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Digital Enlightenment at SUN

By AICC Staff

April 2, 2018

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Brad Albright of ColorHub explains properties of gloss in a digitally printed piece.

A group of 23 enthusiastic industry executives, all eager to learn about digital printing technology, application, and marketing, gathered at SUN Automation February 7–8, for AICC’s Digital Printing in the Packaging Industry Workshop and Seminar. The two-day program was held at SUN’s 183,000-square-foot manufacturing headquarters in Glen Arm, Md. Paul Aliprando, director of digital technology; David Carmichael, technical manager; and Ron Diedeman, president, welcomed the group and introduced the program and instructors. In addition to Aliprando and Carmichael—whose opening presentations asked the group, “What are you trying to do with digital?”—eight other instructors from distinct segments of the printing supply chain shared their knowledge over the course of the two days. They were: Allie O’Brien of KemiArt on substrates; Troy Hewgly of DS Smith on corrugated sheet structure; Jerry Fitch of Sensient Color on characteristics of digital inks; Brad Albright of ColorHub on types of digital printers; Josh McNaughton of Xante on designing artwork for digital printing; Darin Boling of SUN Automation on digital printer maintenance systems; Ray Weiss of Specialty Graphics Imaging Association (SGIA) on artwork and color tools; and Mark Bibo of Gerber Innovations on digital print finishing, covering cutting, and creasing for digital samples and displays. As an added bonus for the attendees, live print demonstrations were conducted by Darin Boling on SUN Automation’s CorrStream and by Josh McNaughton on Xante’s Excelagraphix single-pass digital printers.

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Josh McNaughton of Xante demonstrates the Xante Excelgraphix machine for seminar attendees.

As structured, the course followed a logical progression of print and production considerations. Paul Aliprando reviewed the current state of the printed packaging marketplace, quoting data from Smithers Pira. For corrugated and folding cartons, both segments have experienced growth in the digital print category of 32 percent and 45 percent, respectively, in the past five years. According to Smithers Pira, this growth will continue at the same pace or greater through 2022. David Carmichael, in his opening presentation, discussed “Print Quality Variables” as a way of setting the stage for the two days of the seminar. “It’s important to understand digital print standards and control expectations,” Carmichael noted, showing several examples of print quality. He discussed trouble-shooting techniques and added that it’s important that converters ensure that their facilities and people can support the digital print process.

Substrates and Sheet Quality

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Darin Boling of SUN Automation starts up the CorrStream digital printer for a demonstration.

Allie O’Brien followed with a primer on “Paper Compositions for Digital Liners,” wherein she reviewed paper grades and appearance, asking what she called “The Big Question: Is there a difference between brightness and whiteness in substrates?” Brightness, she explained, is a reflection of a very specific wavelength of blue in the spectrum, while whiteness is a reflection of all wavelengths of light across the entire visual spectrum. She also explained in her presentation that the leading paper characteristics for digital printing do not differ that much from analog printing methods. All substrates must possess runability, printability, toner and ink adhesion qualities, and dimensional stability. Following on O’Brien’s theme, Troy Hewgly of DS Smith presented “Digital Printing and Corrugated Sheets,” in which he talked about flute structure and ensuring the best sheet quality for digital printing jobs. The most important aspects of these, he said, are managing warp and the sheet storage environment.

Inks and Presses

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Allie O’Brien of KemiArt gives a primer
on paper and substrate qualities.

From substrates, the discussion flowed to digital inks, with Jerry Fitch from Sensient Inks. He outlined the different kinds of digital inks. He discussed UV, electronic beam, and aqueous inks, and their pros and cons. Printer technology followed. Brad Albright of ColorHub talked about the operational basics of multipass and single-pass presses, including initial investment, setup, speed, and return on investment. He told members to “understand the technology and to make sure they have the infrastructure in place to support the asset.” To that end, Darin Boling of SUN Automation added a segment on digital printer systems and maintenance, in which he talked about print heads, ink delivery, and the belt transport system.

Artwork, Color and Image Management, and Finishing

In addition to experts on digital machinery, the seminar also covered the aspects of artwork and color management. Josh McNaughton covered designing artwork for digital printing, providing pointers and samples of artwork that minimize the use of costly digital inks. Ray Weiss provided a discussion on artwork considerations, explaining the differences between raster and vector images, the nuances of file size and resolution, and color settings in graphics software packages. Mark Bibo of Gerber Innovations discussed the various finishing methods now available for digitally printed sheets, including static and dynamic tables and feeder options for both.

Digital Advantage

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SUN Automation hosts, from left, Paul Aliprando, Ron Diedeman, and David Carmichael, pose before the session begins.

While all speakers addressed the various points in the digital supply chain, Albright summed up the presentations best in his analysis of the benefits of digital printing and its niche among current corrugated or folding carton print options. He noted the continuing necessity of litho-lam and direct print flexo for most corrugated quantities and production efficiencies in the current environment. Digital, he noted, has a special place within a company’s mix; for those applications where it fits, digital offers the advantage of no labels or print plates, no-crush printing, and reduced waste. One of its greatest advantages, he said, was that it improves speed-to-market, which, for independents, is a differentiator in the corrugated and folding carton marketplaces.

Attendees at the program gave it high praise. Said one, “The presenters did an excellent job and provided the information I need to talk about digital printing with my customers.”