By Melissa Donovan
Traditional analog printing of corrugated board is typically done via flexography. In digital print, two methods are emerging. For longer runs, sheets are pre-printed with digital technology and then attached to corrugated material using a separate device. The second practice—and the focus of this article—is directly printing to corrugated boards.
The use of corrugated substrates in digital print continues to grow as converters, corrugators, and their customers demand smaller runs and personalization. Popular corrugated applications include packaging and point of purchase (POP) or point of sale (POS) displays. Digital print devices are equipped with features to efficiently create high-quality corrugated products in manufacturing environments serving the industrial space.
According to I.T. Strategies, Inc.’s report What is the Future of Industrial Digital Printing published May 2015, industrial digital print can be defined as manufactured products which are printed. “Industrial more usually means a specific set of markets and applications for printing and patterning of manufactured products,” the report states.
Most vendors are inclined to agree with the analyst firm’s definition. For example, Inca Digital classifies industrial as when print is part of the process of manufacturing. The company has split industrial printing into four broad categories—décor, packaging, textiles, and industrial. Décor includes wood, laminate, décor paper, and wallpaper; packaging consists of corrugated and cartons; textiles includes home and apparel; and industrial is a catch all with membrane switches and glass.
“This is definitely an issue of semantics. We use the term industrial to define markets for inkjet that exist outside the mainstream graphics and print segments—ceramics, glass, and vinyl floor tile. I’ve also seen the term industrial used to define market segments that could be characterized as very high speed or high volume. I think this broader use of the term would be where the corrugated market would be a fit,” argues Larry D’Amico, large format sales director, North America, Durst Image Technology US LLC.
Eladio Lerga, project engineer, Barberán S.A., believes that industrial printing is printing dedicated to the final product, not just for marketing purposes. “In the case of corrugated, the carton box is a part of the product, not just an advertisement, but also its description and technical specifications.”
Printers considered industrial are those, “that can be used in a manufacturing environment, which can be operated by multiple shifts per day with very little downtime and maintenance required,” explains Josh McNaughton, product specialist, Xanté Corporation.
Corrugated products produced on an industrial scale include packaging and POP/POS displays. Both applications benefit from digital’s ability to provide high-quality, cost-effective short runs in an abbreviated timeframe.
“POP/POS displays are often printed using corrugated as a medium. Currently, POP/POS printers are looking to diversify, with many looking to packaging as the next area. As a stepping stone into this application, shelf-ready packaging, transit packaging, and prototype packaging can all be printed using digital,” explains a representative from Inca.
Lerga separates corrugated into two categories. Big corrugated boxes—like TV, pallet skirts, and POP displays are on the larger side physically and in volume; whereas corrugated boxes for wine, fruit, shoes, and other industrial products are printed in small runs of less than 10,000 boxes.
All of these applications benefit from digital, which according to D’Amico, is best positioned for high-quality, four-color, short-run, quick turnaround applications in the corrugated space.
“Digital allows manufacturers to run more efficiently, maximizing their labor and warehouse space,” adds McNaughton.
Becky McConnell, product marketing manager, Fujifilm North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division, agrees. “With shorter runs and localized, versioned packaging, inkjet opens the door to a more profitable means to complete these jobs.”
“The main selling point for digital printing is short runs and customization—digital is seen as a complementary technology alongside screen, flexography, and offset,” says a representative from Inca.
Disadvantages of Digital
Digital’s sweet spot is short runs. Current technology can’t compete with the traditional means of printing to corrugated board—primarily flexographic presses—when it comes to longer runs.
“Digital has a tough time being cost competitive for lower quality, single-color, long-run applications,” shares D’Amico.
According to McNaughton, speed is a disadvantage of digital. “Direct print inkjet printers are slower than traditional flexographic presses once the flexographic press is in production with the inks and plates loaded.”
“For long-run corrugated production, traditional printing is still advantageous when it comes to cost. Until the ink prices can be more competitive, we will not be able to take the long-run work from these areas,” advises a representative from Inca.
Other issues cited in the I.T. Strategies 2015 report include the suitability of UV inkjet inks for different corrugated surfaces, UV ink recycling, printhead strikes from the uneven corrugated substrates, and drying of aqueous inkjet inks at conversion process speeds in higher coverages.
The number of users working with digital technology printing to corrugated board in industrial settings continues to grow. All hope to benefit from digital’s support of smaller print runs and personalization, just as the very first adopters of the technology did.
