Competing in a Crowded Field


Have you noticed how crowded the field of package printing has become lately? Just how crowded?

Well, here are some observations to give you food for thought, but I’d love to hear your opinions. So drop me a line or two expressing your reactions.

Let’s start with IPEX, held in Birmingham, England, April 4–6 at the NEC Fairgrounds. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure this was a must-attend show for me this time around. I went to the last edition of the show in 2002, and although 9/11 may have impacted attendance then, I wasn’t very impressed with the attention given to the converting side of the show for interested commercial printers. A passing trend? I wondered.

It appears IPEX took commercial printers that dabble in package printing and converting seriously this time—certainly the exhibitors did. Here’s what Katherine O’Brien, editor of PFFC’s sister publication American Printer, had to say about the show.

Much like PRINT 05, the latest iteration of IPEX was a traditional heavy iron show that is changing with the times. Offset presses remained very much on the scene, but digital presses were equally evident, as was wide-format inkjet equipment, which seemingly sprouted from all corners of the exhibit hall. Software and workflow solutions also predominated.

Agfa, Artwork Systems, Drent Goebel, Esko, KBA, and Kodak, familiar names to both commercial printers and packagers, all had new developments on display. Several commercial printing stalwarts also continued to expand their packaging presence. Heidelberg’s booth, for example, bristled with die-cutters and folder/gluers as the company gears up for the 2008 launch of the larger format presses that will join its XL 105. Screen introduced its first flexo platesetter. Flint Ink, once known primarily for offset inks, launched new flexo inks and plates. Jetrion, founded in 2003 as a Flint subsidiary, highlighted a narrow web rewinder with an integrated UV inkjet printing system. … CGS, probably best known for its ORIS inkjet proofing products for commercial printers, debuted proofing and color management tools for flexo and gravure users.

Is this an indication of a converging printing universe or merely a practical response to ever-shrinking margins in the commercial printing marketplace?

Commercial printers have broken the mold to which they traditionally have adhered in search of new revenue to keep their presses moving, or in some cases, as a means of survival. “Heavy iron” equipment manufacturers, as Katherine describes them, are facilitating this growth, judging from their expanding and flexible press offerings.

The package printing and converting industry here in the US has been described by many as a healthy industry—one that continues to grow with the economy. However, it is also one associated with a continuing merger and acquisition trend, the result of which enables expanding converting companies to realize savings in purchasing costly materials. It also makes it tougher for smaller converters to compete with their larger counterparts. It remains to be seen how a commercial printer can be competitive in its pricing for the printed/converted materials it produces only to fill time on its presses.

When you add the difficulties imposed by “the shift of product manufacturing from the US to China, India, and other countries,” as NPES VP William K. “Kip” Smythe describes in his report in the April edition of NPES News, I wonder just how much room there is in our industry for everyone to be profitable doing what converters do.

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To read more editorials by Yolanda Simonsis, visit our Editorial Archives.

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