According to Bobst, the printing and converting industry for packaging production across labels, flexible packaging, folding carton and corrugated boards is undergoing a massive transformation. It is important for all converters to understand the main challenges ahead and to be prepared. The Bobst Group recommended proactively addressing the following seven challenges.
1. The Packaging roles – protect, deliver, appeal
The role of packaging has evolved over the years. While protecting goods is still the number one priority, it needs to be done in a sustainable way often using thinner materials and more sophisticated design. With the rapid development of new retail formats (particularly e-commerce), the delivery mechanism of boxes is becoming more complex and the packaging production needs to be done differently and faster with more productive and flexible machines while delivering the highest quality.
Brand owners use packaging to stand out on the shelf and to appeal to customers. The recent trend requires shorter production runs, repeat orders and flexibility, which is putting more pressure on converters to adjust their packaging production line capabilities. This leads nicely onto the second major topic.
2. Conventional and digital
For decades, the printing and converting of packaging has used conventional methods. But new digital solutions are now enabling significant progress, meaning brand owners and converters can do things that were not previously possible. Digital will not completely replace analogue but will provide the flexibility required for shorter production runs driven by new trends such as customisation, security and traceability needs.
Companies should invest heavily in digital capabilities for packaging printing across a wide range of substrates. While there is little doubt that digital will positively contribute to packaging production, it will require more than a digital press to deliver effective packaging production. Which brings us onto the third challenge.
3. The digitalisation of the workflow
One of the biggest challenges is the management of various interfaces between different equipment and between the brand owner, the agency, the printers and converters. Automation will help to fully optimise the machines’ uptime and enable effective communication between the one ordering the boxes, the one producing them and all the others in the middle. While printers and converters spend a lot of energy to select the most productive machines, they sometimes underestimate the complexity of the entire workflow.
Companies need to understand that the maximum print or converting speed indicated on a machine is theoretical until it is well-managed for the most effective packaging production at the right price. Which takes us to the next challenge.
4. Cost pressure
We live in a world where we all want more for the same – or even better, for less. Brand owners, who are the ultimate decision-makers on the packaging, want better, faster, more customised and better secured, but they do not want to spend more. The truth for packaging production is that the cost of a given box should not be higher than it is today.
Quality, productivity and costs are all very important and they should not be seen in isolation but across the entire chain from designing to printing to converting and to packing. We are all familiar with the concept of a chain being as strong as its weakest component. This is the same for packaging production, especially in an integrated workflow. Companies need to integrate digital printing, quality checks and ensure zero default converting into the entire chain so that customers can rely on the highest quality at the best price.
This is a topic we all need to take into consideration. Packaging production will need to process more advanced substrates, thinner materials and more demanding designs, all with the same productivity, more flexibility and definitely at the same cost. Ideal waste management means zero-fault packaging.
The ability to manage repeat orders and legal regulation changes will also be high on the requirements list. And with sustainability, we always need to keep one eye on the future: do not only look at what you print today but what will be printed tomorrow.
6. Workforce education and staffing
Hiring in this industry can be challenging – talented individuals who fully understand industry requirements are rare, and the industry is sometimes perceived as less attractive than others. The move to new digital solutions across the production chain will make packaging production more attractive.
Training of existing staff members needs to be integrated into workforce planning. Print manufacturers should consider working closely with universities, schools and promote apprenticeships, in order to help their clients to prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.
This is not about the break and fix of a given machine but rather the daily relationship needed with suppliers – indeed, they should be ‘partners’, rather than ‘suppliers’. With the advent of the internet of things, more and more equipment is connected directly with the manufacturers, and preventative maintenance is no longer science fiction.
There are printers that have a complete range of services that embrace the entire printing and converting process. The objective is not to predict the future but to constantly assess the challenges ahead to enable packaging production in the most appropriate manner.