As packaging printers know, the packaging segment of the printing industry is characterized by steady growth. In the meantime, many commercial printers that have either grown at a plateau or even declined have recognized this trend and are trying to expand their repertoire to include packaging services.
According to Kevin Karstedt, CEO of Karstedt Partners, the folding carton market is a good place to start for commercial printers as it is primarily based on offset sheet printing. Before a printer can start printing packaging jobs on an offset press, Karstedt says it is important to assess whether their current equipment is up to the challenge.
“If a commercial printer only has a four-color press, they are challenged to make packaging, unless they can produce work that is CMYK-oriented and there are no spot or corporate colors,” says Karstedt. “Some older sheetfed presses also don’t handle cardboard very well, so they can’t make folding boxes.”
Karstedt adds that commercial printers should determine if their die cutters can be used to fold boxes and if they have the in-house prepress capabilities to do prepress for packaging. “If printers don’t have these capabilities, they should try to outsource that work to local companies and build a relationship,” Karstedt explains. “Work such as punching, folding and gluing, embossing and foil stamping can be outsourced if they are not carried out in-house.”
As part of his consulting work, Karstedt holds “Voice of the Customer” meetings in which he speaks to commercial printers interested in packaging in order to find out firsthand about their interest in the label or folding box markets.
He explains that the two main drivers for commercial printers to find packaging opportunities are that they can provide an additional source of income and, if they already serve small or boutique brands, can serve as an opportunity to enter the market. If a printer is doing commercial work for a customer who needs packaging, adding these features can help that work be done in-house.
“Commercial printers are looking for ways to improve their product offering and bottom line. Packaging can be one way of doing this, ”he explains. “Another reason to consider packaging is small business growth, like the recent surge in microbreweries and small wineries.”
Specialist in short-term packaging
An example of a commercial printer that has added a significant amount of packaging to its service mix is The OTC Group, headquartered in London, Ontario. Adam Egan, vice president of high-performance packaging, said entering the packaging segment seemed like the next logical step to add to work on the press in the slower periods. Today, short-term packaging makes up about 30% of the print jobs the company produces.
The OTC group produces highly serialized and very variable packaging for the pharmaceutical industry and produces both consumer goods and food. The company also prints labels for a number of markets, including small wineries and pharmaceutical companies.
In addition, with its short-term functions, the OTC Group has partnered with traditional folding box printing companies that are not so well positioned for short runs. “We worked a lot with other folding box manufacturers to produce short-term orders for them,” he says. “By developing these relationships, we were able to do much of her short-term work that cost her money to produce.”
Most of the packaging that the OTC group produces is printed on its five Xerox iGen digital presses. According to Egan, the company plans to add more printing capacity. In addition, the company has two coating machines, three adhesives and two punching machines.
When entering the packaging market from the business world, the OTC Group faced a number of challenges, ranging from substrate problems to detecting printing errors. “You no longer print on paper. They print on cardboard, ”he says. “So there is the whole finishing element that is different. I wouldn’t say it’s harder, but it’s different than [traditional] Bookbinding. Mistakes can also be costly. If an error occurs while executing a job and it gets through the plant, it costs much more than what would have happened in the commercial printing world in such a scenario. “
Exploring new market opportunities
Color Ink, a Sussex, Wisconsin-based commercial printer, and FunDeco, the consumer products division, added packaging capabilities after looking for new ways to use their existing equipment and enter new markets with minimal investment.
Todd Meissner, President of Color Ink, said the first time the company looked at the packaging printing market, it had to learn what it takes to design a package and what infrastructure it requires.
“We were wondering how we could design a carton from a structural standpoint to get the best yield on paper,” he recalls. “And how we can automate every part of the process – to be able to efficiently print, punch, and then scrap, fold and glue this box. We also had to invest in training our staff on the structural and graphical aspects of packaging design. “
Color Ink and FunDeco are now producing litho labels, direct-to-corruged clamshell inserts and test runs of prototype folding boxes. It uses both offset and digital presses and carries out longer term jobs on its 40˝ six-color Komori lithrone press configured with UV printing and coating capabilities. Shorter runs are produced on a Fujifilm J Press 720S single-sheet inkjet printing machine together with a five-color Ryobi 755 printing machine with UV coater.
“We can see that digital printing processes are being used much more frequently than before, at least by our customers,” says Meissner. “For short-term boxes, it is very inexpensive to be able to print digitally. That’s why we print a lot of packaging digitally. “
Acquiring expertise proven challenging
While many commercial printers have been actively exploring packaging options, Asheville, NC-based BP Solutions Group entered the packaging space in 2005 at the request of one of its commercial customers. Packaging now makes up 35% of the product mix, and VP Scott Cotten expects that number to increase.
Cotten reveals that one of the company’s biggest challenges originally was finding packaging expertise to use internally. The business community, BP Solutions Group, did not expect the additional knowledge required to manufacture packaging.
“The cost of the equipment was the first thing we considered when looking for equipment. In retrospect, however, the first thing we should have considered was the knowledge and experience required to manufacture the packaging, ”he recalls. “There’s a lot of die-cutting, folding, and gluing knowledge and experience that a commercial printer doesn’t immediately see when you step into the business.”
Heid initially used a standard off-the-shelf printing press for packaging, but when the company took on additional packaging work, they found that the press was prone to marking when printing heavy card stock. The company therefore installed a Heidelberg Speedmaster CD 74 printing press, which is designed to run heavy cardboard. A Xerox iGen 4 digital press is used to prototype.
When entering the packaging market for the first time, Cotten recommends trying to network with companies that already have experience in this area. As long as they are not in direct competition, many packaging printers will be happy to spread their knowledge in the business world.
“The easiest way I’ve found over the past few years is to attend the annual Digital Packaging Summit in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida,” says Cotten. “I made friends with several US printers who would never compete with us. They even asked if I would like to visit their facilities to see how they deal with the production of packaging prints. “