The new world of short run and digitally printed packaging needs the support of new packaging designs as much as it requires effective printing technologies.
For brands to take advantage of the swift turnaround that the presses and converters are capable of, there is a need for equally swift concept, design, proofing and platemaking, in the case of flexo. Add in the complexity that pervades the global distribution of brands and the requirements on prepress providers are increasingly burdensome.
The market leader by a comfortable margin is Esko. Its systems are in use across the entire production chain and it is partner for many of the print engine providers: Esko is the de facto supplier. Its coverage of packaging stretches from design to platemaking, cutting tables and ink formulation, engaging the resources of sister companies XRite Pantone and Enfous to increase this scope.
“These operate at different points on the same workflow,” says CEO Udo Panenka, “by working together we can serve customers better with end to end solutions.
“Brands have figured out that better packaging helps them to sell more product and that is leading to more SKUs, more variations requiring shorter runs and faster routes to market, something started by Coca-Cola.
”But think also of the European Championships where packaging might feature images of the players, but nobody would want to feature images of players that were not taking part, so needs to be produced as close to the event as possible,” says Panenka.
“Then there is the growth of the regulatory framework to cope with different laws in different countries, the wording about peanut allergies will be different in China and India for example. This needs to be managed.”
At Drupa Esko hoped to demonstrate how it could cut through the complexity under the concept of Packaging Simplified. It was also able to show off the digital asset management capabilities of the Media Beacon application it acquired in March last year.
“Packaging management is the fastest growing aspect of our business,” says Panenka. “Brands want to avoid product recalls on the one hand and to tie packaging in with other marketing assets. They need better communication and systems which recognise that text is text and should not be treated as an image file.”
Most packaging design will start life in Illustrator, Adobe’s vector line art application. It is universal and any packaging workflow needs to be able to accept AI files. For Esko this means also being able to visualise these as 3D rendered images after matching the artwork file with a structural file created in Artios Cad.
The box can be positioned in a supermarket shelf, arranged on a pallet to check stacking or how the final products will look in different styles of virtual display unit.
The prepress area is where Esko’s strength lies, leading the way to automating elements of preflighting and optimisation for different production processes and materials. The close tie with Pantone helps bring in and interpret the colours that brands want to use.
This is where there is close integration with third-party software and print engine providers. “It is increasingly about automated workflows and connecting the digital files to the hardware world of printing platemaking and cutting tables,” says Panenka. There is a close relationship with HP, now with EFI and Landa “and others will follow soon” he adds.
The WebCenter, now on version 16, manages communication from the output devices to handle scheduling and costing. This includes platemaking, where Esko has automated the latest version of its imagers, with a simplified operator interface. “We wanted to remove the voodoo from the user interface,” Panenka continues. This is a common theme through Esko’s developments.
The idea is that any operator should be able to pick up how to use the latest updates and technology with minimal, if any, training. The reduction of investment in formal training is a global phenomenon and a problem that everyone faces.
Other developers across the industry will be following this approach, perhaps supported by self learning videos and webinars on YouTube. Few businesses can afford the investment in skills which can be automated in software applications.
The connection with XRite is used to optimise ink formulations to match the intent of the designer and marketer with the practicalities of the printing processes. This has led to the proliferation of brand colours, but the drive towards shorter production runs means new thinking is required.
The use of spot colours in flexo means that the press is only running 40% of the time, argues Panenka. “That means the converter is only paid 40% of the time.”
And short runs mean more efficiency sapping clean downs. According to Esko, extended gamut printing, which leaves seven standard print colours on press, can increase press availability by 50%. The colours can be verified by AVT technology, he says.
The final aspect of the design to delivery approach comes with the Kongsberg cutting tables. These have gained the simplified approach that applies across the company with two styles of table. Again the aim is to reduce the experience needed to operate these at close to full efficiency.
There is a media data base that shows which tools to use with which materials and how to cut these. At Drupa a robot was loading two cutting tables, increasing throughput by 80-90% compared to manual loading. These are used to built the prototypes, cut out ultra short run boxes for corrugated or cartons, cementing Esko’s position as the only end to end supplier.
But it is not the only supplier and its very dominance potentially makes it vulnerable. As commercial print suppliers look at the opportunities in packaging for their print technology, the workflows follow.
There are packaging specific versions of Heidelberg Prinect and Kodak Prinergy and while Agfa has extended Apogee for large format production, a further extension into packaging should not be ruled out.
Then there is Hybrid Software, reckoned to be the fastest growing software company operating in the industry. This year’s Drupa was only the second time it has exhibited at the show and it was by far the busiest it has seen, prearranging more than 300 appointments and demonstration,” says managing director Jan Ruysschaert.
“We now have a complete solution,” he says, “from taking an order into the MIS, communication with the printer’s account handlers, managing approvals, 3D visualisation, prepress to output.
The company has built everything in HTML5 meaning that it is viewed through browsers and runs from a server, either locally or from the Cloud. Hybrid has also taken advantage of the generational approach to software development.
