For converters the software they use can have a massive impact on how their businesses can enhance products and support brand partners. Dave Howell reports.
Converting businesses need to be dynamic. If the last few years has shown anything it's that the sector has had to rapidly evolve to meet the ever increasing demands of brands that see packaging as a major differentiator in their market sectors. Converters have not only had to adapt to this new climate, but have also had to overhaul how their businesses operate. One major area of innovation has been the software applications they use.
Digital print has been the platform that has seen the most advances with presses and pre-press software. Südpack announced that it would be using the HP Indigo 20000 digital press and associated software to print the films, which can offer its brand partners more flexibility such as the ability to print promotions onto packs and offer limited edition print runs.
Südpack Managing Partner Johannes Remmele said: "Setting up and aligning the print image takes minimal time and effort. This efficiency, combined with our lean production processes, allows us to offer our customers affordable smaller batches. This gives them the freedom to test different versions of their products, and to increase their long-term market prospects and sales."
For converters and their brand partners the continued evolution of packaging is being driven by the development of digital services, which include specific software applications within the pre-press sector and its allied fields, but also within a wider context were brands are looking at their entire workflow to achieve efficiency improvements and cost reductions.
Says Ryan McAbee, associate director, Production Software Services, InfoTrends: "Key issues driving digital packaging workflows for converters include: Online ordering, via web-to-print or ERP. On demand production, shorter lead times. Short run printing, finishing, digital and analog. Automated production and integration. MIS for better scheduling across production and efficient collaboration for online approvals."
Software then has moved out of is traditional pre-press environment to offer comprehensive and integrated workflows that today's converters require to meet the demands of their clients. Whether a converter is advancing its print proposition to take advantage of new techniques, or needs software to improve its wider business workflow across its supply chain, choosing the right applications is vital to ensure cost effective installations.
The key drivers for all converters when it comes to choosing which software applications to use will always be governed by the demands of their clients.
Paul Hesketh, Print Development Manager at FFP Packaging Solutions, outlined to Converting Today how his company approaches its software choices: "Adobe Illustrator/PDF for artwork and design communication of artwork from designers through to brand managers and FFP as the printer.
EFI Fiery for proofing prediction software, through FFP Colour Profile this shows our customer/brand owner/retailer an accurate prediction of the colour that will be achieved on press."
Hesketh continued: "We also use X-Rite ink formulation as this enables our Ink Lab to input a target colour, the software generates a mathematical recipe for accurate ink formulation. Swatches can be sent to brand managers for approval. And X-Rite IQC/ColorCert – Measurement of Colour using Spectrophotometers to specified tolerance's and scored in a percentage to the colour profile of the printer. Colour data can be accessed by the Brand via the cloud so they can see colour reports for each job that comes off the press in real time."
Converters supplying a print service clearly need to rely on a plethora of software applications. Simon Smith, MD, CS Labels Ltd told Converting Today: "We currently use X800 front end on the digital press to help layout the digital labels to optimise material usage. As part of this software we also utilise Xeikon Varilane to print labels of different print widths at the same time. This enables us to maximise the material yield and is particularly effective for printing ultra short runs which are then separated onto separate rolls to be cut by laser."
Another example is Emerald Packaging that has invested in the Packaging Productivity Suite from EFI. With EFI Radius ERP software at its core, the Packaging Suite offers an advanced end-to-end integrated and automated workflow management solution, utilizing smart software to optimize the business from the client's desk throughout planning, production and delivery.
"Our company has gotten larger, and our jobs more complex," said Emerald Packaging CEO Kevin Kelly. "We wanted seamless integration and business intelligence without having to write a program ourselves. The business intelligence module is a big advantage providing real time information about our performance. Our controller loves the accounting package because of its ease of use. We're excited about the accuracy of the pricing module as well."
For converters to remain market leaders they have to constantly invest in the software they use to deliver consistently high quality services to their clients. Where do converters see essential development in the software they use to help them develop their businesses?
FFP Packaging Solutions' Paul Hesketh commented: "As an Innovative business we are always looking to bring new products to the market, we strive to be the best in our sector. Any software that helps us become better at what we do, and improves our manufacturing efficiencies would be of interest to us.
"I think integration is starting to happen now. We have just installed Pantone Live which is starting to be used by brands through the whole supply chain to communicate colour via the cloud for each process within packaging. This combined with print management system on the latest presses improve consistency and efficiency."
With CS Labels Ltd's Simon Smith also explaining: "We have utilised technology to demonstrate the capability and versatility of digital. We have recently introduced a PDF work flow from My Press Expert which has enabled us to significantly improve both the workflow from the studio but also allowed us to obtain greater control of our colour standards. If you look at our blog page on our website you will be able to obtain more details."
Stora Enso Packaging turned to Esko and its ArtiosCAD Enterprise application to deliver improved workflow and reduce errors. Food packaging specialists Wipak also leveraged the CDI Spark 4260 Auto with Inline UV to deliver shorter turnaround times, improved print quality and higher level of automation. Christian Fin, supply chain director at Wipak France commented: "The CDI has a plate production capacity that goes beyond our current needs. Having such capacity gives us an excellent platform for growth, especially with flexo expected to gradually account for more and more of our production."
And the future development of software for converters? Simon Smith at CS Labels Ltd concluded: "In truth it is my opinion that the software technology for converting is lagging behind advances being made in digital printing. For instance, when cutting labels produced on Varilane on a laser, as far as I am aware no technology exists to cope with the cutting of labels of different repeat lengths or of variable widths across the press."
With InfoTrends' Ryan McAbee also commenting: "As digital printing continues to make inroads, I would expect to see an increase need for integration and automation to handle the higher number of lower volume jobs similar to what happened in commercial printing."
More integration with software applications will continue, as converters streamline their operations. Moves such as the integration last year of matchmycolor with PACKZ illustrates this trend. This level of integration offers reliability with colour matching in this case, which has increasingly become important for brands and converting alike.