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  • 23 Jan 2017

Digital win in Canada

Ontario-based Swiss Pack Canada has installed the country’s first HP Indigo 20000 digital press to address customer demand for a local print service provider offering short run flexible packaging.

Swiss Pack Canada is a producer of high quality flexible packaging, custom printing, digital package design and co-packing services. The company stocks packaging products for a wide range of industries including food, pet food, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, diagnostic, agriculture, pesticides, fertilizers, hygiene and detergents. Swiss Pack Canada specializes in stand-up pouches, coffee bags, custom printed pouches and three side seal pouches including flat and pillow varieties.

The company has relied on gravure printing for its production to date, coupled with short runs of labels, which are affixed to pre-printed stock bags to meet its customers’ requirements for customized packaging. Its investment in an HP Indigo 20000 digital press, the first in Canada, enables it to expand this by producing dozens of different jobs per day with a quicker speed to market. The press’s 740 x 1100mm image format covers a wide range of flexible packaging jobs and brings high productivity and efficiency to a variety of applications.

‘We were quite efficient with labeling stock bags, but want to offer similar to what we can through our gravure operation in the form of fully printed bags,’ comments Philippe St-Cyr, general manager of Swiss Pack Canada. ‘Customers are looking to move from labeled bags to custom printed products, and there’s a gap in the market in Canada for that.

‘Canadian customers want to use suppliers producing in Canada. But using a local company might mean long lead times, similar to buying offshore and in large quantities. Or you could buy from Asia in smaller volumes but incur the cost of plates, etc. We saw that no-one in Canada was investing in proactive technologies to provide locally produced, short runs.’

Entrepreneurial spirit

St-Cyr sees that Canada is full of entrepreneurs, who require his company’s support. ‘We want to help companies grow and new products to emerge. Lack of investment is keeping that energy dormant but we want to bring creativity to the fore.

‘Most printers are chasing big accounts but I don’t care for them. I get more pleasure in working with smaller accounts and customers, and helping them. For many, there’s no pleasure for them in servicing smaller accounts, but for us there’s a ton of pleasure in doing small runs.

‘SMEs want to be do things differently, and are more appreciative of the technical innovations we can offer them, such as extended shelf life and barrier properties, rather than concentrating on price. That means there’s more value in the relationship for you as a supplier.

‘It also shields us from relying on a smaller number of bigger accounts, getting drawn into price wars and, potentially, losing a race to the bottom.’

Business transformation

Swiss Pack Canada’s HP Indigo 20000 investment is part of a long-term strategy to provide short runs to its 3,500 active accounts in Canada, all SMEs. As an example, St-Cyr references a fast-growing candy company out of Montreal that was buying stock bags and labeling them. ‘An order for nine different SKUs, of 1,000 each, sold out in less than two weeks. It has now ordered a further 20 SKUs, as well as reordering the originals. In gravure, that would incur a big cost for plates and require a long lead time, so isn’t sustainable. With digital, our customers are able to upscale quickly.’

This is similar to the experience detailed by European flexible packaging company Uni Packaging with its investment in HP Indigo digital printing technology and baby food brand Yooji (see L&L issue 1 2016, p54, for a full report)

Swiss Pack Canada won’t be printing labels on its HP Indigo 20000 anytime soon as this is ‘counterintuitive’, so says St-Cyr, to its desire to supply customers with fully printed packaging rather than labeled bags.

‘We are thoroughly happy with the HP Indigo 20000 digital press and getting a good response to what it allows us to offer. We’re set to double our current package printing business in the first year, which is altering our business model as we traditionally hold large stocks of bags. With digital, we’re transitioning to a lean manufacturing model.’

Digital is the future

St-Cyr describes digital printing as the process of the future in the flexible packaging market, although noting that there is, ‘room for the technology to grow in terms of speed and reliability.’

‘But put a digital print off the HP Indigo 20000 next to a gravure print and it needs a trained eye to see the difference. The trained eye often tends to gravitate towards the digital print as gravure quality and registration relies heavily on the operator. Do two jobs side-by-side and in gravure you can have slight mis-register or variations in the inks and how they perform, owing to the temperature, length of the machine, etc. Digital, while currently lagging behind in terms of speed, is a lot more consistent.’

Developments in CI offset are ‘really nice’, he notes, although he sees that even HD flexo is not able to meet the image reproduction quality of gravure, ‘so for flexible packaging other conventional printing technologies ‘don’t really cut it.’

‘Digital really is where we’re going, and want to get faster and better at it. We’d like to do strictly digital printing. We’re hoping that the technology becomes fast enough that we don’t need to use gravure anymore. The situation currently is that if a customer orders 10,000 units for one SKU it can’t be done using digital. In 3-5 years, we want to see big improvements in machine speeds then we can quote on similar levels with digital as we do with gravure.’

Swiss Pack Canada plans further investments in its digital package printing workflow, including Pack Ready, HP Indigo’s zero cure time lamination process for flexible packaging.

‘We’re looking at Pack Ready,’ confirms St-Cyr. ‘But we’re also looking at the myriad other emerging technologies that are promising, such as solventless and electron beam. We want to move more into biodegradable and digitally printed ecological inks. With Pack Ready, we’d be bound to a list of approved suppliers. We’ll have Pack Ready as an option, but it won’t be our sole solution.’

The desire to move to environmental­ly-friendly products is driven by greater education of the public on the impact of their food and packaging choices. ‘We’re pushing constantly to get better at that, and digital allows us to minimize wastage on materials and eliminate waste through platemaking and other parts of the gravure printing process that are unseen but contribute to the overall waste level.’

A natural fit

‘Digital is a natural evolution for us,’ affirms St-Cyr. ‘You have to have experience in flexible packaging and the existing customer base to make it work to its full potential.

‘We’ve been able to bring down costs and streamline our production process, and directly printed packaging looks more professional for our customers, so they’re very happy.

‘There’s lots of room for us to grow, and we want to increase our capacities running through the digital press. We want it to be printing a lot more; the more the better.’

David Pittman

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Pittman is former deputy editor of Labels & Labeling.

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