While label printers have been at the forefront of embracing the new digital printing technology, package printers have been slower to adapt to what digital can offer, not necessarily because they don’t believe in the future of digital printing but because, until now, they have not regarded digital press widths as being wide enough, presses not fast enough, or they have had issues with food contact inks/toners. Quality of print too, has not necessarily been regarded as acceptable for, say, folding carton production where printers are rather more traditional in what they can achieve.
However, it looks as if the impact and reaction to new digital package printing presses that were on show for the first time at Drupa 2012 and at Labelexpo 2013 may now at last irreversibly change the way that folding carton and flexible packaging printers around the world begin to view their future press and technology investments.
Package printing has been going through a period where it has had to adapt to a broader variety of SKUs and shorter run lengths, while product variety has been rapidly increasing due to globalization and to brand owners targeting ever-smaller groups of customers. Event marketing has taken off and product lifecycles continue to shorten.
In addition, brand owners have taken to reducing their stockholding and introducing just-in-time inventories – all leading to package printers having to accommodate increasingly shorter runs and faster turnaround times.
In the folding carton market for example – a market dominated by offset – such trends mean more frequent make-readies of both presses and finishing equipment, all leading to a cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive process.
Digital technology, however, can make the folding carton supply chain more efficient and cost-effective. With digital technology, every print can be different. Because set-up and make-ready costs are minimal, small runs can be produced cost-effectively. Digital printing is extremely flexible in that it allows last-minute changes and updates to be made in short turnaround times.
In short, digital technology is a great complement to offset printing, and can also make for a profitable standalone business. That is, if the technology meets all the requirements of the folding carton market in terms of print quality, color accuracy and consistency, lightfastness, food safety, and brand protection.
While the market for personalised packaging – whether for folding cartons or flexibles – is undoubtedly quite small at the moment, it seems certain that it will rapidly grow to become a much bigger market in the future.
Indeed, HP’s momentum across the packaging industry continues apace. More than 50 companies around the world were already producing folding carton and flexible packaging on HP Indigo digital presses by the middle of 2013. At the same time, HP claimed that more than 100 customers had already agreed to purchase the HP Indigo 20000 or 30000 Digital Presses for package printing. This figure included 10 of the largest flexible packaging converters in the world and several multinational folding carton converters. First installations of these presses are scheduled for 2014.
Other package printing companies have already placed orders or letters of intent for the purchase of the new generation Landa carton or flexible packaging presses as they increasingly come to the market over the next few years.
Undoubtedly the key digital press manufacturers looking to rapidly grow the installed base of digital on-demand color presses in package printing are the electrophotographic technology digital press market leaders of HP Indigo and Xeikon with their new generations of wider presses, while Landa Nanographic Printing machines are being built and installed in their facility in Israel. Following an intensive period of testing, qualifying, learning, materials and quality performance trials, re-evaluation and regulation accreditation, the first Beta installations begin in 2014.
However, it is not just the toner technologies looking to develop the package printing market; Screen Europe’s range of presses includes the Truepress JetSX sheet-fed B2 digital press for carton (and label) printing – one of the few B2 digital inkjet presses currently on the market.
It is not only the digital package printing press market that is now changing, it is the materials side that is having to adapt to a changing market for shorter runs of, say, folding cartons. Yet the digital folding carton market generally only involves a small number of standard board sizes. Even so, paper and board merchants have generally been quite slow to focus on the digital package printing segment, preferring to focus on the longer run offset business.
However, that is all now beginning to change. Leading folding carton board suppliers now support the new HP Indigo folding carton press development and are offering certified substrates. These suppliers include Iggesund Paperboard, M-real, Sappi Fine Paper, Stora Enso, Tullis Russell Papermakers, and more.
In recognition of the changing market, Iggesund Paperboard in the US for example has set up an e-commerce solution for direct sale of Invercote materials for short run paperboard volumes. Payment is made via credit card and distribution via courier.
Similarly, digital printing is also an area of growth for flexible packaging. Brand owners now require high-quality printed pouches for example, along with the ability to order smaller quantities. It is therefore important to be able to select and order flexible packaging materials that are compatible with digital printing systems, such as Glenroy’s line of ExpressWeb Digital flexible packaging structures.
