Steve Wood, Fujifilm Speciality Ink Systems' marketing manager for corrugated display and packaging, explains why digital print is driving a renaissance for corrugated material.
The corrugated industry is booming. Demand for corrugated packaging material is expected to increase by more than 4% annually over the next five years to almost 115 million tons of converted material, worth an estimated $176 billion by 2019. Interestingly, the highest growth rate will be in digital printing, at an average annual rate of 7.4% from 2014 to 2019. The reasons behind this trend vary, but are mainly connected with a change in consumers' behaviour and with the establishment of a different supply chain than we see today.
The growth of internet shopping and the number of tech-savvy consumers is having a strong impact on demand for corrugated packaging. For example, previously, one corrugated case was used to transport several items to the retailer - now, each item has its own corrugated pack for direct distribution to the consumer, resulting in packaging diversification and personalisation.
Demand for retail-ready packaging is also rising, driven by supermarket chains desperate to improve in-store and distribution efficiency. Converters are under pressure to provide these retailers with appealing packaging that can help brand-owners gain maximum exposure and capture consumers' attention. What's more, the move towards shorter and more frequent 'brand refresh' campaigns is also having a knock-on effect on the manufacture and supply of packaging goods.
Digital print is playing a key role in this changing landscape. According to the European Federation of Corrugated Board Manufacturers (FEFCO), new printing techniques are transforming corrugated packaging for eye-catching uses beyond its traditional purpose - going from protective transit packaging to multifunctional, colourful shelf-ready options.
Clearly, digital print technology is growing in influence and set to be at the forefront of the future of the corrugated industry.
This prediction is supported by the packaging manufacturers and brands themselves. In 2009, Procter & Gamble's French subsidiary issued a warning to potential partners, suggesting that those who didn't invest in digital technology might find themselves at a disadvantage. The ability to create customised products for retailers and customers, as well as the opportunity to respond to individual market needs and create short runs to reduce stock holdings, were the key reasons put forward for this.
Fujifilm is a world leader in inkjet technology and has long recognised the competitive advantages it presents in the corrugated sector. Inkjet is an ideal complement to analogue processes as it allows converters and packaging manufacturers to widen their business opportunities, and profit from short runs and bespoke applications.
In 2014, Fujifilm demonstrated its commitment to the corrugated industry with the introduction of a dedicated corrugated board solution, incorporating an Inca Onset, the leading industrial flatbed platform, a dedicated media-handling system and Fujifilm's Uvijet digital inks. Uvijet inks offer vibrant colours, excellent cut and crease features, as well as low odour and a range of finishes for all types of corrugated applications. The Onset platform features a unique 'scalable architecture' - an innovative modular design that gives users the power to evolve the productivity/colour specifications of their printers to match their budget and changing business needs. Finally, the introduction of a fully automated handling system, in partnership with Clinchtech, allows corrugated board to be handled simply and effectively, complementing other handling systems already available.
The modularity of Fujifilm's corrugated solution enables converters and packaging producers to select the most appropriate combination of Onset printer and handling system, which, together with the advanced functionality of Fujifilm's Uvijet ink, will allow them to achieve high throughput and produce high-quality POP displays and corrugated packaging.
The corrugated industry will continue to prosper through the integration of conventional and digital equipment. Litho and flexo print will coexist with inkjet technology, providing packaging printers and corrugated converters with versatile high-quality production solutions. However, converters are increasingly asking for technology that can help produce display and transit packaging more efficiently, reduce lead times, and give them the opportunity to easily and cost-effectively create samples and short runs. When volumes give way to the value of highly customised consumer packaging and displays, digital technology wins every time.