The digital world

28 October 2009

Digital printing is having a big impact on the packaging world, with many exisiting press makers adding this technology to their portfolio of equipment; and other companies choosing to specialise in this ever-developing printing process.

As reported in September’s issue of Converting Today, flexo printers are increasingly finding that short runs are required, for a number of reasons. Digital printing is more suited to these short runs, and although more expensive, is very much more flexible. However, in 2007, Hewlett Packard reports, digital printing accounted for 2% of the total printed surface and 16% of total print value. So while it is still quite a small percentage of the market, the rewards are clearly evident.

Undoubtedly, long, fast runs are still very much the domain of flexo printing, but with digital technology developing at such a pace, flexo, and also offset printing could see their market eroded in the future, if digital costs decrease and speeds increase. (See our feature on Digital this month for more in-depth analysis).

Dr Juergen Rautert, member of the Board at Heidelberg, a major supplier of sheetfed offset presses, as well as a range of other equipment for commercial and packaging applications, told me: “Digital is growing, but the speed and quality of inkjet is not there yet for packaging. And it remains expensive: the price of nozzles is still significant. I can’t predict the future for inkjet, but it will have a future. However, we see web-to-print as more of a threat to our business.”

Heidelberg offers a small range of inkjet machines, but only for the niche pharma market, where it sees the most growth for this technology.

Digital technology was very much in evidence at Labelexpo Europe, held last month in Brussels (see this month's review). There were numerous developments, including a brand new prototype of a digital press from Domino. Issues such as clogged nozzles are increasingly being addressed, with many exhibitors at the exhibition choosing to fit the Xaar self-cleaning printhead to their machines, while others, like Domino, have developed their own solutions for keeping nozzles clean.

The exhibition itself was buzzing with activity, which was heartening to see in these difficult economic times. Exhibitors I spoke to were very happy with the level of activity and the number of serious enquiries from top-level people at the show.

Edale, for example, which was promoting its flexographic printing and converting machinery at the exhibition, reported that it had ‘over 300 serious enquiries from 60 countries, and an over-subscribed series of technical workshops’.

With ICE Europe fast approaching, it will be interesting to see if the show attracts the number of visitors it did last time. will be the story at ICE. Converting Today will be there on stand 3G11, so do drop by to see us if you are planning to be at the show.

Maureen Byrne


Maureen Byrne

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