The digitalization of labels & packaging production

May 23, 2019 Off By Sebastian Reisig

The way brands design, pack and distribute their products is changing. The packaging is becoming a fundamental part of the products and the brand. It is a real consumer experience. All this is driven by new customer behaviors and requirements, by environmental concerns and by the availability of new technologies.

Evolving consumer demands and latest regulations are driving a higher demand for promotion and versioning, customized and seasonal products, and increased safety and security. Packaging producers are under pressure to deliver packaging with shorter turnaround times, at less cost and with a lower environmental impact.

Packaging producers need to adjust their production capabilities to handle a larger number of smaller orders, making their entire supply chain, from design to the final product, more agile. This transformation requires more digitalization, more automation and more data sharing across the entire production workflow with machines talking to machines for more intelligent and timely decisions, enabling ‘just in time’ packaging production. All of this is what we call the digitalization of packaging production.

For over 125 years, BOBST has been a packaging production innovator delivering pioneering equipment and services to packaging and label manufacturers in the folding carton, corrugated board and flexible materials industries.
With the digital packaging market projected to grow to $22.4 billion by 20221,BOBST continues to innovate to help its converters to better support the brand owners’ requirements. With the introduction of Mouvent – the digital printing competence center of the Bobst Group – and several major advances in DigiFlexo (ECG*), BOBST is demonstrating its commitment to the future of the packaging industry.

*The REVO 7-color Extended Color Gamut (ECG) is a well-established turn-key DigiFlexo process that flows from pre-press through to production output

Need for comprehensive technology solutions to respond to the new consumer needs
The flexibility provided by Mouvent and DigiFlexo (ECG) packaging production allows shorter time to market. BOBST digital solutions enable savings in waste, paper, obsolete inventories, ink and substrates, and less water usage, all of which means better sustainability. The printing quality of digital technologies (Mouvent and DigiFlexo) offers high graphic printing capabilities combined with versioning, mass customization and personalization including fast prototyping. In terms of food safety, the ink is food compliant, with no migration or contamination.

BOBST also designed its digital solutions to be implemented with minimal disruption into the existing converting process. A dedicated digital workflow – digital file creation and digital pre-press – will give customers access to new capabilities to be integrated in the existing floor plan.

Digital adoption – slower than expected but happening

With the exception of label printing, the adoption of digital printing across packaging production has been slower than expected. This relatively slow adoption of digital printing has largely been because of concerns over quality, consistency, productivity and total costs. Maintaining the level of quality is paramount for brand owners and the cost element is a very sensitive one. You can do all you want with packaging production, but you can’t decrease quality and you can’t increase costs. But now, recent innovations are reaching the market and accelerating the digitalization of the packaging industry.

The gap between digital printing and DigiFlexo is closing and the digitalization of packaging is increasing

The DigiFlexo innovation brought to the market by BOBST at drupa 2016 has revolutionized the digitalization of packaging production by providing consistent color matching and control. In particular, consistency is vital. The digitization of the printing workflow has brought process repeatability and consistency, independent from human error. The conventional flexo will still remain very popular for long runs and very steady production requirements with “spot colors”.

The digitization of the flexographic process has made it consistent and therefore easily repeatable, with very quick job changes and start-ups, and minimum waste. In many respects the technology ‘bridges the gap’ between what digital printing can do and what ‘traditional’ flexo technology delivers.

DigiFlexo is a perfect example of what industry 4.0 is about. The DigiFlexo presses operate on the basis of automation and data exchange from machines to machines. The complete automation of the printing process avoids machine stops, and the hands and eyes of the operator are replaced by the accuracy of a digitalized data adjustment system. 

A REVOlutionary approach
One of the main reasons for the success of DigiFlexo is REVO, a highly effective collaboration of leading companies aligned with the Industry 4.0 principles.

BOBST established the REVO partnership, consisting of Apex International, AVT, BOBST, Dupont, ESKO, Flint Group, Saica Flex, Stora Enso, UPM Raflatac, X-Rite Pantone to optimize the digitalization of the complete production process. The aim was to establish new standards in printing and converting of labels and packaging, and BOBST believes REVO has achieved that aim.

One of its biggest successes has been around color consistency. Until recently, color consistency has been one of the biggest concerns of brand owners. Some substrates are more absorbent, which can affect how the color of the substrate itself interacts with the ink and affects the color. What’s more, different printing processes all using different types of inks and colorants.

The REVO 7-color Extended Color Gamut (ECG) is now a well-established turn-key DigiFlexo process that flows from pre-press through to production output.

ECG printing uses three additional ink colors – orange, green and violet (OGV) – on top of the conventional colors of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK), enabling a match with 90%+ of the Pantone book, compared with approximately 60% previously. This means there is no need to keep huge inventories of spot colors, but these can be added if required. And the digitization of color matching has made 100% color conformity with the job master request possible. It ensures color matching of packaging worldwide, irrespective of the geographical location of the printing facilities or the different ability of the press operators

Converters using a REVO package can start with ECG from day one. Because REVO packages contain in-line color measurement and standardization of all print elements including plate, anilox, inks, pre-press, substrates and inspection, consistency can be achieved. 

BOBST innovative technologies are designed to work together
BOBST is the only company that can offer the full range of digital solutions, from native Mouvent digital printers through to the complete DigiFlexo solutions. This means that converters who need to manage a wide range of jobs can choose with confidence to use two different technologies, both able to deliver the same colors. Having both DigiFlexo and digital printing solutions under one roof, sharing the same color space with ECG, means that converters no longer need to worry about color consistency across technologies.

