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Printed packaging: a market to watch

Sep 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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Packaing includes most print processes, with flexo, gravure, litho, screen and digital all playing a role. Substrates include plastics, cartonboard, corrugated, foil and paper, which are printed and finished to produce cartons, cases, flexible bags, and labels and sleeves. If anything, we are seeing more printed packaging, not less, especially as the global brands fan out across the developing world. Some argue that the packaging has become the most important type of advertisment for a brand—and it is being achieved through print.

Packaging print and converting machinery specialist Comexi (Comexi, Spain) says packaging holds about one third of the world’s annual print market volume by value, and this $250 million market is growing—by comparison, the segment held by book printing is just $10 million.

“Package Printing and Converting: An Industry Assessment”, a recent study published by Print Industries Market Information & Research Organization (PRIMIR), looks at the converting and package printing industry in the United States and its four principal components: corrugated packaging, folding carton, flexible packaging and tag/label production. The findings show that in 2004, printed packaging and converting in North America was a $68 billion industry and is expected to grow to $83 billion by 2009. Further, growth rates in each of these sectors will match or exceed those of the commercial printing industry, as well as the overall national economy.

Sheetfed offset for carton converters
With 80 percent of cartons printed offset, Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA) not only is equipping its sheetfed offset presses with fast and reliable quick change components for carton production, but also is building on the brands it acquired through its purchase of Jagenberg die cutters and folder/gluers two years ago.

Heidelberg Worldwide CEO Bernhard Schreier says, “With our restructuring in place, adding corporate value to the Heidelberg Group is one of our primary goals. Our efforts are focused on our core area of operations, sheetfed offset, and on packaging and label printing, an area that is experiencing strong growth.”

Heidelberg offers a broad portfolio of products and solutions for packaging and label printing. “Our presses have been developed specifically for this purpose and will meet customers’ varying needs,” says Schreier.

Heidelberg’s Speedmaster XL 105 has generated plenty of interest with many carton converters visiting the test site in Germany over the last year. Designed for cost effectiveness as well as high quality, the press shows huge increases in productivity. “The startup of series production has begun, and the presses are now being delivered and installed around the globe,” says Schreier.

Maintaining margins
“Packaging is enormously important to us,” says Gary Doman, director of sheetfed sales at MAN Roland (Westmont, IL). He says that whereas 15 years ago, the carton industry was fairly simple, it has gotten far more complex with various types of value-added finishing. “MAN Roland has thrown a huge investment at inline processing and at the packaging market,” he notes. “A recent example is our inline Prindor foiling system.”

A driving force for press suppliers is to help keep production costs down in a world largely controlled by retailers and their suppliers, the brand owners. Margin is everything. “The carton people can’t increase their prices so they have to make cost savings,” Doman says. “That is why we are driven by developments aimed at controlling costs.” The company’s EagleEye sheet monitoring system is an example. Every sheet is monitored for flaws based on information from a recognized pass sheet. With a high-speed camera and computer analysis, it checks for deviations and tabs the faulty sheet.

Something for everyone
Converting equipment companies are growing to supply several segments of the market. It is all a question of global scale and having the ability to provide a gamut of equipment to the packaging producer. An example is Swiss-based Bobst Group. Well-known for its carton and corrugated printing and finishing equipment, Bobst first made a move into flexible packaging with the gravure, flexo, coating and laminating, and slitting equipment provided by its acquisition of Schiavi. It then took the greater leap in absorbing Valmet Converting last year. With the latter came the world brands of Titan and Atlas slitters and rewinders, the sheeter equipment now renamed Apollo, the gravure prowess of Rotamec and General, a leader in metallisers and barrier coating equipment.

“The beauty of Bobst is that now we can serve all the needs of the large converters,” says Claude Currat, head of the company’s flexible materials business area. An advantage to the company is the synergy between different businesses from both technical and marketing standpoints. “In flexo, for example, the inking process is the same for films, cartons and corrugated,” he says. “On the marketing side, in the tobacco industry for example, we provide equipment for producing cartons, outer cases and films.”

Focus on flexible
Comexi also is seeking to expand across the packaging converting field, but with an emphasis on the flexible front. It now claims to sell more flexo presses than any other single company worldwide (46 in 2004), and also has seen success with coating and laminating equipment. Not widely known, however, is the fact that it has the majority shareholding in slitter/rewinder producer Proslit, environmental equipment supplier Enviroxi and an alliance/minority holding in sheeter, label cutting and coating equipment builder Kmec. According to executive vice president Manel P. Xifra, “We realized that there is continuing market globalization and market concentration. Last year, 60 percent of converting (flexible) was in the hands of just 10 companies. The only way to survive was to become a leading group or join another group.” Comexi opted for the former.

At CMM 2005, Comexi announced its strategic alliance with Italian-based Acom (Advanced Converting Machinery), an agreement that adds Acom’s RG Platinum range of gravure presses to its portfolio. “We aim to be in the top three in the world in every specialization we have,” says Josep M. Soler, vice president of sales.

Recent years also have seen gravure specialist Cerutti take an interest in the packaging and converting front, where its gravure presses have long held an important slice of sales and, more recently, its flexo presses produced by the acquired Flexotecnica business.

Try to keep up
Patterns of converting production also have changed over the last few years as European converters scramble to gain the footholds necessary in the emerging markets. Most have either taken over or built green field sites in Russia and Poland. Egged on by the large brand owners seeking to source world supplies from the same converters, it is a case of “follow us or lose us.”

Certainly the large packaging converters get bigger every year—swallowing up the midsize operations struggling to survive between the global needs of the larger customers and the smaller niche markets they might have ignored. Alongside them, the niche converters continue to specialize successfully. Packaging is a market printing and converting equipment manufacturers ignore at their peril.

Ipex takes notice
Packaging print is not so much a sleeping giant in the global print industry—more an unrecognized one. The awakening of suppliers to the importance converting now holds is reflected in the increase in space devoted to it (over 65,616 sq. ft.) at Ipex 2006, taking place April 4-11, 2006, at Birmingham, UK’s NEC.

IIR Exhibitions, the show’s organizer, expects 74,000 visitors and 1,200 exhibitors.