Indeed, several HP Indigo-certified flexible packaging substrates are already available, including films from Exxon Mobil, Hanita Coatings, NORDENIA, and Walki, as well as newly certified substrates from Charter Films and Innovia Films.
Increasing numbers of packaging materials suppliers are also working to produce an expanded range of top coated and optimised substrates to meet the demands of HP Indigo and other digital press suppliers and market applications where wider press formats than those traditionally used by the label industry are now being installed.
Figure 4.1 - HP Indigo WS20000
So who are the main wider web and B1/B2 sheet-fed format digital package printing technology suppliers - and what press models are now available from them?
HEWLETT PACKARD INDIGO
One of the pioneers in digital label printing, HP is now extending the digital transformation from the world of labels to the fields of flexible packaging and folding cartons, integrating with new partner solutions for lean, just-in-time printed packaging manufacture. An expanded range of HP compatible substrates, new ground-breaking digital presses, partner finishing solutions, and new end-to-end packaging workflows, are today enabling HP to eliminate many of the make-ready waste and platemaking environmental concerns associated with the traditional offset and flexographic printing of packaging.
For narrow-web applications in flexible packaging and folding cartons the HP Indigo WS6600, which was historically mainly used for self-adhesive labels, sleeves and wrap-around film labels, is now additionally creating package printing solutions where the press web width of 340mm can be successfully utilised. The WS6600 can print on substrates as thin as 12 microns and up to a thickness of 450 microns. Both in-line and off-line finishing solutions are available.
However, it is the wide web WS20000 digital web printing press for flexible packaging, shrink sleeves and tube laminates that looks set to be one of the key players in transforming the film converting market in the coming years, while the digital offset-matching sheet-fed 750 mm wide HP Indigo 30000 is what the folding carton industry has been seeking over the past decade. These latest HP Indigo package printing presses are explained in more detail below.
HP Indigo WS20000 for flexible packaging
Introduced to the market in 2013, the ground-breaking HP Indigo WS20000 has a web width of up to 762 mm, a print width of 736 mm, and 1120 mm repeat length. Capable of running at 34 m/min in full color option, or up to 45 m/min in Enhanced Productivity Mode, it makes the press poised to transform the film converting market with its capability to digitally produce the vast majority of flexible packaging applications. In particular to meet growing demand for shorter run lengths, shorter lead times, and higher print quality, as well as growing SKU diversity and frequent and seasonal redesigns.
The WS20000 can handle a wide range of film, paper and aluminium substrates from 10 to 250 microns. A priming un-winder also enables the printing of off-the-shelf materials.
The WS20000 operates with a powerful HP SmartStream Labels and Packaging Print Server powered by Esko and supports scalable RIP power, ICC profiling, step-and-repeat and automated workflow which includes laminating equipment from AB Graphic International, with compatible laminating films from ACPO Ltd. and D&K Group.
Image resolution is 812 dpi and 1219 dpi at 8 bit. Addressability 2438 X 2438 dpi HD (High Definition Imaging). Line screens available are 144, 175 and 180.
HP Indigo technology also enables variable data printing, including text, graphics, alphanumeric codes, barcodes (including QR and Datamatrix codes, and security elements) and all printed in monochrome or full color.
Complete solutions for folding cartons
HP offers both sheet-fed and web-fed digital presses engineered to support printing for folding carton substrates up to 18 points or 450 microns thick. Now, for the first time, HP Indigo sheet-fed presses can pursue the folding carton market using intuitive, advanced HP SmartStream Labels and Packaging color management and color matching features.
HP has crafted a complete solution for folding carton production, the HP Indigo 30000 75 cm B2-wide digital sheet-fed press. HP Graphics Solutions Partners are leading providers of finishing equipment for packaging, including AB Graphic, Brausse Group, Epic Products International, Kama GmbH, and Kompac Technologies, as well as manufacturers of new digital finishing technologies (such as Highcon and Scodix). Users of HP Indigo sheet-fed and web-fed presses can therefore combine their printing operations with partner solutions to create a flexible, fast carton manufacturing infrastructure for offset-quality, just-in-time manufacturing.
