Printing has long been a process of trial and error for manufacturers, burdened by balancing cost while integrating new improvements to printing machinery. The market is shifting toward an increased demand for personalization and just-in-time printing of packaging that aligns with lean or with just-in-time manufacturing.

With the economy taking a toll on manufacturing runs, many manufacturers are investigating ways to cut their costs. Although flexo presses have long dominated the package printing industry, they do not align well with the growing demand for personalization and shorter runs. This is because of the overhead costs, set-up time, material, labor and other costs associated with the technology to change jobs compared to printing with full-color digital solutions. 

As digital printing is poised to reach $15.3 billion by 2018 – according to a 2013 market report from Smithers Pira – manufacturers should be aware of the benefits digital can hold for their operations and their customers, including the ability to print customized, short-run jobs on a variety of materials quickly at a fraction of the cost of flexo presses. 

Although digital may not completely take the place of analog or flexo presses, it can act as a complimentary solution and greatly improve cost, operational efficiency and customization, in addition to growing sales. Today, short-run, customized jobs typically are declined or outsourced based on an absence of digital solutions with lower capital costs. Manufacturers can drive better printing practices by considering the value-add of digital printing as listed below:

    > Flexible job size: Too often, manufacturers are forced to accept high minimum orders or setup charges for print jobs because they lack an in-house solution. With digital, the minimum job size issue disappears with little to no setup time requirements, and the cost associated with preparing plates is eliminated. For a new four-color job, the plate preparation would take at least one to two days plus additional time to make-ready the press before each  job. Comparably, new digital jobs can be up and running within an hour. Because many new digital solutions can be integrated into existing analog technologies easily, these hybrid solutions also provide a low cost of entry into the digital printing realm and translate directly into increased revenue potential and a reduction in costs. 
    > Reduced labor costs: Analog printers, especially wide-format solutions, require a large investment in training employees to run and maintain the equipment. As such, manufacturers incur a variety of costs they could otherwise avoid if they implemented a digital solution. Digital printers run autonomously, reducing much of the need for expensive labor to manage the printing process manually. Ultimately, the resources saved can be applied to other investments or indirectly realized as improved profits.
    > Variable data and serialization: As the label market continues to evolve, state and federal legislation regarding labeling and packaging is on the rise. These changes require extra flexibility on the part of manufacturers and their partners because it can affect primary and secondary labeling on a variety of products. These requirements can include serialization requirements related to the pharmaceutical industry and to lot tracking for many food and beverage products. Additionally for many industries, lot data, active ingredients, country of origin and expiration dates must be displayed on each label. This means print jobs for packaging are becoming shorter over time. 
    > Personalized packaging: Manufacturers need support for regional marketing campaigns, multiple languages or local sporting events that require timely personalization. This requires the ability to print short-runs quickly, while keeping costs down and quality high. A single job can include different details, imagery or content specifications. For example, a specialty shoe shop may offer custom shoeboxes printed with a customer’s name or include a quote such as, “Happy Birthday Maria.” This type of personalization can be accomplished with one-off print files printed in chains, giving manufacturers what they need without breaking the bank while adding value to their customers.
    > Lower storage costs and reduced waste: Large manufacturers or contract manufacturers might store hundreds of thousands of pre-printed materials in their warehouses to avoid setup charges and make minimum print runs. Ultimately, this increases holding charges and increases waste. If a change is required to any pre-printed materials – to support a new promotion, branding or legal requirements, for example – all those materials end up wasted. Because digital printing is especially beneficial for short-run jobs, manufacturers can print the specific amount they need on-demand. This reduces the perishability of printed materials related to content changes and lowers storage costs without any uncertainty or estimation of specific volumes. It also reduces wasted materials related to plate production and paper waste. 

With the right technology, manufacturers can tap into savings and profits through improved printing practices. Digital printing technologies introduce new revenue streams and streamline operations, all while meeting the increased need for shorter runs, serialization and personalization. 

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