As digital printing continues to expand its presence in the packaging industry, printers and converters are finding ways to creatively implement the benefits of digital along with the advantages of conventional technologies. In the label segment, hybrid printing, which often combines inkjet and flexographic technologies, has emerged as a solution to provide the best of both worlds into a single-pass process.
During the third annual Digital Packaging Summit, hosted by Printing Impressions sister publication, packagePRINTING, at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., a panel of suppliers that have launched products and solutions in the hybrid print space discussed the impact the technology will have in packaging.
The Time is Right for Hybrid Systems
Steve Schulte, VP of sales and marketing for Mark Andy, which has launched both an inkjet/flexo hybrid (Mark Andy Digital Series) and a hybrid solution combining flexo and dry toner (Mark Andy Digital One) explained that the time is right for hybrid systems to enter the market due to advancements in both digital and flexographic technologies.
In particular, Schulte explained that a few years ago, the printing speeds of digital and slow changeovers on flexo would have been prohibitive to hybrid solutions. But times have changed.
“The quick changeover components with the high speed digital engines where you’re running 240 fpm in-line is more than twice what it was a few years ago,” Schulte said. “With those two things together, people are truly using it. They’re using the flexo, the decorative and the digital [components] every day.”
According to Andre Blais, sales manager for Gallus, which has also launched an inkjet/flexo solution with its Gallus Labelfire 340, this type of hybrid technology can help converters achieve the short-run advantages of digital, while still implementing the embellishment capabilities of flexo.
For example, he stated that the craft beer, wine and spirits industries are rapidly growing and are in need of short-run label production. With hybrid, he explained, digitally printed labels can now achieve similar value-add elements to their conventional counterparts.
“With a hybrid asset you’re able to service those growing markets,” Blais said. “You can use the flexo units for different embellishments or even laying down whites for example instead of doing digital white. If you have a heavy flood coat of underlay white, you can use a flexo white instead of a digital white because the cost is a lot less … There are a lot of advantages in using a hybrid press for those applications.”
Because hybrid technology is relatively new on the market, Mike Barry, product marketing manager, digital solutions, Fujifilm, explained that it’s important for suppliers to become partners with their customers and help them ensure they are utilizing a hybrid press to the best of their ability.
Fujifilm has also launched an inkjet/flexo solution with its Graphium model. Barry explained that because each converter is at a different stage in their journey toward digital, their needs will be unique and it’s up to both sides to work together to discover how a hybrid solution can provide a converter with a competitive advantage.
“Converters know their business better than we do and that’s something we have to appreciate as vendors,” Barry said. “We may know our equipment very well, but we don’t know their business as well as they do. We have to listen more than we speak at first to learn what challenges they’re up against and adapt our training to that. We need to inform them what the device is capable of doing so they can tell us what they can do with that device and we can all win together.”
Similarly, Keith Nagle, digital product manager for Nilpeter, which offers a hybrid inkjet/flexo solution within its PANORAMA digital platform, explained the importance of suppliers being proactive in educating customers on how to extract the most value from a hybrid press.
“We bring the customers in and show them the platform and all of the tools that we’re going to build for them and for them to offer to the marketplace,” he said. “Everything from how the workflow works, how to make it simpler for them and how to take it out and market it regionally. Then, they can branch out from there.”
While four of the five panelists represented companies that offer standalone hybrid solutions, retrofitting existing conventional equipment with digital technology has also emerged as an excellent opportunity for printers to add hybrid capabilities. Will Mansfield, director of worldwide press sales and marketing for Kodak, joined the panel to discuss his company’s ability to add digital capabilities onto conventional equipment.
“At Kodak, hybrid is a production process,” Mansfield said. “It’s not simply a product. We’re going to go in and look at the printing equipment and finishing equipment that you have today and understand where a digital component makes sense to be added to your existing equipment.”