Packaging’s influence grows at Graph Expo

Posted: October 15, 2011 by
Linda Casey

Graph Expo, the largest graphic communications exhibition in the Americas, returned to Chicago’s McCormick Place in September. The show hosted more than 475 exhibitors overall and, for the third year in a row, featured the PackPrint Pavilion.

This year, though, packaging’s influence could be found far beyond the 53 exhibitors in the special interest pavilion. Packaging themes abounded, starting with Xpedx’s booth at the front of the south hall. Xpedx designed all its signage to look like prototype packages. The company has recently renewed its interest in this market, with the opening of several package design centers in the U.S.

On the other side of the south hall entrance, Xerox was showing its iGen digital printing press with its automated packaging solution. The system enables in-line converting of paperboard cartons directly from the digital press’ delivery. Shortly before the show, Xerox announced FDA approval for its iGen toner. Paul Butterfield, iGen business manager for Xerox graphic communications/in-plant group, noted that the approval was largely a legal accomplishment because the technology basically had remained the same. What it does for package designers, he says, is help them feel confident about using digitally printed paperboard cartons for food and pharmaceutical products.

Across the aisle, traditional litho press manufacturing behemoth Heidelberg was highlighting the first digital press under its new partnership with Ricoh. The company previously had a noncompete agreement with Kodak after it developed the NexPress. With the expiration of that agreement, Heidelberg is now looking to digital printing technologies as part of its growth strategy.

But that doesn’t mean that it believes digital printing is the best solution for packages. “Customizing every package is exactly what you do not want to do,” says Jorg Dahnhardt, product management director for the company’s very large format group. “When most package printers are talking about shorter runs, they’re talking about 10-, 15-, and 30,000 impressions.”

The Roland booth featured packaging samples that played up coatings used for tactile effects and metallic inks for high-impact results. Metallic packaging was also the highlight at the GMG booth, where the company unveiled its new rapid prototyping machine that uses a metallic substrate as a base.

Other inkjet news comes from Mimaki, which demonstrated its tabletop size UJF-3042 and unveiled the UJF-3042F model. The compact UJF flatbed printers use eco-friendly, low-VOC inks and are compatible with white and clear inks for printing on transparent, heat-sensitive, and non-coated materials up to 2 inches thick. The FX model introduces the ability to use flexible ink for added applications.

Epson brought its WT 7900 printer, with a new EFI raster image processor and a significantly lower suggested retail price of $6,995. The printer can produce physical prototypes on clear film, rigid plastics, and paperboard as thick as 18 points.

Digital printing debuts were not limited to carton converting. INX International Ink Company unveiled its NW140 UV digital narrow web press, with an integrated Spartanics’ X140 laser cutting station. Package designers creating labels with this system can produce applicator-ready, full-color labels.
Rich Egert, general manager of the strategic technology provider business group for OKI Data Americas, showed Graph Expo attendees the short-run, just-in-time possibilities of the company’s proColor printers. This included the OKI Data’s pro510DW digital web press, which he says is ideal for brand owners who are frustrated with minimum orders for labels and their associated economic and environmental costs.

According to Simon Lewis, director of strategic marketing for the Indigo digital press division of Hewlett-Packard’s graphics solutions business, the digital label market has not yet reached saturation, at least not for the 10-year-old HP Indigo press. (HP first announced its intention to acquire Indigo N.V. and its technology at the PRINT 01 tradeshow.) Since the acquisition, HP has greatly expanded the Indigo acceptable substrate range. Labels and packages printed using HP Indigo presses can include flexible packaging, shrink sleeves, paper labels, and cartons. Lewis remarks that HP Indigo presses are helping package printers more effectively use their flexo press time by letting them dedicate longer run jobs to those presses.
Another company that’s looking to further the smart use of flexo printing is Kodak, which showed package printing applications that used their Flexcel NX plates. John Anderson, from Kodak’s graphic communications group, noted that more brand owners and package designers are losing gravure printing options. “In North America, there’s not a lot of gravure left,” he says.

The company’s Flexcel NX plates enable designers and printers to expand the color gamut of flexo-printed package designs. This enables brand owners to chose from more print providers and can result in faster speed to market and more flexibility in run length.

Not all the package design solutions shown were squarely in the manufacturing arena. EskoArtwork showed its Studio Toolkit for Shrink Sleeves, which recently won a Printing Industries of America InterTech Technology Award. The software enables package designers to create 3-D mockups of shrink-sleeve packages, unitize them, and draft the shrink wrap for the units.