Considering how competitive the packaging industry is, the pursuit of product quality would seem self-evident. Yet many factors conspire to downplay, obscure or even work against quality as a goal, and package suppliers often pay the price in more ways than one.

The perceived cost, a lack of awareness or knowledge, the fear of change or simple expediency are often the enemies of improved quality. These issues mask what the market and good business would have to say. Customers and consumers demand top quality. Retailers expect it, and in some cases, they will not stock any product that they think is substandard. 

The promise of digital packaging has been talked about in the packaging space for years. Yet companies are only just now beginning to realize the many benefits as well as the challenges and technical hurdles to make digital printing mainstream in their businesses.

The opportunity is certainly there – the market is forecast to grow to nearly $300 billion by 2024, according to Smithers Pira’s article “The Future of Digital Printing to 2024” in Flexo magazine. Certainly the number of digital printers targeting packaging materials continues to grow every year. However, even the most optimistic market studies suggest that digital is not likely to top 6 percent of the packaging market any time soon. Of course, some areas have seen more effect than others. Other estimates by Smithers Pira in “The Future of Digital Print for Packaging to 2018,” suggest that approximately 90 percent of the digital packaging work that is being done today is label printing. 

The pulp, paper and packaging industry is responsible for much of the industrial traded wood. Its operational practices have a tremendous influence on global forests, which is why the industry leads the world in responsible sourcing, clean manufacturing and recycling. However, staying on top of constantly changing regulations and adapting to variable market forces is not easy. Packaging companies must manage an increasingly complex global supply chain and provide detailed product transparency. Fortunately, new technology solutions are helping executives leverage data to develop and implement insightful, sustainable operations. 

Sustainability Agenda

According to research released earlier this year by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and environmental nonprofit As You Sow, large brands waste $11.4 billion every year because of poor packaging policies.

Although it is easy to point the finger at large corporations that use more resources, companies of all sizes must do a better job of managing the way that they approach environmental and sustainable packaging policies. Not only will creating or improving your sustainability agenda better the environment, it will help your brand and its bottom line in the long run.

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Not Written Off

Long before the advent of the iPad, a stigma hung over the copy paper we write and print on – one so strong it has a way of even making the single-use paper products we use to wipe our hands, faces and other parts seem like dinosaurs.

Consider these words, in 1995, from George Costanza, Seinfeld’s lovable TV sidekick:

George: “Do you realize that toilet paper has not changed in my lifetime? It’s just paper on a cardboard roll, that’s it. And in 10,000 years, it will still be exactly the same because really, what else can they do?

George’s date: “That’s true. There really has been no development in toilet paper.”

George: “And everything else has changed. But toilet paper is exactly the same, and will be so until we’re dead.”

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In recent years, a new concept has presented exciting alternatives in the world of packaging design: crowdsourcing. The result has been a boon for the industry, inviting innovative designs, new ideas and a diversity of voices to contribute to packaging aesthetics.

Jeff Howe first introduced the word “crowdsourcing” in 2006 to describe the act of a company taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) community of people in the form of an open call. Buyers put a project on the table, as well as a monetary reward. People submit their own work or concept to the project, and the buyer chooses the one he or she likes best. 

Time to Learn

In a recent blog, business author Seth Godin wrote, “When (part of) your marketplace embraces a ‘new’ that makes no sense to you, it’s essential you understand the point of view that’s leading people to embrace this new idea … You probably need to understand why other people were touched, inspired or found something worth talking about.”

Godin makes a point that relates to senior executives and managers and the necessity of being willing to learn when something happens that we may not at first understand, and that tests our learning ability in the face of newness. From here, it’s not a large step to the broader issue of continuous learning.

For our purposes, let’s describe continuous learning as a senior executive’s or manager’s willingness to keep on learning what he or she needs to learn to grow as a business leader. 

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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. 

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