ERA discussed status of industrial use of digital printing  

Representatives from the gravure printing and supply industry show strong interest in new perspectives of printing.

“What we have heard shows that the current status of digital printing is just the beginning, but it gives an idea about the future of our industry,” said Robert Bierfreund, Managing Director of decorative printer Interprint and ERA Board Member, concluding ERA’s first Digital Forum which took place in Munich, Germany on 19-20 June. Many representatives from the gravure printing and supply industry from all over Europe showed strong interest in the current status of digital printing and its perspective in the printing markets. ERA Secretary General James Siever: “The participants experienced interesting and honest presentations from industry experts showing all the different aspects of the industrial use of digital printing technology.”

Oliver Baar of KBA Digital & Web Solutions started the conference by stating that digital printing is so far evolutionary rather that disruptive. He explained the status with the example of decorative printing: digital inkjet allows a faster time to market, quicker throughput and small individual jobs, however the process of printing is not faster and not cheaper than conventional processes. Also the production organisation has to be adapted to far more jobs to print. And a different attitude of selling digital printed products is required as there is no need to sell large volumes.

The challenge of industrial digital printing for an ink manufacturer was shown by Dr Eberhard Waldhör of the Swiss company Arcolor, which produces aqueous printing inks for decorative and packaging applications using both conventional and digital printing. The commercial digital inkjet print process is still being developed, and recirculating piezo-electric print heads are the latest development. Arcolor has extensive test facilities, which include the same print heads as their customers use. Close cooperation and open communication between all partners of process and equipment are the keys to continuing successful development.

Christoph Kellermeier, consultant for the coatings and printing industry, spoke on primers for digital printing. Industrial inkjet printing is not a “plug and play” substitution for conventional printing: the differences in ink properties, from rheology through reception to drying, can be compensated for by a primer or pre-treatment of the substrate. In the future, some of the primer functionality may be moved into either the ink ingredients or the coating of the paper, depending on the volume requirements for the product.

Juergen Freier of HP discussed “Considerations when going digital”. He pointed out the danger of commoditization of print products, which leads to a “race to the bottom” in prices, bringing bankruptcies and consolidation. The number of magazine pages printed has stayed relatively stable, but the number of magazine titles has trebled, so low-volume processes are at an advantage. And if digital print moves from 3% to 15% market share as expected, this is in fact a 500% growth. The goal is to find products that will appeal to the emotions, whether in restaurants, shops, hotels or the home. His key message: “When emotions get involved, people don’t care about pricing, and margins explode”.

Process Standard Digital (PSD) was presented by Dr Andreas Kraushaar of the German printing research institute Fogra. Following on from the successful PSR (Process Standard Rotogravure) and PSO (Process Standard Offset), the PSD addresses output process control, colour fidelity and workflow issues. Fogra also offers an implementation checkup and certification within the “FograCert ecosystem”. New features include alternative “media-relative” and “side-by-side” colour assessment, and a choice of different levels of tolerance (A, B, C) instead of a simple yes/no judgment.

The afternoon session included two user reports. Malte Tadday of the decorative printer Interprint spoke on their first experiences with their new KBA Rotajet. It is important for stability to keep the machine running all the time, and not switch it off at the weekend. Colour management is needed if existing digital files are re-purposed from gravure to digital printing, for example because of the different level of first printing tone.

Dāvids Grāveris of Immer Digital in Ventsplis, Latvia reported on industrial digital printing for flexible packaging using their HP Indigo 20000 printer. This is a toner-based “ElectroInk” printer, not inkjet, and Immer uses it to print on their own BOPP films as well as on paper. Although it is slower and more expensive than flexo printing, they are able to print different types of products, and they offer a special service for start-up companies in conjunction with the Immer Digital Design service, thereby gaining customer loyalty. They have also taken advantage of the variable data capability to print 20 000 unique milkshake cartons, and 100 variations of a snack pack for trial in an exhibition.

That digital printing needs a digital business environment was the lesson to learn from Dr Michael Fries, CEO of Onlineprinters, which can print 1500 products in 10 million versions, and prints in Germany while selling into 30 countries. The business model needs to address the “transaction cost” rather than the “production cost”. Printing is just one part of the value creation. As an example, in the early days of photobooks, while the print run was typically 1-3 copies of a given content, each book was the same size, so all the post-processing and dispatch was identical. As sales are primarily through the internet, his company focuses on marketing rather than sales.

Finally, the megatrends of the 21st century were discussed by Prof Tim Bruysten of Dusseldorf University of Applied Sciences. Digitisation is accelerating: computers have already beaten human players at both chess and the Chinese board game “go”, and SD card capacity increased a thousand-fold in ten years (128 MB to 128 GB). The amount of data being produced per year is so great that there is simply not enough paper or storage space to hold it in printed form. Prof Bruysten proposes that the opposite of play is lethargy, and society should be motivated by “gamifying” their work activities, using focus, team spirit, rules and identification to achieve progress.

The European Rotogravure Association (ERA) is the leading international organization of the gravure industry since its founding in 1956. Members are companies from Europe and abroad covering the sectors of publication, packaging and decorative rotogravure printing as well as associated suppliers (e.g. paper and ink producers, producers of printing machines and leading cylinder producers). President is Manfred Janoschka. Secretary General is James Siever.

Photo: The conference was moderated by ERA Secretary General James Siever, seen here (left to right) with Juergen Freier of HP and Dr Andreas Kraushaar of Fogra

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