Recently, I was invited to a Corrugated Summit within the United States. Representatives of approximately 25 companies were in attendance, and an interesting point was raised: With customers wanting more and more, how can plants provide a wider spectrum of solutions to the changing demands of the customer?
Short-run and ultrashort-run orders have not been successfully addressed as a norm, despite features supplied by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) focused on this restriction. For example, quick-change anilox roll systems allow plants to cost-effectively target reduced order length. High board line rotary die cutters and flexographic printers that set up on the run represent another development that allows plants to reduce order length in a cost-effective manner. Systems from Serrapid and Martin designed for rapid change of the rotary cutting tools with their quick-lock systems are widely adopted today to bring about reduction in setup time. These improvements are seen on flatbed as well; we saw similar advantages with rapid locking and position of the tooling on the center line of the machines.
Consistency of color has come a long way, but within corrugated, this will not be accomplished as a norm for most plants anytime soon. Just look how infrequently you see a densitometer at the machine. This is a troubling matter, because if there is one thing a brand manager desires, it’s consistency of color. If you are printing on corrugated, you need tools to check the color, and training and procedures to correct and improve.
Tooling vendors will never make and deliver their tooling to the plant fast enough. If the plant is still ordering printing and cutting tools through two or three vendors, you are never going to have the lowest-cost quality tooling, and you are never going to have the shortest response time to the market. Think about the amount of resources and time it takes for all the internal people to manage the information and tooling just to and from the vendor.
More than two decades ago, the automotive industry rationalized that they make vehicles; vendors make products. Taking a similar analogy, how are you going to make a rotary cutting tool faster, better, and cheaper than the vendor that is a market leader? If you harness the power of the vendor and have them manage the whole workflow inside the box house, it frees up resources and speeds your response to the market. Purchasing tooling from the lowest-cost vendor is the most expensive way to procure tooling.
All of these features allow the manufacturing plant to expand its capability to cost-effectively provide solutions to the customer in their market. However, there is a segment of the market that is not being addressed with conventional solutions.
Speed to market is going to be a key component moving forward, not just for 5,000 boxes, but for 500, 50, or even 10 boxes. The current mainstream OEM, tooling supplier, and box house are not set up to be successful in this area, because in this analog world, you cannot compete with some of the digital solutions.
Digital in this space below 5,000 boxes is going to eat the lunch of the mainstream box house. Today, it’s small runs that can be personalized with every box. Speed will come through software, and the nice thing in the digital space is improvement does not come in 5 to 10 percent increments; it comes in 50 to 100 percent increments.
The mainstream box house thinks and works in days—10-day turnaround for a multicolored item, three days for new print plates and cutting tools. Due to the fact that no tooling is required in digital, that time frame is anywhere from four to 72 hours. This huge compression of time frame will be a challenge for existing box plants and may be a reason that new companies will emerge to manufacture with digital instead of integrating digital into the box plant. Custom packaging that you can request and design on the Web is three to eight days, due mainly to an optimized workflow. When digital plants have everything under one roof, four to 72 hours will become the norm.
Digital is here today for the pioneers of packaging. For others it will be tomorrow, but it’s certainly here now. Analog prints packaging; digital prints publicity— hopefully, you can quote me on that!