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Opportunities of digitalisation in packaging printing – a stocktaking

Digital packaging printing is becoming a decisive factor in the marketing and production workflow. For a successful business, however, not only internal but also external know-how is required.

Digital printing entered Gutenberg’s world more than 20 years ago. Because of the diversity in terms of material, application and customer requirements, this happened later in the packaging sector. “Digital printing” is easy to say, but it requires a continuous digitalisation of the workflow all the way to the customer, a new view of the substrates – what can be printed digitally and how, all the way to plastic and metal – as well as a new mindset among packaging buyers, creatives and manufacturers; because digital printing can do short runs and customisation. Recently, the topic of “sustainability” including circular economy and recycling has been added.

Digitalisation means artificial intelligence: The fourth industrial revolution also offers companies in the packaging industry the opportunity to take advantage of “artificial intelligence”. This enables them to significantly improve their efficiency, transparency and production. The digitalisation of production processes and the implementation of efficiency programmes are among the top issues. One particular application area seems to be made for artificial intelligence: quality control.

The target groups of packaging printing customers are also becoming more digital. Generation Z members and millenials are characterised by a comprehensive understanding of technology and media. They decide within seconds whether content is relevant to them in the broadest sense. This opens up completely new ways of interaction for packaging design: this can be realised with a QR code, for example. The new generation of customers has high expectations of products and services: They should be fast, intuitive, entertaining and also sustainable.

Sources of external know-how are the supplier industry and independent industry consultants. With their help, the entire manufacturing process in the packaging sector – e.g. corrugated and solid board – can be digitalised. On the one hand, this enables the producer to meet the increasingly high demands of customers and consumers in terms of high-quality packaging. On the other hand, short runs can also be realised economically. And thanks to the fully automated processes, productivity is further improved and new standards are set in terms of quality.

External know-how is also required, for example, when investment in hardware and software becomes crucial for the continuous shift of medium- and long-run label jobs from conventional printing – eg flexo – to digital printing, eg UV inkjet. Not only can label printers offer their services at competitive prices, but they are also put in a position to react flexibly and quickly to their customers’ individual requirements and needs and to meet them in an uncomplicated manner. This is because it is also important to be able to meet the increasing demand for labels in shorter runs and higher quality requirements.

Lead times are becoming increasingly shorter and templates are very often changed at short notice. With the option of digital printing, the packaging manufacturer is flexible and can meet the requirements at very short notice. This is exactly what brand owners are demanding. But changing over does not simply mean buying a press. The print entrepreneur gets into a whole system that also includes software for areas such as job management, colour management and automation. Digital printing also provides answers in the global debate on the use of plastic packaging, which also touches on areas such as food and safety. By using food-safe inks for primary and secondary food packaging, for example, corrugated packaging can be produced that can serve as a plastic alternative.

Or, for example, digital packaging and decor printing, digital folding box printing with hybrid printing systems: Through networked machines, the use of artificial intelligence and other data-based services, printers can make their processes even more efficient.

Conclusion

Like society as a whole, the printing and packaging industry is undergoing a fundamental transformation towards digitalisation, e-commerce and sustainability. Consumer behaviour is changing, while at the same time new technology, e.g. digital printing processes, is literally ploughing up the industry. All brand manufacturers are increasingly under pressure to find the ideal relationship between design, material, execution and quality in their marketing tools, including packaging. New opportunities are opening up for packaging manufacturers, which they should use today for tomorrow and tomorrow for the day after tomorrow – with internal, but also with external know-how. The principles of Industry 4.0 are making their way into packaging production: intelligently networked machines and processes with the help of information and communication technology; digitally networked, these steps can be better coordinated and the utilisation of the machines can be better planned.

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