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Flexo Printing in a Digital World

By AICC Staff

July 30, 2018

width=400To paraphrase Mark Twain: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Proven solutions are not replaced with a wave of the hand, nor do they go quietly into the night. The advent of digital printing might dominate all the headlines today, much as a Super Bowl quarterback receives the bulk of the glory that comes with victory. The reality, though, can be quite different. While the quarterback gets the lion’s share of the credit for victory, the football game is truly won in the trenches, where steady, reliable linemen go about their business with little notoriety, providing the foundation of the team’s success.

Much like a football team, the complement of a plant’s machinery has several hierarchies of performance and expectation. At the top of the new pyramid are the latest and greatest digital presses. For specific solutions where corrugated is the packaging material of choice, the effects can be startling. Microbreweries, for example, are a natural fit for digital printing solutions. The old maxim in the beer industry was to gain a customer at the very first opportunity, and they would be a customer for life. Now, craft brewers have carved out a large niche of the market, not through history, familiarity, or proximity, but through packaging. The colorful and creative digital package branding creates a strong billboard that is recognizable and memorable, one that can be augmented and refined with no additional tooling or expense. Normal periods of specific packaging for seasonal or specific events can now be tailored to attract specific ethnic, geographic, or demographic groups.

Below the mountaintop the new digital machines occupy, all the machines you currently operate still exist, and these machines will continue to provide the vast bulk of the volume and the lion’s share of revenue for your business. Complicating the net value calculation of a digitally printed carton is the extended time frame for converting a digital container. Most digital containers will have to be die cut and often joined to create the finished product. What is now a one- or two-step process could require two or three steps to complete. Digital can surely be the icing; it is hard to see it becoming the cake.

For an economy that is based now on shipping rather than shopping, one has to question the breadth of the impact of this advance in technology. The brown box is not going away. If you are like the typical American consumer, you are working more, and time is precious. Often, the only time you have to shop is when the stores are already closed.

But Amazon and companies like it never close and never sleep. The vast majority of what Amazon ships goes out in an envelope or a corrugated box. I bet you have more than a few in your house right now. I also bet that box is a brown corrugated one devoid of any printing beyond the Amazon logo, a box code, and a BMC stamp—not a digital influence anywhere to be seen. It is hard to see digital converting play out for the likes of Amazon, but that does not mean there are no opportunities for existing companies like Birchbox, or even for companies yet to be formed.

Digital technologies have changed all our lives. Readers of a certain age remember being forced to hold the TV antenna in a certain position so the family could see the show on the small screen. Others might remember being judicious when taking photos, as there were only 36 shots available on the roll of film. There are likely older folks who remember when phones had dials that had to be spun to place a call. Digital technologies have improved these and many other aspects of life, and digital printing can and will do the same. But it is not a replacement like a cellphone or a digital camera—it is more of an augmentation, where the choice of product, demographics, and artwork will help sway the consumer’s choice.

PortraitJohn Clark is director of analytics at Amtech Software. He can be reached at