There is no internal format to convert to, says Ruysschaert, instead the software uses native PDF, using multithreading in 64-bit processors to get the performance needed. It users GMG Open Colour for colour management, including expanded colour gamuts.
Its approach means that the core user base is repro and print rather than brand owners. “We don’t want to sell to the customers of our customers,” he explains. It is part of an approach which the company says is driven by listening to its customers.
This has led to MyCloudFlow as an SaaS version of the core application where users do not need to invest in licences but can opt in on a pay as you go basis. Cloudflow Share systems can choose to share a database as well as with systems operating separate databases.
It both automates manual interventions and increases the speed of operation by enabling customers to transfer work between sites where there may be capacity or additional expertise.
The Cloudflow Rip is either an integrated part of the workflow or a separate component with its own interface. It is built on Harlequin technology, optimised for labels and packaging applications, including inkjet printing as well as flexo and litho.
The PackZ application manages the output to include trapping, support for extended colour gamuts and step and repeat or nesting of frames and cartons. PackZView is a means of viewing a PDF file with the correct rendering of overprints and knock regardless of the device being used. It uses the Rendro engine from Chili Publish, one of the first to do so.
And there is a further partnership to produce photorealistic 3D visualisation files through collaboration with ICD Creative Edge.
This is a UK based, US funded software company that has spotted an opportunity with 3D visualisation and printing and leaped at it. Industry veteran Nick Gilmore is managing director. Unlike Ruysschaert, Gilmore is aiming directly at the brand owners and the designers that work for them.
Existing 3D technology is relatively crude in comparison to what Creative Edge has done, he says. “We have true photographic realism from what we design in 3D.” This has meant understanding the impact of different types of light illuminating an object in different ways and how that solid object might cast shadows. It will produce incidental shadows according to the virtual light source.
This is in addition to the normal 3D benefits of being able to view the virtual product from all angles. The virtual image created is in a high enough resolution to be used in print ads before the final packaging has been completed.
The aim is to shave time off the passage to market for any product, but getting to the final artwork as quickly as possible and without the need for iterations of samples and prototypes. Most 3D applications are flat compared to the real model so do not give the decision maker the absolute confidence to commit to a project.
“The reason we have done this,” says Gilmore, “is because everybody wants absolute fidelity of image. Something that is almost good enough for 3D isn’t good enough really, because they can’t use it. They want to be able to print and use the image, so we developed a way to fire millions of points of light at an object that doesn’t exist because it is a virtual reality image. It has to calculate the reflected index of liquid and ice cubes in a glass of water and give the impression of a totally perfect photographic image.”
On a practical level, 3D rendering of this precision can show where all elements of a design fall when applied to the 3D frame of an object, whether barcode is in a suitable place or whether text is wrapped around a curve so becomes difficult to read.
“3D today is where colour management was ten years ago,” says Gilmore. “Everyone is scared of it, but it can be a lot easier than becoming proficient at Illustrator.”
The Creative Edge team includes programmers with experience in the computer games industry. They have the knowledge of how to create convincing looking virtual objects at high speed, he explains. Others are experienced in the graphics industry. Combined it results in a unique approach to writing an application where previously there has been none.
The software can deliver a file back to prepress or design and can also deliver an SLT file that can be used to drive a 3D printer to print out the real model for a new bottle. The company has built a database of 3D objects which customers can down load and modify so saving the time needed to build a frame from scratch.
Gilmore has been able to convince drinks company Diageo, which has urged its prepress suppliers to invest in the technology to shorten the time needed to create different variants of a product. “Our objective is to make 3D really easy so that people used to Illustrator can produce the 3D objects and artwork rather than having an expensive specialist 3D designer do the work.
There is now a Cloud application which enables a user to share the 3D packaging he has designed and for others in the decision chain to view and manipulate the product design to their satisfaction.
This is IC3D Opsis. On upload, a unique web address is created which can be emailed to those that need to view and approve the design.
All of this aims to cut the 180 days that has been standard to go from a concept to the shops. Without advances in the software used to do this, the need to launch new products and variants of existing products will result in a digital logjam.
With full use of the digital tools like these and others that are under development, the result will be free flowing traffic able to satisfy demands for an ever greater proliferation of SKUs. And short run packaging will flourish.
Esko has been the dominant player in packaging workflows both on its own account and through partnerships across the industry. It has a portfolio that stretches from design and visualisation through to plate making and cutting tables. It has worked closely with sister companies in the Danaher group including X-Rite Pantone.
Story 1 of 2
A new breed of packaging software suppliers is rising, attracted by the rapidly developing packaging sector. Some are focusing on specific aspects, like online design for Chili Publish or high quality visualisation for IC3D. Others are able to offer a fuller workflow where Hybrid has become the fastest growing software company in the industry according to Jan Ruysschaert. Others with packaging specific workflows developed from commercial print workflows including Heidelberg and Kodak.
Story 2 of 2
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