HP Indigo WS30000 for folding cartons
This press is capable of running over 200 different jobs per shift at up to 4,600 full-color sheets per hour in Enhanced Productivity Mode. A 75 x 53 cm/B2 format enables the majority of folding carton jobs to be produced with set-up and tooling savings. Substrates up to 600 microns can be printed.
Image resolution is 812 dpi at 8 bit addressability: 2438 x 2438 dpi with High Definition Imaging (HDI). Line screens are 175,180 and 180 m.
Print server and workflow
Together with Esko, HP Indigo has developed a dedicated integrated print server and workflow solution for the 30000 press which ensures accurate and efficient color matching from any technology to the press.
Now, for the first time, HP Indigo sheet-fed presses can pursue the folding carton market using intuitive HP SmartStream Labels and Packaging color management color matching features.
Figure 4.2 - HP Indigo WS30000
XEIKON FOLDING CARTON SUITE
It was at Drupa 2012 that Xeikon announced its Folding Carton Suite for the packaging market. This Suite combines five elements to aid quality and productivity in carton production. These elements are: the entry-level Xeikon 3050 and Xeikon 3500 digital color presses, compatible paperboard media (included recycled board stocks), digital production workflow driven by the Xeikon X-800 Digital Front End, consumables which include a unique newly-developed Alpine 516 toner fusing drum, durable clear toner and finishing elements.
Xeikon 3050 and Xeikon 3500 digital color presses
The wider web Xeikon 3050 and Xeikon 3500 can both handle up to 350 gsm paperboard (550µ/21.65 mil) with a web width ranging from 200mm up to 516mm. Maximum print width is 508mm. Image quality/resolution is 1201 X 3600dpi. The presses can print B2 and extended formats on board for folding carton production. The Xeikon 3000 Series of continuous feed simplex presses are designed specifically for packaging and label work.
Both presses have five print stations, of which cyan, magenta, black, yellow and white are standard, but with other colors – including orange, green, blue, red, extra magenta, UV reflecting clear and durable clear toner – available off-the-shelf. Spot colors or high level security taggant toner are available on request.
Variable printing capability is provided as standard in the X-800 workflow and offers numbering, object based handling, etc. An optional bar code dongle is available to generate 30 + different types of barcodes on the press.
Xeikon X-800 Digital Front End
The Xeikon X-800 Digital Front End drives the digital production workflow. The X-800 is built around the Adobe APPE RIP and incorporates post – imposition software and color management tools. To maximise the substrate usage, carton designs are nested on the sheets. This requires special imposition schemes that are enabled by Impactor, an X-800 plug-in.
Durable clear toner
Xeikon Durable Clear Toner acts as a digital spot varnish for folding cartons and enables in-line production of short run folding cartons that are ready to be folded and glued. Durable Clear Toner is printed and fused just like any other color in the Xeikon 3000 Series of digital label presses. An extra curing step outside of the press transforms this clear layer of toner into a protective layer of varnish. The varnish can be printed digitally, leaving the flexibility to keep certain areas on the package open for glue strips and code markings to be applied later. While other digital printing systems have to rely on a separate and cumbersome traditional spot varnish step, the Durable Clear Toner can significantly simplify the production process of folding carton planes. This innovation makes it possible to truly exploit the benefits of digital printing for producing short run folding cartons.
In the diagram below, the upper right of the picture presents the configuration of Durable Clear. This starts with CMYK, with the last upper station proving durable clear toner. This toner is transparent but has the characteristics of a conventional varnish, so providing a scuff and scratch resistant layer.
As 80% of all cartons require a spot varnish (in labels they rather need flood) the durable clear toner provides a great advantage. This is the first digital varnish and offers a one-pass digital print solution.
