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High Graphics, High Speed, Versatile Configurations

By Dave Burgess

July 30, 2018

width=193The last five to 10 years have seen an unprecedented re-equipping period for the corrugated industry globally, as companies try to become more efficient, offer a broader range of products, and develop faster speed-to-market to quench the thirst of the big-box retailers and the ever-growing e-commerce companies.

High graphics have become increasingly important, particularly for the big-box stores, where “sales” people don’t exist and the product is placed on pallets or shelving at various heights. In these cases, it is the packaging that sells the product. We have seven seconds to immediately catch the consumer’s eye and deliver a message that the consumer “must have” this product. I think we are all guilty of visiting Home Depot or Costco with a particular purchase in mind, only to leave having spent double what we budgeted, and having purchased that product that we didn’t need but quickly decided we couldn’t do without. That is the job that the packaging is employed to do.

To be able to print these high-graphics, companies have been purchasing five-, six-, seven-, and even eight-color die cutters and flexo folder gluers, the latter becoming popular on the West Coast for the wine and produce business. These machines are extremely large investments and require a great deal of support equipment, power, and floor space, but if equipped correctly, they can produce a multicolored, varnished (or UV coated) box at speeds up to and above 10,000 sheets per hour in a single pass. Most of the paper used on these machines is coated to allow the ink to “pop” off the surface and provide a glossy, attractive look that cannot be replicated on noncoated papers.

Essential equipment accessories required to complement these high-speed, high-graphics machines include infrared dryers, UV curing equipment, in-press automated plate-cleaning equipment, ink management systems, pre-feeders, high-speed stackers, and a material handling network to move the product efficiently from the machine to the loading dock. It’s quite an engineering project.

Studies have shown that while these high-graphics projects are very expensive, they have been very successful, and whenever an industry downturn has occurred, it is the companies employing such technology that have continued to succeed. In our experience, once that first investment has been made, it is not uncommon to see a second or third similar machine added. This type of product offers tremendous market diversification from those corrugated companies offering just one- or two-color work on kraft or white-top paper, and sales are not simply stated. These are very high-value, high-margin products, as brand owners thirst for color, “pop,” and consistency to carry their message on their packaging. The high-graphic package also transcends the usual 100- to 150-mile radius of sales for a corrugated company. It’s not uncommon to ship this product over state lines, or even across the country.

For many years, the corrugated box was simply a vehicle to protect the product during shipment, and the printing simply identified the type of product inside the box. That has now changed forever. The flexo-printed package is a vital part of the sales proposition, and the right design, the right colors, and the gloss can propel and enhance the sale of the product.

This article was written by Dave Burgess.