By Andreas Weber
Note: This market trend analysis by Andreas Weber appeared in modified form in the drupa run-up special by VDI-nachrichten dated May 13, 2016. VDI-nachrichten addresses a premium reader target group of more than 310,000 technical and innovation experts in German industry.
More than half of all packaging volume worldwide is attributed to printed packaging – and the trend is rising. Packaging printing is thus becoming the most important market of the future for the printing press. This is reflected at the upcoming world’s leading trade fair of the industry, drupa (Dusseldorf, May 31-June 10, 2016). The packaging industry has been booming for years. In 2012, proceeds worldwide were around €600 billion, in 2018 it should be a rich €758 billion. At least, that is what the British market research company Smithers Pira predicts.
The reasons for this are first, the increasing need for packaging in the developing and emerging countries due to rising prosperity and growing populations. China is at the top. Secondly, the packaging sector in the western industrial countries is benefiting from increasing variety and more competition in trade. And thirdly, the volume itself of packaging is growing, as noted here in Germany by the consumer consultancy of North Rhine-Westphalia. For 40% of the packaging contained air.
Boom-market packaging unleashes new printing techniques
That makes it clear why the printing and paper branches are heavily banking on innovation owing to the eye-catching differentiation of packaging. To date, these have been mostly unusual finishing options such as varnish or metallic colours and non-standard configurations of machines and media specially designed for packaging printing.
Up to now, packaging has primarily been printed and finished using flexo, offset, gravure and screen printing processes. These are able to accommodate the high volume as well as quality and cost demands. Together, flexo and offset printing currently cover around two-thirds of the world market for packaging printing. According to Smithers Pira, it had a volume of $415 billion in 2015.
At less than 10%, the proportion of digital printing is still relatively small and thus presents room for growth. This should change though in the midterm with progress being made in digital print technology, because even in packaging the numbers are sinking. And then there is the trend to customisation.
Printed and varnished cardboard and metal sheets should remain the domain of sheet-fed offset printing for the time being. Yet, digital printing is gradually feeling its way into this market. For flexible packaging, flexo printing is dominant in Europe and America; in Asia, it is gravure. The latter is losing ground, however, due to its expense.
For corrugated board and labels, flexo printing is likewise the process most used, although in labels, digital printing is gaining strength. Screen printing was previously used mostly for signs, displays and hollow articles. There, too, digital inkjet printing is gaining importance. Experts assume that the corrugated board wrapping commonly used in e-commerce today will become increasingly more colourful.
German printing press manufacturers are searching for cooperation partners in digital printing
In particular, the German printing press manufacturers Koenig & Bauer (KBA) and Heidelberger Druckmaschinen have been focussing on packaging printing for years. Now it is industrial digital printing that should benefit from global collaborations: KBA cooperated with HP Inc. to harness inkjet printing for itself through HP’s own PageWide printing technology.
Heidelberg and Japanese Fujifilm with its expertise in inkjet printing technology jointly developed a new technology platform within 15 months. The first machine based on this, called Primefire, targets premium quality packaging printing with the inkjet printing of sheets in large format (70cm x 100cm).
Event tip: During drupa 2016, a trade day devoted to packaging and printed electronics will take place on June 2 in the drupa cube in Hall 5. Register at www.drupa.de.
Many new players who have developed additional processes are entering the game owing to the trend to packaging printing, particularly from Israel. These include new digital printing technologies such as the one from Landa Nanography. Scodix has developed digital finishing machines and Highcon relies on laser-based high-speed presses for folding carton. Pure digital printing technology experts such as Canon and Xerox also want to leverage the potential of print applications in packaging including label printing. In printed electronics this includes the integration of Near Field Communication (NFC) that can be processed in inkjet printing.
KBA boss Claus Bolza-Schünemann, in his position as president of the world’s leading trade fair drupa, strikes a blow for packaging printing. For its content, printed packaging serves a protective, preservative, promotional and increasingly also a communicative function. Here the topic of consumer protection comes to mind with respective notices on packaging. What’s more, packaging cannot be replaced by flat screens or smartphones. Unlike with printed newspapers or catalogues, it is not affected by changing media behaviour, but rather benefits from it. More single households with a preference for convenience foods and the booming online mail-order trade are likewise growth drivers.
What can be easily overlooked in the classic printing sector is the interplay of multichannel solutions in marketing, “augmented reality” and personalised advertising. This combination can make any type of packaging become the starting point of new contact and dialogue opportunities with the buyer through “augmented reality” and therefore represents enormous potential for brand-name companies.
To realise this, digital printing is vital. Only with it can the printed image be varied ad hoc. New multichannel software solutions such as those from Xerox subsidiary XMPie enable packaging to be personalised and thus become a part of a measurable marketing campaign.
Multi-coloured muesli containers are the market of the future
But there are also some obstacles: Fogra, the Munich-based graphic technology research association has found out that the print image quality of inkjet printing can easily result in a very “ragged” print image. This cannot be seen with the naked eye, but causes problems particularly with barcodes. The highly sensitive barcode readers then generate error messages. Any printer that has produced high print-runs with poorly printed barcodes that then cause reader errors has a huge problem.
One of the most exciting packaging printing projects was realised by Heidelberg in tandem with online start-up mymuesli.com at the beginning of the year. Mymuesli.com is a mail-order company for customised muesli. After initial success, the online company opened shops and online print expert Bernd Zipper came up with the idea that people buying muesli on-site could print their own muesli packaging – and not just a label – using an iPad.
That was made possible thanks to a printing technology from Heidelberg called 4D in which the object to be printed is fixed inside the cabin of the printing press and is then printed by movable inkjet print heads. The online editing and process management stems from Longo, Augsburg. The result is a muesli container with personalised text, self-designed and produced in real-time. The customers love it and it is now to go into production.
drupa president Bolza-Schünemann listed the following reasons for the strong, sustained growth of packaging:
- Printed packaging serves a protective, preservative, and advertising function for its contents and, increasingly, a communication function, too. Just think of consumer protection with appropriate references on the packaging.
- Packaging cannot be replaced by flatscreens or smartphones. Unlike printed newspapers or catalogs, it remains unaffected by the changed media behavior and actually tends to benefit from this.
- The global population is rising and international prosperity is increasing. The middle class with disposable income is growing in emerging markets such as China, India, and Brazil. Growing prosperity goes hand in hand with higher consumption and that in turn means more packaging and printing, all the more since shopping malls are springing up everywhere in emerging markets, too.
- Packaging is becoming increasingly classy and sophisticated – the only way to attract the necessary attention at the point of sale. This trend results in greater added value for the printing industry and machines with more elaborate configurations for the supply industry.
- More single-person households with a preference for ready meals and the booming online mail-order business are also driving growth.