4 March 2013
Xerox says future of packaging is digital
MISSISSAUGA—Xerox made a case that the future of packaging lies in digital printing and complementary innovations at an event last Thursday for brand owners and packaging printers at the company's Research Centre of Canada.

One of its prototype equipment, for example produces customized 3D boxes for short runs, as low as single units. According to Paul Smith, vice-president of Xerox innovation group, the technology will be able to attach to any press (not just Xerox's iGen4), and the 3D structures it produces can be personalized for any number of versioned units. One of Xerox's long-term packaging goals is "making personalization ubiquitous," Smith said.

Barbara Pellow, group director at InfoTrends, speaking at the Xerox Research Centre of Canada

Xerox also sees big things in the future for electronic packaging. Smith talked of tech that can print incredibly thin lines of pure silver ink, which can one day be used to print electronic backplanes. The technology would enable easy production of labels that feature voice activation, electronic tracking and heat sensors, all of which would particularly benefit the pharmaceutical sector.

Smith described labels that could give dosage instructions and reminders, track when pill bubbles get popped and relay the information to a pharmacy for automatic refill orders, and also measure environmental temperature to ensure proper storage and safe shipping.

Barbara Pellow, group director at U.S. research firm InfoTrends, said digital packaging will change the world of package printing. She followed Smith with a talk on the Digital Impact on the Packaging Industry, making a case for why printers should be moving into digital printing.

"The tech is available, and it's affordable," she said, adding that lower costs and new substrate make the sector easier to enter. She also pointed out that  packaging is becoming a more integral part of a brand's marketing thrust because a majority of purchasing decisions are made  in stores. Packaging and labelling play a huge part in influencing those decisions. As a result, digital packaging printing is projected to increase by a 17.8% compound annual growth rate to 2016, she said.

Digital advances enable package customization, lead to shorter production times that span over hours instead of days, and streamline  supply-chain management because printing on demand reduces inventory costs.

The capability to do versioning allows brands to target specific groups with short runs, like printing packages in other languages for specific communities or, for even more specific targeting, using web-to-print options that allow consumers to choose a package's photo for extreme personalization. As well, more control over the process means greener packages through less waste, Pellow said.

MediaWare's automated system requires minimal floor staff

Simon Healy, president and chief executive officer of MediaWare Global Services (MGS) in Ireland, then took the podium to show how digital packaging works in practice. Healy said MGS operates the only fully automated digital packaging system in world. The system allows MGS to identify packaging waste by SKU and determine the true lifecycle cost of cartons and boxes. The result: millions of dollars saved for clients annually, he said.

MGS' digital system can produce boxes in one step with only two people on the floor. "If we really push it, we can have stuff out in two hours," Healy said. Its equipment setup is: a Xerox iGen4, an Epic coater, a buffering stacker line, and a Kama die cutter.

Healy conceded that many printers have reservations entering the market even if they agree that the digital solution works well. But he advised to not sit around and wait. "Cellphones, computers, etc. have developed so much, but printing is as slow as ever. Something needs to change," he said.

— Jef Catapang
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