Interpack 2002: A Look at the Packaging Industry's Adaptability

Folded Boxes, Paper Bags, and More:
The Packaging-Making Process Goes Digital

"We are now making the transition from industrial production to digital production," asserted the manager of one of Germany's largest folded box manufacturers a few months ago. Given that four-fifths of the print copy produced by this company is computer-to-plate, and the trend continues to rise, the word 'transition" is something of an understatement.

The digital revolution has embraced traditional manufacturers of carton, corrugated, and paper-based packaging worldwide. The distinguishing features of this segment of packaging technology include: enhanced speed, accuracy, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness, while the necessary preconditions are provided by the PC.

Since computers are able to generate the samples more quickly, and, above all, more cheaply, the construction of samples in the folded board sector looks to become a thing of the past, except in a few isolated cases. The software is complemented by digital order processing and more in-depth B2B communications between client and supplier. Here, too, the Internet has had a dramatic impact on familiar production processes.

Market changes also have a part to play. Above all, the fast pace of development poses a constant challenge to the packaging industry.

The upcoming Interpack event again be highlighting the adaptability of the packaging industry. Paper and carton-based packaging is always one of the most popular sectors at the trade show—slated for April 24–30, D├╝sseldorf, Germany. This year is likely to be no exception, because in many cases carton packaging still adds genuine luster to store shelves.

Brand producers appreciate the specific benefits of paper-based packaging, but are forever seeking fresh innovations to keep pace with market demands. Consumers around the globe are becoming more selective, which in turn leads to shorter product life cycles. As a result, packaging is produced in much smaller print runs. New technology in the field of offset and flexographic printing provides the necessary requirements.

"Digital workflow" was a hot topic at recent print fairs, and this trend has now spread to the paper and board-processing packaging plants. It is particularly distinguished by its open interfaces, both in the prepress sector and in subsequent processing stages.

Modular paper-processing components are designed to ensure professional production and organization processes. The packaging suppliers are now able to pass on to their clients the progress achieved in upstream industries.

Digital No Longer on Trial
Digital package printing has completed the trial phase successfully and now is ready for mass production, as visitors to the forthcoming Interpack will see. Admittedly, the term 'mass' is relative. Digital printing creates the option of applying differentiated information to each individual package in a print run. For example, not only could folded boxes or bags be varied from country to country, but even from item to item, since they can be printed from a digital data carrier with the option of individual variation.

Experts in the packaging industry see this as a key to improving value added as well as an opportunity for brand producers to succeed in a heavily fragmented market.

The key benefits for filling plants are faster product launches and micro-segmentation of the markets. This allows fundamentally identical packaging concepts to be used for different brands, because the visual appearance of packaging can be altered cheaply and easily without a great deal of effort.

The benefits not only apply to fragmented markets but also to logistical processes, which have growing significance in terms of distribution and cost control. Current thinking still tends to be governed by analog thinking. However, the more widespread use of digital options will transform packaging technology over the next few years, even more radically than the experts have predicted.

As the number of packaging variants increases, so too does the risk of product piracy, which has been a growing problem for the international brand product industry for a number of years. This problem is not confined to high-end products or prestigious brand names; even cosmetic and pharmaceutical products offer plenty of scope for making money illegally.

In recent years, this has prompted the carton and paper packaging industry to research ways of protecting consumers from brand piracy more effectively, leading to the development of authentication methods that are integrated into the packaging, either invisibly or as a part of the design. For example, complex design components may be applied in the form of holograms, or additional information channels may be created via transponders, enabling stores to sell protected original goods which, of course, benefits the luxury end of the market as well.

There is continuing demand for new design features to differentiate between brands on the shelf. By combining several design elements, an item's visual impact can be improved. For example, one manufacturer has recently launched a range of folded boxes based on natural carton with an iriodine finish and changeable interferential pigments, as well as foil-stamped printing. Blind embossing and protective spray finishes provide the finishing touches to these types of luxury wrappings.

One new application for carton—which was once the sole province of plastics because they offered the necessary barrier layers—does not involve such a high level of visual input: modified atmosphere packaging (MAP).

These types of packaging can extend the shelf life of foodstuffs substantially. For example, this technique gives fresh fish a storage life of up to three weeks. In future, plastic packaging may be replaced by moulded carton trays that are given a specific barrier coating depending on their intended application. The barrier properties of the carton packaging are said to be comparable with those of plastic packaging. What is special about this form of packaging is it's suitable for printing. With up to four colours, a broad range of design options are supported, and the previous practice of labelling the plastic variants becomes superfluous.

Another advantage of carton trays is the cost savings, as compared to their plastic competitors. The coating provides the carton packaging with the necessary barrier against humidity and grease.

This also provides a solution to the problem of packaging dry goods in the animal feeds market. Manufacturers have devised multi-layered paper bags that are impervious to grease even under tropical climatic conditions, with a relative humidity of 65 percent and a temperature of 70 degrees C.

The multi-layered bags have a layer of grease-proof paper applied to the inside, which also provides the necessary mechanical strength for the bag construction. An optional plastic layer provides an additional barrier against particularly greasy products, such as croquettes, where necessary. Another layer of kraft paper increases the physical strength of the bag. Finally, a layer of superbly printable paper on the outside ensures the products attract the necessary degree of attention.

In this way, the manufacturers hope to accommodate consumers' interest in quality feeds for their pets; their desire for a bag that makes an outwardly clean and attractive impression when used in the home; a product that's easy to handle; and an environmentally friendly design.

Recent progress in bag and sack technology is also aided by new fibers in paper production. New, longer fibers produce much stronger sack paper. In this way, manufacturers have managed to reduce the empty sack weight by 15 to 20 percent with a comparable load capacity, without losing filling speed. This cost saving has contributed to the remarkable renaissance of the paper bag in recent years.

Another decisive factor was the improved design of the base section, which now supports square shapes in keeping with logistical requirements for space-saving usage.

Admittedly, the packaging industry does not have a monopoly on devising solutions to meet consumer interests. In the United Kingdom, a holder for hot drinks netted its inventor the title of "Designer of the year 2001." Her design was prompted by a painful experience; she was endeavoring to balance a to-go (takeaway) cup of hot coffee with her hands full and promptly scalded herself. Accidents will happen, some might say, but it got the designer thinking. The outcome was a paper cup holder that allows the drink to be held in three different ways: either with a handle at the side or with a holder above the handle seal. For the third variant, the cover is squashed together slightly so it holds the beaker in a recess, allowing it to be securely transported in a paper bag. A hotel chain has already acquired the patent right, and the design is sure to attract interest from countless coffee shops worldwide.

More information about the event is available at Interpack 2002.

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