Packing a punch

We’ve all heard the argument that package printing is a hedge against obsolescence, that nobody will ever come up with the online virtual Cornflakes box.

Commercial printers, whose sheetfed volumes have been stripped back as the multimedia revolution tightens its grip on direct marketing, and ad buyers nervously embrace the trendy notion that print is all about slashing rainforests, are casting about for new revenue streams – and the grass on the packaging side of the fence looks decidedly greener than their own. One industry source estimates there are around 50 small printers in Australia chancing their arm in packaging.

But can a modestly scaled commercial printer, schooled in the principles of generating litho or digital sheets and finishing them into a saleable product in the bindery out back, make a go of printing for the world of groceries, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals? Conventional wisdom is that unless you are prepared to ramp up scale, best leave it alone.


A cautionary word first

Firstly, know who you’re up against. The Colorpaks and Hannapaks and other majors do packaging with devastating efficiencies, that’s why they’re successful. Perhaps one of the standout reinventions of recent times was Colorpak’s 2012 rebranding of its Melbourne-based Montage Graphics, a subsidiary of Carter Holt Harvey, which Colorpak had acquired with its CHH buyout the previous year. Montage was relaunched as Brandpack, with the tagline “packaging architects”.

Colorpak’s refurbishment of its space at the top of the packaging market was described by its managing director Alex Commins as a transformation from “films, Cromalin proofs, plates that took hours to produce and presses costing millions of dollars standing idle, waiting for a low-cost consumable in order to get running again”, to the adoption of CtP and now flexo digital processes.

[Related: More packaing news]

You say you only want to dabble in a packaging niche? Consider that there’s certainly a lot of hard yakka to switching from brochures, booklets and flyers to packs, boxes and pouches, even on a miniature scale.

With its Rapida 105/106 range, KBA Australasia is a byword among the region’s package printers, offering high levels of sophistication on board.

David Lewis, KBA Australasia director and general manager, sheetfed,  notes there’s a small school of sheetfed alumni expanding into packaging but he sounds a cautionary note. 

“The barriers are substantial: first they have to have a press that can print carton board and in many cases UV drying is required. Also a coating unit is required. The major issue is the finishing equipment required, such as a die cutter and folder gluer. These can be very expensive items. The culture is also very different to commercial companies.”

KBA has been very successful with packaging customers in Australasia such as Orora, Anzpac, Jaypak, Platypus Graphics, MIG Packaging, Visy Glama, Labelcraft Cartons and Forbes Packaging, but notes Lewis: “Pretty much all of these companies are existing packaging companies and that may be saying something.”

Lewis also notes that forays by commercial printers into packaging submarkets are causing some concern among the big league of dedicated packaging printers.

Which seems to suggest there may be some punch in it after all, if handled correctly.

There certainly are niches that could prove attractive. Forget about the Cornflakes box and focus on specialty packaging. It will mean some reskilling and also some additions to the floor. A Speedmaster XL or CD-class press or similar A1/B1 format is a good starting point. Spec a press that can handle the thicker stocks, from 0.8 gauge upwards. Or add some inline automation to refresh rather than retire your A3 press. Add a flatbed die cutter, then a folder and gluer, and you can be printing and finishing for the boutique end of packaging. Try some UV, metalFX, chemical embossing, inline hologram coating or inline foiling.

The shorter-run, high value end is probably where a small commercial printer with a number of units and perhaps coating on their press, die cutting, cold and hot foiling, screen and pattern UV, can be in a position to quote on some of these jobs. Think value-add proposition. Be prepared for the reality that you may lose a fair amount of this type of work to the Avons and Lorimiers in the market, simply because of the complexity of the dies and tooling. As one package supply veteran told ProPrint many years ago, you might not end up as a National Print Awards finalist for that job, but you will be producing something way above the standard carton.

Steve Dunwell, A/NZ managing director of manroland, which keeps packaging majors such as Hannapak in ROLANDs, says it is one thing for commercial sheetfed houses to compete but quite another to have the technical skills to put the whole package together.

“A commercial printer knows about printing, coatings, folding and trimming but when dealing with UV, carton board, die cutting, folding and gluing, there are some real traps that you can fall into if you wish to print on a larger scale. Also it’s a special type of printer capable of printing packaging work. It’s a lot more demanding in technical skills and the press set-up window needs to be more accurate.”