Alpine 516 fuser drum
To be able to print high quality digital cartons on a wide range of substrates Xeikon has developed a unique fuser drum called Alpine. This has a flexible outer layer to help to produce smooth and consistent print on uneven and textured media, especially recycled board stocks. The fuser drum can be ordered with the new wider format presses, or retrofitted to existing installations. Print speeds are unchanged with the new drum, which can be used with conventional smooth surfaced card substrates and papers, as well as with rougher-textured surfaces., so widening the range of carton materials that can be printed with the Xeikon Folding Carton Suite.
Finishing options within the Folding Carton Suite include the Xeikon UCoat500 (UV varnish, laminate, sheeting, conveyor belt, slitting and dual rewind), in-line die-cutting unit from Bograma (sheet-fed rotary cutting with flexible plates). Off-line converting units from Kama, GM and ABG are also available.
Folding carton substrates
Compatible folding carton substrates, all stringently tested, are supplied by Xeikon’s Aura partners. These include M-real, Iggesund, Stora Enso, International Paper and Sappi. None of the substrates from these suppliers needs any special pre-treatment.
Food Safety and Odors
When it comes to food safety, dry toner electrophotographic technology offers significant advantages. The FDA has set strict guidelines for indirect food contact and direct contact with dry food substances that contain no surface oil or fat. All process colors and standard available spot colors are suitable for indirect food contact applications. While relatively few packaging applications require print on the inside in direct contact with food, all process colors and certain standard available spot colors have been declared suitable for direct food contact.
Another key advantage is the fact that it is odorless, which is a requirement for certain food applications such as chocolate packaging.
Figure 4.3 - Xeikon 3500 digital press
Screen Europe Truepress JetSX
The Screen Europe Truepress JetSX, the latest addition to Screen’s line of print-on-demand solutions, is claimed to be one of the world’s first full-color B2 sheet-fed inkjet folding carton presses that can handle heavy board stock up to 600 microns thick. Output is 1440 x 1440 dpi in a near offset quality with a maximum sheet-size of 740 x 530 mm. Output speeds are 1,620 simplex B2 sph or 810 duplex B2 sph.
The press has a straight feed and a precision flatbed paper transport mechanism that enables it to handle a wide range of media thicknesses, including pre-scored and pre-creased boards, without bending. Being able to print on material already converted enables short runs of different designs and sizes – from carton blanks already held in stock – to be loaded into the press in the required volume and printed as the final stage.
This is compared with the traditional carton manufacturing process in which the sheets are first printed and then have to be cut and creased.
There is no need to use specially treated substrates, so enabling printers to use a range of readily available carton materials on the market. The press fits seamlessly into a conventional B2 litho press room, using the same substrates and same finishing processes.
Equios front end
The press is driven by Screen’s new EQUIOS digital front end which features variable data capability, imposition and new screening algorithms developed specially for inkjet. It integrates seamlessly with Screen’s popular Trueflow SE workflow operated by 6000 users worldwide or other leading third-party workflows for automation.
Equios uses Adobe PDF Print Engine 2 and allows the processing of native PDF files without the need to convert them to PostScript. It also uses JDF files to keep process-related information separate from the design data, eliminating the need for transformation and compensation.
The high-precision inkjet printheads in the Truepress Jet SX jet a specially developed water-based pigment ink at 1,440 X 1,440 dpi to produce text and images of a quality that is claimed to rival offset. Because of the ink’s unique properties, it dries almost instantly with help from hot-air driers built into the machine.
The special characteristics of the fast-drying ink means that the Truepress Jet SX can print on most offset stocks, including gloss boards up to 600 microns.
Figure 4.4 - Illustration shows the Screen Europe Truepress Jet SX folding carton press
LANDA NANOGRAPHIC PRINTING
Perhaps at the forefront of stimulating the package printer visiting Drupa into thinking and moving into a digital future was the Landa Corporation.
Founded by Benny Landa – following the acquisition of his Indigo company by Hewlett-Packard in 2002 – six new generation (three sheet-fed and three web-fed) Landa Nanographic Printing Press were announced at the show to much media and industry acclaim.
Offering output speeds close to offset presses and employing NanoInk colorants that create unprecedented image qualities, ‘Nanography’ undoubtedly has the potential to fundamentally change package printing as it is known today – especially when the process is said to offer printers the capability of producing short-to-medium runs at an unmatched cost per page.
