Pressing ahead22 September 2014
In the battle for shelf impact, converters are looking more and more at prepress to improve the workflow and efficiency of their graphics, without having to sacrifice quality or cost. Converting Today investigates.
In the constant battle for consumer attention, graphics and their implementation remain an integral part of the mix for end-users. The product package is an important component in the brand campaign as it enhances shelf appeal in the store. The package IS the brand. This is critical since market research shows that in fast moving commodity categories, more than 70% of buying decisions are actually made at the shelf. This means packaging that not only protects the product, but shows it off to best advantage.
As brand-owners strive to differentiate their products and increase product shelf appeal, they are looking for creativity and innovation from their supply chain partners. They are requesting smaller lot sizes, more versioning, reduced cycle time and, of course, a better return on their packaging investment. It means delivering services with the smallest possible environmental footprint and cost base.
They also want to efficiently produce intelligent packaging that prevents counterfeiting, extends shelf life and is environmentally sustainable. This intelligent packaging may even be generated in lot sizes of one to include track and trace information, serialisation, contest codes, and other information that might only appear on a single package. All this information has to be accurate as there is no room for error.
Smarter packaging prepress
For packaging converters, these dynamics present a wide range of challenges. Many packaging manufacturing lines are set up to efficiently produce long runs of the same package. Changeovers can be time consuming and costly. Post-production application of inkjetted variable information may not deliver the expected quality. There is also increased opportunity for error and waste.
We find ourselves in a new age of packaging prepress and production. We are operating in a highly connected global supply chain with the ability to integrate a wide range of tools and technologies into a seamless, automated prepress/production workflow. This approach delivers revolutionary efficiency and profitability. It also means that packaging converters can maintain a high level of connectivity with brand-owners as packaging makes its way through the production process.
In this new model, individual packages may carry a higher unit cost. However, that unit cost is offset by the benefits of better management of the packaging supply chain. The end result is a lower total cost across the supply chain with a significantly improved time to market, less wastage and the ability to target ever-narrowing market segments.
The Brave New World of packaging and prepress production
For packaging converters, "faster, better, cheaper, greener" remains the challenge. At the same time, they will push through their plants more production jobs in shorter runs than ever before.
Here, then, are five key directions for packaging workflow that paint a vision of the future, addressing the diverse needs of both brand-owners and packaging converters.
1. Automation reduces need for operators and associated costs
By reducing operator intervention, overhead costs are reduced without sacrificing quality.
Workflow automation stretches beyond printing and finishing, integrating with brand design at the front end and logistics at the back end.
Accurate and consistent colour reproduction from start to finish for superb colour communication.
Operator interaction is limited to exception handling and quality checking.
Open industry standards enable integration with business systems and data silos, regardless of physical location.
Cloud-based packaging management systems interface with prepress workflow servers in an open and transparent way
The flexo platemaking process, the last step before the printing press, becomes more automated with CDI devices that ensure integrated plate imaging.
2. Smart templates are the name of the game
A smart template guarantees brand integrity and regulatory compliance with maximum productivity and fastest time to market.
The designer determines package design within an established brand guidelines framework.
Critical content resides in a secure, cloud-based packaging management system administered by the brand-owner.
Within the template, smart objects are linked to approved content in a secure database within the cloud-based packaging management system.
3. Quality comes first
Improves time efficiency, as remaining operators can concentrate on quality checks rather then administering.
New interactive tools dedicated to quality control streamline the task.
Brand-owners are engaged to approve the design and to review the package digitally prior to the press run. The approval process is managed by the automated workflow.
Once approved, automated workflow continues its mission to deliver the highest quality in the shortest possible time.
Integration with CAPE palletisation and logistics software provides ample opportunity to produce environmentally friendly packaging through a reduction in supply chain waste.
4. Task-driven interactive editing
The prepress operator is now focused on building smart templates, quality control and exception handling.
New cross-platform software apps provide a task-driven user experience.
Only the tools required for a task are on the operator's tablet or desktop.
Intelligent wizards guide the operator through expert processes.
In the new FlexProof, profiling brand colours for a multi-channel press setup is simplified.
3D visualisation for virtual mock-ups and store simulation in the packaging workflow.
5. The supply chain integrates to a globally connected virtual workplace
In this brave new world of packaging production, stakeholders can work on projects from virtually anywhere in the world, including a home office or even on the road.
Integrated packaging-savvy production and asset management systems improve time to market and reduce cost.
Simplifying the transfer of jobs from one production facility to another, handing over entire projects in a single transaction.
online editing platform for any remote stakeholder in the process.
Dedicated tools for project management and supply chain collaboration create an effective tool for global and local packaging production facilities.
Implementing systems and solutions that keep brand-owners and packaging converters ahead of the curve of these critical trends is a must. Technology is changing rapidly in a dynamic and highly competitive environment. Choosing partners with the right vision and solutions to ensure that packaging operations are future-proofed is vital.