Dunwell says it’s a whole new ballgame for commercial printers accustomed to a certain way of working – and there are no second chances. “Packaging customers are demanding quicker turnaround and hold less stock. Commercial printers are used to this but one small mistake like an incorrect glue flap or coating where it shouldn’t be can cause a whole print run to be rejected because the end-product won’t fit inside it or around it.”


Evolve into packaging

The trick is to envisage the move in to package printing as an evolution, not a revolution. Don’t try to leap in with capital equipment investments

Mega Colour is a compact Sydney commercial print enterprise that recently moved into custom-built premises in Camperdown. The 22-year-old privately owned company offers offset printing from a Screen CtP workflow to its Heidelberg presses, as well as quick turnarounds on short runs of digital colour and mono brochures off its Fuji Xerox, Konica Minolta and Epson devices.

The company recently dipped a toe into the packaging waters, with micro-runs of specialty retail items, printed on a newly acquired CD 102. Says Mega Colour’s sales & marketing manager Gavin Smith: “Packaging for us is really only a few per cent of our work and we don’t compete head to head with the big guys.”

Although it boasts a nicely featured bindery – Muller Martini and Horizon saddle stitching, Horizon perfect binding, PUR binding, perforating, MBO and Stahl folding, wire binding, shrinkwrapping, Polar guillotining, die cutting, gluing, padding and celloglazing – Smith says the company made the decision to reserve this kit for its core commercial work and to outsource its package print for fulfilment.

“We really only do a small amount of packaging printing. Basically having a new Heidelberg CD press has allowed us to print on thicker stocks. We then send this out to outside die cutters and gluers for finishing,” he tells ProPrint.

Manroland’s Dunwell says there are a few packaging options at the entry level in point-of-sale, carton or even labels. “The three major points of survival in a competitive packaging industry are flexibility, high productivity and consistent high quality. Game-changing technology like the award-winning Roland InlineFoiler, has enabled packaging companies around the world to push the boundaries of what is possible in print.”

His shopping list for a successful tilt at package printing? “You require a good quality packaging printing press, capable of the stock thickness you need, and drying systems for the ink and coatings. A typical packaging solution, for example, may include a Roland 700 LV printing press with an InlineCoating unit for added-value printing effects. For larger formats, the Roland 900. And the Roland 700 HiPrint is the benchmark when considering a packaging press.”


At Platypus, versatility’s a plus

Queensland’s iconic Platypus Graphics made the transition to successful package printing from its sheetfed core activity some years ago, and the venture has been so successful it now comprises around half the business.

Owner Tom Lusch says a critical edge for Platypus is its ability to offer a complete suite of packaging solutions, that is, to meet the full range of customers’ requirements, with co-packing from a single certified source, for example, pharmaceutical packs comprising instruction leaflets – all printed by Platypus.

Lusch says: “Our knowledge of FMCG [fast-moving consumer goods] means we can meet our customers’ requirements in terms of quality, price, safety and functionality.”

The family company (Tom’s son Aaron is its gm) has carved out a market space at the premium end of the package print spectrum and has positioned itself as a partner with ad agencies and their clients in honing brand identity in the display, promotional and retail markets.

Specialties include advanced finishing and fitting, with Braille printing, sorting applications and safety label applications of special interest in the pharmaceutical sector.

The company runs a CAD cutting table for defining cuts and creases, curves, crevices and surfaces. All under one roof, customers can have embossing in a single layer or dimensionally, debossing, metallic, coloured or holographic foiling, highly versatile die cutting, laminating, folding and gluing.

Logistics across its packaging and sheetfed printing is a value-add that positions Platypus firmly in the market – and is a strength particularly appreciated in the packaging sector. The company warehouses all stock on site, says Lusch, and for large orders, it can store customers’ stock for delivery as required. A dedicated fleet of vehicles ensures timely delivery and secure tracking. Regional, interstate and international shipping can all be arranged.

And yet the 28-year-old company, located at Stafford in Brisbane’s north, with some 85 staff, has a strong litho sheetfed pedigree, printing large- and small-format publications. Lusch summarises it: “We provide a complete range of printing and packaging services.”

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