A deep dive into single-pass digital inkjet printing onto corrugated packaging.
By Mark Hanley
Moving forward in time, packaging machinery manufacturers like Bobst and Cuir began to develop flexo machines with the ability to print at high registration to a very near-offset quality standard, directly on corrugated constructs, by employing a very light nip pressure. This was partly aided by the development of very thin, but strong, corrugated constructs known as microflutes, which were more resistant to nip pressure. This enabled inline printing in high color (effectively as good as offset for this industry, in most cases), which in turn brought the printing process back to the box makers. We call this “flexo post-print,” named for the post-sheeting/laminating process. This has been a great boon to box makers in terms of reducing cost by going from two processes back to one done inline. It has also caused a decline in the relative share of litho lam.
Inkjet for corrugated-dedicated environments arrived only two years ago. To date, it has taken two forms: roll-to-roll and sheet-fed. The roll format is available today from HP in cooperation with KBA-Kammann, and the sheet-fed format is employed by five machines at various stages of development.
Of the systems listed in the chart above, we would guess that fewer than 25 units are installed today at mainstream corrugated packaging sites. Within the wide-format display markets, there are thousands of UV flatbed systems, most of which at some time print corrugated board, but mostly at a lower scale for the display markets that are largely distinct from mainstream packaging.