How five companies are making their mark.
By Jake Widman
At first glance, package printing isn’t the most obvious use for a digital printer. The advantages of these machines-variable data, cost-effective short-run printing-wouldn’t seem to be much use in a market where run lengths can easily be in the millions (just think of how many aspirin boxes Bayer needs in a year). But while digital-printing isn’t making many inroads into big-run production of packaging materials, it is finding some packaging-related niches in which savvy digital-printer operators can flourish.
And yes, those niches exploit the same digital-printing advantages as the more familiar applications. As it turns out, there is a place in the packaging world for economical short runs. Some shops involved in digital-package printing turn out dozens of special-purpose packages on lightweight chipboard, while others make one-off prototypes on heavy corrugated plastic. Some make a handful of samples, while others produce hundreds of final packages.
To get a better idea of the opportunities and challenges involved in digital-package printing, let’s listen in on the experiences of five print-shop operators.
Opening up new market segments
St. Hart Container (www.sthart.com) in Fullerton, CA, is the American distribution and corrugated manufacturing unit of Amcor Sunclipse, a global packaging company based in Melbourne, Australia. Alan Hornick, the division manager, describes St. Hart as "a high-end sheet plant focusing on custom corrugated display."
St. Hart operates with three folder/gluers, three die cutters, two presses, and other production systems, including a Hewlett-Packard Scitex FB6700, installed in May 2006. A flatbed industrial digital inkjet press, the FB6700 can print in 6 colors at 600 dpi on rigid sheets up to 63 x 126 in. and up to 0.39-in. (12-mm) thick. According to Hornick, the most common substrates St. Hart runs on the machine are standard corrugated cardboard, Sintra foamboard, Gator board, Coroplast, and other familiar rigid substrates.
"We’d been looking at digital printing for 4 or 5 years," says Hornick. The company waited, however, because until recently, it didn’t consider the speed and quality of digital printing to be up to its standards. That changed with the FB6700, and, he says, the acquisition of Scitex by HP "sweetened the pot because of the support of HP."