Mouvent – pioneering printing technology enables digital printing on various substrates with UV and Water Based inks

When BOBST launched Mouvent, its digital printing competence center, the idea was to offer additional flexibility to converters with an ingenious digital printing technology. The Mouvent Cluster® is a radical new approach, which uses clusters instead of fixed size print bars by color, arranging them in a modular, scalable matrix. This represents a quantum leap for the industry and is the centerpiece of revolutionary new machines developed by Mouvent for a wide variety of markets such as textile, labels, flexible packaging, folding carton and corrugated board. For labels the solution is up and running and the level of print consistency between digital printers and DigiFlexo presses is meeting the needs even of the most demanding brand owner.

The three label printers announced can all print up to 7 colors on a large variety on substrates – paper, self-adhesive and wet-glue labelstock and flexible materials – at production speeds of up to 100 m/min with a native resolution of 1200×1200 and optical 2000 dpi.

The new printers are the LB701-UV mini label press, the smallest high-productivity label press on the market; the LB702-UV label press, the most productive digital label press in the narrow web segment, allowing fast and easy industrial label production at an incredible TCO; and the LB702-WB label press, a game-changer in digital label production, using only 100% water-based Mouvent™ Inks, making it 100% free of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and 100% food safe. With the LB702-WB, it is now possible to produce long lasting, high-quality, eye catching labels, using an environmentally-friendly printing method, all at an extremely economical cost.

Mouvent printers are also the smallest digital printers in their category, making them very compact, light-weight and easily accessible. The modular, compact system allows easier settings and start-up with less fine adjustments required resulting in a productivity boost. The compact design has many other benefits, including smaller footprint, faster change-over, simple implementation and low cost.

DigiFlexo gets even better with DigiColor

By introducing automation to the flexographic process, digitization has made it consistent and easily repeatable. But now DigiFlexo is ready to go to the next level. In 2019, BOBST is introducing DigiColor – the very first closed-loop color control system in the flexo industry. Color is measured in-line and adjusted on each print unit to match the target color values.

Each of the seven ECG inks is split into a darker and a lighter ink, which are mixed in-line to match the targeted Delta E. DigiColor can make subtle adjustments as needed while printing. For example, if the substrate absorbs more ink than expected, the system will automatically adjust to utilize more dark ink, ensuring perfect tone accuracy. 

Converters and brand-owners will now be able to rely on a new digital technology to protect their brand identities. Converters will benefit from major time savings and quality improvement benefits.

For the first time it is possible to transform the final printed product from DigiFlexo back to a digital file to be able to compare it with the original digital native file. The printer extracts digital values from the printed job, producing a “digital twin” of the original file. This means that for the first time, brand owners can review a digital twin and validate the colors from the original digital file – no more guessing, just facts. This effectively “closes the loop” starting with a digital file, utilizing digital automation to complete the job, and validating the output with another digital file.

This new DigiColor development completes the BOBST digitization roadmap of packaging production in an industry 4.0 landscape. For the very first time, print pressure, register and color control are all managed by digital automation (sensors, servo motors, Artificial Intelligence) and connected devices, making digital and DigiFlexo widely compatible.

Digital printing and DigiFlexo?
With digital printing and DigiFlexo converging towards each other in terms of quality, job change time, set up time, flexibility and so on, some converters may get confused on which platform to choose. This is a fair question but in theory only. Digital printing is no longer a new technology and based on all the data we have, we simply see synergies between digital printing and DigiFlexo. Most of the successful label converters combine these two technologies to optimize their entire production floor effectively answering different brand owner’s needs and ensuring a higher profitability across all jobs.

Looking at the latest supply change transformations, economic and environmental changes and market trends, it is clear that label converters’ customers should never look into choosing one or the other technology. But beyond technology convergence, converters willing to assess the specific economical elements of the two technologies will quickly realize that it is a very difficult exercise to capture a meaningful number for the breakeven data between the analog and digital technologies.  This does not mean we should not provide data.

In the next white paper to come, we will deep dive into all the elements to check and consider while selecting a given printing technology. We can already share that we have consolidated a tremendous amount of data, which provides a reference and guidance on the type of jobs to be considered for a given technology. At the same time, we can claim with confidence that working with our clients, we have noticed major differences from country to country and from client to client. While elements such as substrate, type of colors, job lengths and job repetition are tangible elements to take into consideration when choosing a given press, we realize that clients will print a job on a digital press simply because the conventional one that should do it is simply not available and vice versa.

When comparing apples to apples, a breakeven number could be as low as 500 linear meters in a case where a special color or substrate makes it impossible on a digital press, or as high as 5000 linear meters in a case where the job has to be printed in a short amount of time where flexo printing will take too long due to plates making and change overs. 

The most desirable solution is to make a tailor-made calculation taking into account the specifics of each converter’s operation including the non-tangible elements. The net/net you will discover in the next white paper is that a printing operation combining a pool of technologies allows more flexibility of operation and an increased global profitability on a yearly operation. 

A broad portfolio approach
Ultimately, there will never be only one solution to cover all the current and future needs of the packaging industry. The breakeven data on a given job is just one element to assess a given technology. At BOBST, we know that it takes more than a press (digital or flexo) to produce labels. The entire workflow – from the customer’s order to invoicing, the level of automation, the digitalization of the processes and the connectivity levels of the machines, incl. the services – are all part of the equation. We can claim with confidence that one technology can’t do it all. BOBST therefore offers a broad portfolio of solutions ranging from conventional flexo, gravure, full converting solutions to ECG DigiFlexo and digital printing to ensure the entire production floor is optimized. This is not about digital or conventional, this is about delivering the right end-to-end solution to best answer converters’ evolving pain points.

BOBST is committed to its digital strategy in which analogue as well as digital solutions will coexist. We are the only company that can offer the full range of solutions including perfect color management across technologies through the ECG technology, giving converters and brand owners a genuine choice of solutions to fulfil their specific requirements.