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Are you entering the packaging market? According to Smithers Pira, it will have become a routine application for the digital wide-format community by 2021.

Wide-format inkjet set to open new market in packaging

An array of new opportunities is opening up for wide-format inkjet vendors and press operators across the next five years according to the latest research from Smithers Pira. Over this 
period one segment that will significantly open up is packaging, which represents nearly half of a world market for print and printed packaging on all platforms.

In ‘The Future of Global Inkjet Printing to 2021’, Smithers tracks this evolution through a global market worth $61.9 billion in 2016. Prospects for growth in all sectors are very positive with inkjet volume forecast to grow by an average of 12.7% year-on-year between 2016 and 2021, and 8.7% in value terms - with much of the value coming from large printer installations.

Testament to the expansion in this market is the arrival of more flatbed machines - typically working across a 1.6m x 3.2m bed - and an associated boost in speed, with up to 1,000m² reported on HP’s Scitex 1700. This is also an arena for innovation with, for example, Durst developing a hybrid UV-water ink system (as demonstrated at Fespa 2015) as an alternative to today’s UV solutions and enabling print at low temperature (40°C) on flexible and rigid plastic substrates.

Market penetration of all segments of the print market is not uniform for inkjet however. While digital is well established in advertising (38% by value in 2015) and graphics (34%) applications, its share in publication print is much less (7.5%) and is less again in the most lucrative - packaging (2.5%).

Inkjet does offer some unique benefits to packaging printers. Its ability to version stock - first witnessed in point-of-sale display jobs - of course allows brands to better engage with custoers, and legitimise the cost premium associated with digital prints. Its fast turnaround allows more flexibility for the print service provider, especially lower stock holding requirements, which in turn is helping to develop a print-on-demand model for this segment. This final step is being buttressed by the increasing availability of Web-to-print portals.

The proposition for mass-market value-added inkjet prints in packaging in 2014-2015 been comprehensively demonstrated in labelling on narrow web prints - most conspicuously with Coco-Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ promotions produced on HP’s Indigo WS6600 machines.

Smithers forecasts steady growth in the packaging segment with more and bigger presses being sold through to the end of the decade - colour presses up to 2.8m-wide tailored to a range of substrates expected by 2021. The two segments where penetration is likely to be seen first are corrugated and folding cartons.

Press builders are diversifying in the corrugated segment offering bespoke flatbed configurations for producing packs with high quality graphics. This trend aligns with the wider use of shelf - or retail-ready packaging - where the secondary transport packaging itself is used on the shop floor - and the need for products to differentiate themselves as retail spaces become more visually competitive.

The shape of things to come is evident in the T1100 Simplex, a 2.8m-wide, high-speed inkjet web press for printing corrugated linerboard. A joint development between KBA and HP which premiered in April 2015, the 183m/min machine has now had its first installation in the UK with DS Smith.

Folding cartons present a strong opportunity for digital presses as they tap several luxury packaging applications, providing an entrée towards mass markets in the future. This packaging format is being directly targeted by Landa’s Nanography. Using a proprietorial Nano-droplet print technology its initial single-sided, 1,080mm-wide, B1 format Nano graphic S10 are now poised to enter the market for posters and point-of-sale jobs; as well as, cartons where it hopes to capitalise on the current gap between long-run offset and short-run digital production.

As demand for inkjet in packaging develops it will prompt substrate suppliers to evolve more media optimised for these presses, as well as dedicated handling, coating equipment and new decorative solutions. The latter are particularly valuable in luxury packaging segments, with the likes of Scodix’s Rainbow glittering platform; and a new Nano-Metallography technology from Landa - due to debut at Drupa 2016 - that the developer claims will be half the price of existing cold foiling for metal effects.

Simultaneously ink technology will take steps forward offering improved gamut, especially when combined with new coating systems.

By 2021 Smithers estimates that packaging will have become a routine application for the digital wide-format community, with output indistinguishable from litho, gravure and top-end flexo. As this happens inkjet systems, with its various advantages, will progressively take more medium length jobs shift off analogue competitors - creating as it does so a further impetus for investment in bigger faster machines and creating new business models.



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