Essentially, Nanography is a new technology for applying ink to paper which re-thinks and re-invents the printing press. The result is digital printing with remarkable performance – from a family of presses that 'share stunning ergonomic design, a small footprint and some of the most advanced user functionality available in the market.'
Landa S10FC B1 sheet-fed carton press
Anyone looking at the Landa S10FC B1 sheet-fed folding carton press at Drupa cannot fail to be impressed by the quite stunning design of the Operator Cockpit, an integrated production management center located at the delivery end of the press which surrounds the operator with touch-screen press controls, job management tools, video feeds from all key press functions, production-related vital signs and a lighted inspection table.
The new ink ejectors have improved print quality and increased press productivity. With a resolution of 1200 dpi, they offer higher print quality levels that match offset resolution and gray levels, as well as significantly improving the reliability of the ink ejection and enabling redundancy in case of nozzle failure.
Able to print single- or double-sided in up to eight colors, plus spot and speciality colors, at up to 13,000 sheets per hour on any off-the-shelf-stock, or straight forward printing (simplex) for folding carton production at up to 6,500 sheets per hour on virgin and recycled carton board, metallized stock and plastic foils, the press is targeted at delivering short-to-medium run lengths at an unmatched cost per page.
Additional features now include an automatic substrate handling system that supports both paper and plastic materials. The new system also accelerates the changeover to new substrates and maximizes uptime. Continuous feeding and delivery capabilities let converters and printers operate without stopping to replace the pile.
An optional conventional in-line coating unit can efficiently enhance Nanongraphy-printed products with both flood and selective coating. The coating unit will support flexo rollers and plates as well as a variety of UV and aqueous coatings.
Undoubtedly the S10FC press will have its place in the carton plant of tomorrow. It is not intended to replace offset printing, but to complement it; offset printing will continue to be the preferred method for producing run lengths of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, but the market is demanding shorter and shorter folding carton run lengths – and that’s where Nanography comes in – to enable print service providers to produce those short to medium run lengths economically – at offset speeds.
NanoInk water-based inks
At the heart of the process are Landa NanoInk colorants: water – based inks incorporating nano-pigment particles that offer ultra-sharp dots of extremely high uniformity, high gloss fidelity and the broadest color gamut of any four-color printing process. During the printing process, billions of microscopic droplets of the ink are ejected onto a heated blanket conveyor belt. Each individual droplet lands at a precise location on the belt, so creating the color image. As the water evaporates, the ink becomes an ultra-thin dry polymeric film, less than half the thickness of an offset print image.
This dry film image is then transferred to any kind of ordinary paper or board, coated or uncoated, or onto plastic packaging film, without requiring any pre-coating. The filmic image layer instantly bonds to the substrate surface, forming a tough, abrasion-resistant laminated layer without leaving any residual ink behind on the blanket. Since the ink layer is already dry, there is no need for any form of post print drying.
Figure 4.5 - Landa S10FC sheet-fed carton press
OTHER OPTIONS FOR THE PACKAGE PRINTER
Although the HP Indigo, Xeikon and Landa presses mentioned in these pages look set to be the initial key digital package printing technologies on the market there are some other innovations that may well be of interest or play a more important role in the future . whether for short runs, longer runs or for test marketing, prototyping or short-run proofing Some of these are outlined below.
XANTÉ EXCELAGRAPHIX 4200
The latest in the wave of Memjet powered printers is the Xanté Excelagraphix 4200 inkjet print system that prints onto rigid stock for the POS, folding carton, packaging or corrugated box sectors. An adjustable media path allows users to print on a wide variety of media, including extremely thick foam board and corrugated cardboard (up to 12.5 mm/1/2 in. thick) and sheet sizes up to 42 in. x 50 in. (1067 mm X 1270 mm). It is also possible to personalize individual pieces during printing, running variable data at full speed.
The Xanté Excelagraphix 4200 is said to print eight times faster than current inkjet printers; it has two speed modes, with throughput at either 550sqm an hour in 1600 x 800dpi or 1100sqm an hour in 1600 x 800dpi mode. It prints in CMYKK using dye-based aqueous inkjet inks, onto a range of rigid stocks. Maximum print size is 42”in. x 100 in. (1067 x 2540mm).
