative. With all IT services provided by Esko, we can focus on our core business, and that offers us many advantages.”
One of the strengths of today’s converting landscape is that the software on offer now offers a completely integrated approach for converters. Brand owners are constantly searching for new innovation with the substrates they use and the form factors they create. This highly diversified environment means converters have to be nimble, but also have systems in place that enables them to make strategic relationships work with commercial partners, as well as having on-site systems to deliver their required outputs.
Explains Joe Eckerle, Esko’s brand owner sales director: "More and more brands in fast-moving pharmaceuticals understand the need for efficient solutions to get their packaging from ideation to shelf faster while avoiding costly errors.”
Converters are also increasingly placing communications and collaboration at the centre of their operations. This was certainly the goal for Creative Edge Software and its award-winning application iC3D. Introduced at drupa this year, early feedback on iC3D version 4.0 already in use by several CPG brands commends its ease-of-use and fast rendering on even the highest-quality, photorealistic mock-ups. Demonstrations at ALL4PACK will focus on how new ray tracing, light map editing and dynamic background capabilities enable regular designers to recreate effects that previously required physical mock-ups in photographic studios and real environments.
One of key trends that came out of drupa was that converters will become much more data savvy. Using cloud-based services is the future of converters’ production management, but the news coming from brands such as Heidelberg is that more Big Data application will become the norm for converters, which will use many sources of information to not only improve their efficiency, but also to offer innovations to brand owners. InfoTrends analyst Ryan McAbee has even used the phrase the ‘internet of presses’ to describe a future in which a converter’s systems are all integrated together in a cloud-based hub.
Security printing is one of the most demanding applications, and it has been a focus for software development, as brands have pushed for more innovation to offer their consumers tangible security systems. The recent release of the upgraded Fortuna 10 software from Agfa Graphics is a good example. Fortuna 10 introduces the brand new Trafo pattern generator, a unique solution for the very latest challenges faced by passport and other security document designers. The new feature can, of course, also lend itself to the protection of luxury goods, for instance.
Says Andy Grant, global head of software, Agfa Graphics: “For Fortuna, we are in a continuous process of researching new security tools while adapting the software itself to increase the design productivity. We want to enable designers of high-security documents to create dedicated and more diverse designs faster and more accurately."
UNI Packaging’s Matt Baldock also pointed out that converters that are dragging their feet with developing their systems will lose out in the future: “In an ageing industry, there is a lot of resistance to the most modern software options due to a lack of understanding and also fear of the unknown. However, the digital switchover is inevitable for packaging businesses as we are now a key marketing function for brands.
“We need to be as up to date as our clients to increase our mutual understanding and to be at our most effective,” Baldock continues. “Also, as our industry ages, the profile of brands and even those in procurement functions seems to be becoming younger and more tech savvy. Many of our marketplaces are becoming increasingly congested and technology is one core way to keep ahead.”
This view is echoed by Cindy Cooperman, global director of sales, packaging and brand, X-Rite: “One of the bigger trends we see in the converting industry is establishing an internal system, enabled by software, that allows for better tracking on quality and aggregation of the data to be able to use it more meaningfully.
“The trend of brands asking for quality reports continues and is getting more complex,” Cooperman reports. “More proactive converters are working to get out in front of the demand from a customer. They are building processes and procedures that allow them the flexibility to respond to multiple customers’ requests for quality reporting. The cherry on top is that these same processes and procedures improve overall quality.”
The converting sector has been transforming for several years. Today, print runs continue to shorten. Personalisation is rapidly expanding to encompass more packaging applications, and margins across converting continue to come under pressure. The reaction from converters has been to look at their production processes with the view to improving efficiency and removing cost. One way that this can be achieved is with more automation.
Says Jef Stoffels, director corporate marketing, Esko: “By now, most converters have various software solutions to help them with parts of their process handling: orders, delivery, inventory, prepress, production planning etc. Connecting these systems and integrating them in a way such that the error rate goes down, double work or double entry is avoided, and siloes are converted to bidirectional communicating platforms is a trend today.
“More and more software is available in the cloud and can be used in flexible systems like monthly subscriptions – a trend that is very appealing to many companies. It takes away IT bottlenecks and costs, and tailors the software infrastructure to the production capacity needed at a certain given moment. At the same time, as everything is getting digital and going everywhere, more and more companies are concerned and have complex requirements regarding data security.”
More integration is a key area that converters are focusing on, according to UNI Packaging’s Matt Baldock: “When taking into account the full packaging production cycle, from design to delivery, Esko’s WebCenter is becoming the go-to tool for converters, as information from original design submission, to repro amends, to pricing and cumulative costs, to production timelines are all accessible 24/7. Converters and clients can log on to specific areas relevant to them to track the status of each order and the history of each SKU. In addition, the software can even be used to invoice clients, thus offering the complete workflow. It also has an auto-translate tool which lends itself to international business.”
The future of software development across converting is for more integration and the rationalisation of workflows. More automation is a given, but converters like others across many sectors are leveraging the data they have to find cost savings, efficiency gains and to deliver next generation services to their clients.
“Converters are building towards a future where there is more automation and synchronisation between production areas,” concludes X-Rite’s Cindy Cooperman. “This leads to a reduction of duplication of efforts, which often happens interdepartmentally in printing operations. We have seen the introduction of SaaS based software solutions in the graphic arts industry and this trend will continue. One of the main benefits to these offerings is the scalability of the solutions that enable business agility. In a SaaS model, technology providers are able to provide more feature rich functionality and respond quickly to emerging trends that converters are looking to adopt.”
A just-in-time approach to packaging production is becoming the norm. Brand owners no longer want or need to hold vast amounts of packaging in stock. Converters have had to become nimble and react to this continuing acceleration in packaging development. Ian Scott, managing director at GMG Worldwide, succinctly states: “The industry is looking for game-changing software that streamlines the production workflow, improves quality for greater customer satisfaction, and eliminates costly mistakes.”
The future looks set to include more of this approach to packaging design and production. Converters that want to remain relevant to the needs of their customers should look at their processes now to locate efficiency savings, and invest in new systems that will deliver the dynamic businesses needed to meet customer demand. Integrated workflows from design to production are now vital.