Some of the initial users of digital print in this space, based on McNaughton’s experience, were convertors specializing in short-run containers. “They required full-color graphics and these were not cost effective using flexographic or lithographic lamination due to the low volume.”
McConnell believes that European corrugators were some of the first, adapting inkjet in their manufacturing plants. “A lot of that started with the drive for customized jobs, as well as customers demanding faster turnaround times. Examples of this would be POP corrugated pallets and shelf displays that a corrugator manufactures for a particular customer.”
I.T. Strategies found in its What is the Future of Industrial Digital Printing study that digital is not yet having an impact on mainstream packaging convertors. Most of these devices are found in non-corrugated digital print provider channels or independent sheet plants.
Printing to Corrugated
Digital printers designed for direct printing to corrugated products include features that specifically address the nuances of this specialized substrate. Quick drying ink, material handling capabilities, and vacuum hold down techniques are found in most devices. Here, we share some of the products currently used in industrial settings.
Barberán’s Jetmaster line is available in 1,260, 1,680, and 1,890 millimeter (mm) widths. The portfolio features CMYK standard with options for light cyan and light magenta or orange and violet. UV-curable inks are suitable for all types of paper and flutes with a production capacity of ten to 55 meters per minute.
The Bobst Digital Printing Press for Corrugated uses Kodak Stream Inkjet Technology and aqueous-based food compliant inks. The press prints at speeds of up to 200 meters per minute at a resolution of 600×900 dpi, aided by a vacuum belt sheet transport system. It incorporates the Bobst iQ400 quality control system and an ejection process for any non-conforming products. A pre-coating unit allows for printing onto a range of corrugated substrates.
Durst’s products designed for the corrugated packaging market range from 40 boards an hour to over 5,000 boards an hour with its new single pass technology, the Rho 130 SPC. The Rho 130 SPC can be configured with up to six colors and features a maximum printing width of 1,300 mm. Up to 12 mm thick corrugated cardboard and paper media can be printed with a maximum resolution of up to 800 dpi at a print speed of up to 9,350 square meters per hour.
The EFI Nozomi C18000 features single-pass LED digital inkjet technology, which offers low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and less waste and consumables. It prints at up to 77,758 square feet per hour (sf/h), or up to 6,600 sheets per hour at two-up printing. Maximum board size is 71×118 inches. The printer handles a number of corrugated flutes—A, B, C, D, E, F G, N, O, AB, AC, BC, EB, EF, and triple wall. It is equipped with automated material stacking to a pallet or bundle.
Engico S.r.l. offers the Aqua 250 water-based inkjet press for direct printing on corrugated boards and other paper-based materials. The ink set is VOC free and odorless. Modular, the printer can be updated in the future with additional upgrades. A vacuum belt system flattens cardboard and keeps it stable under the printheads.
Fujifilm offers the Inca Onset X series for high-production environments. To better suit printing to corrugated boards, the device is equipped with an adjustable vacuum table skin and an adhesive substrate cleaner. The printer is also available with an ink system developed specifically for corrugated boards.
HP, Inc.’s HP Scitex 17000 Corrugated Press is ideal for short- and medium-run production. The eight-channel, four-color device prints at speeds up to 10,764 sf/h. It is equipped with HP Scitex Corrugated Grip to handle board warp up to 40 mm. A stack-to-stack loader and automated media handler helps in controlling corrugated sheets.
The Inca Onset series is available in a range of handling systems designed to boost productivity when compared with manual handling. A variety of sheet sizes can be prepositioned during the print process, ready for the handling system to remove the printed sheets swiftly and load the rest.
Sun Automation Group offers the CorrStream series of production digital printers for corrugated board. The Series 66, 40, and 20 printers run at speeds of up to 8,000 sheets per hour offering personalization and mass customization. All three sizes feature High Quality Post Print print quality.
The Xanté Excelagraphix 4800 is a single-pass, full-color CMYK inkjet printer capable of printing up to 7,800 sf/h of corrugated board. It is equipped with iQueue software, which handles variable data, barcoding capabilities, and color management. The printer runs with aqueous dye inks, which provide instant dry time and no VOCs or fumes for those print providers using the device.
An Influential Position
Corrugated board printing is a cornerstone in the industrial market. It makes sense that digital effects it in someway. While the technology is in its infant stages, digital is positioned to influence the future of packaging and POP/POS displays as more convertors and corrugators integrate these devices into their workflows.
Apr2017, Industrial Print Magazine