Memjet print heads – which were developed in Australia under the guidance of technical genius Kia Silverbrook - produce some three billion ink droplets every second and are driven by the iQueue Digital Color Workflow.
KBA ROTAJET 76
Although Koenig & Bauer AG (KBA)’s entry into the inkjet market is initially focussing on the target segments of books, direct mail, manuals, advertising and newsletters, the packaging and security printing segments are set to be addressed later. In this respect, it is perhaps worth mentioning their RotaJET 76 inkjet web press as a package printing technology to keep an eye on. Printers interested in the new possibilities for digital print are offered break-even calculations and production scheduling analyzes to assist their investment decision.
The RotaJET 76 has very accurate front-to-back and color register. The possibility to print during acceleration and deceleration of the press also brings a noticeable reduction in waste.
The vastly improved print quality offered by the RotaJET 76 is due to a newly developed polymer-based pigment ink called RotaColor. Compared to conventional inks, it significantly reduces the capillary effect (penetration of the pigments into the paper), and that translates immediately into exact print and reduced print-through. KBA is the first manufacturer to use the new polymer-based ink in a high-volume inkjet system. According to the KBA experts, the new ink extends the printable range of untreated substrates and offers considerable potential for further quality advances and cost savings in the future.
As one of the leading printing press manufacturers, KBA intends to pursue the topics of print quality and substrate flexibility further, and plans to bring high-speed inkjet printing as close as possible to offset. The medium-term objective is maximum flexibility for the users, enabling them to serve not just a limited market segment, but rather the full spectrum of today's print products with the RotaJET 76. This will involve continued improvements with regard to process costs, full page-to-page content variability and impressive format flexibility. The unique combination of capabilities embodied by the RotaJET makes it an especially attractive alternative to other analog and digital sheet printing systems for many applications.
ROLAND DG VERSACAMM VS AND VERSAUV LEC
The Roland VS printer/cutter series is said to be the the fastest and most versatile VersaCAMM, with print speeds up to 23.1m/hr, integrated print and cut capabilities, superior media handling and unattended print features.
Available in 64" (1.62m), 54" (1.37m), 42" (1.07m) or 30” (0.76m) models, the affordable VersaCAMM VS wide format printer/cutters achieve results across a wide range of applications including signs, wraps, packaging prototypes, exhibition displays, labels, and point-of-sale displays.
For maximum versatility, the VS series comes in four ink configurations, with the option to include innovative metallic and white inks, which can add a luxury and eye-catching edge to any graphic.
Roland’s VersaUV LEC-330 (762 mm) and LEC-540 (1370 mm) print-and-cut solutions offer the perfect cost-effective solution for anyone wishing to create print with added value. Eliminate lengthy and expensive proofing techniques by producing one-off packaging prototypes and short-run labels in a single machine for printing, cutting and creasing. The press is suitable for use with a wide array of substrates, including metallic and synthetic papers, foils, BOPP, PE and PET film. With production print speeds and lower running costs for maximum value and efficiency, the LEC-330 and LEC-540 also support card stock, plastic board, polycarbonate and other rigid substrates up to 1 mm thick for a wide variety of print, cut and creased prototyping and display applications.
The LEC’s high-quality artistic print mode (1440 x 1440dpi) is ideally suited for offset and gravure printers who require sharp, detailed graphics and text for proofing. Packaging companies can develop exciting, complex prototypes in a single step. Digital bureaux and sign-makers can output stunning displays and label producers can add short-run bespoke decals and stickers to their capabilities.
HP Scitex FB10000
Although not specifically a specialist package printing press, the Scitex FB 10000 is a high-end industrial printing solution that is said to be ideal for POP and retail graphics, corrugated displays, and high impact graphics in short-run packaging applications.
The press prints rigid and flexible sheets up to 1600 X 3200 mm in CMYK, light cyan and light magenta using Scitex HDR240 pigmented UV-curable inks.