12 November 2017 Digital Printing Technologies

Heidelberg shows hand for packaging's digital transformation

Heidelberg has shown prospects the inkjet fired Primefire 106 in operation at trial site in Germany.

Heidelberg believes that the carton printing industry is poised to switch to digital printing and has increased production capacity for its Primefire 106 in order to meet this demand.

The company signed its first beta site in February and last week that customer, MPS in Obersulm, threw open its doors to both the press and to a group of packaging printers. Some have already signed letters of intent. Heidelberg clearly hopes that many more will do so following the visit.

The company is about to install its second beta machine, with delivery a third to a pharmaceutical specialist in April. Two machines are under construction in the Wiesloch factory, one to ship to Colordruck Baiersbronn before the end of the year, the other to join the line up of print and finishing machines in Heidelberg's packaging show room.

Live demonstrations last week took place an hour down the road at the first customer where the press did everything that was asked of it, printing impeccably on a full sheet, switching instantly between job types and delivering a sheet without the tell tale lines that indicate a blocked or misfiring nozzle.

Early testing had been conducted at the Heidelberg factory before it was moved to a closed off room over the summer. It has since been used for a further testing, and for a number of customer jobs. One proposal being discussed currently is a personalised carton almost certainly for a cosmetics product that the business specialises in.

The Primefire has also been used extensively for press passes. These might otherwise take several hours on the long Heidelberg B1 presses, disrupting both printing and die cutting of normal production. By using the inkjet press for this, the customer can be given the time to adjust colours to achieve a sign off without harming productivity levels. Details of the sign off sheet can be transferred to the other presses.

Montserrat Peidro-Insa, head of Heidelberg’s digital printing unit, says that this is a key part of the proposition behind the digital press. The press, with a price tag around €3 million with a service charge, but no click charge (printers will buy ink by volume), will appeal to mid and large size converters.

Staying with the fragrances market where MPS is focused, she says that in Germany 90% of the fragrances that are launched each year do not make it to a second year. “It is all about fast prototyping, fast production and being fast to market,” she says. “There is a large proliferation of targeted products and with shorter runs. It’s not only short runs, it’s fast short runs.”

Personalisation is not a major driver, but individualisation of packaging is. The use of embedded codes will allow brands to circumvent the wholesale and retail price chain and to understand when and where consumers buy products through analysing data captured when the code is scanned. “Brands want to make their packaging more interactive. This is about individualisation of packaging. It is not about short runs,” she explains.

The EU wide regulations on pharmaceutical packaging being introduced in April 2019, require individualisation of packaging in order to track the drugs to ensure that the right medicines reach the right patients without leakage.

The press is quite capable of personalisation and there will be business models built around this capability. “We are starting to see online companies like Amazon start to offer personalisation on packaging for high end or luxury products. Personalisation increases the value of the box to the consumer,” she says.

Production speed, 2,500sph at the 1200x1200dpi resolution, faster with a lower resolution in future, is not the issue. “It is not a substitution for conventional litho,” says Peidro-Insa, “it’s not a question about break even run lengths , but it’s how fast can you produce this job and which technology is better.”

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Test sheet

Test sheet

The trials of the Primefire 106 have reached the point that it can be unveiled to sales prospects, a first batch visiting MPS in Germany last week. They saw first rate print quality and began to picture business models that will deploy the features of the inkjet technology.

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