A close look at the digital label printing market by three converters and an industry supplier was one of the highlights of the Monday session this week at the TLMI Converter Meeting in Naples, FL, USA.
Dan Briley, North American category manager for HP Indigo started the presentation, which was produced by TLMI’s Industry Trends Committee, with an overview of the digital label market. “There is increasing pressure from brand owners for shorter runs, faster response, lower inventory, reduction of waste from obsolescence, reduction of risk and exposure, and rapid response to market and competitive pressures,” he said. On the product side, there are “more versions, SKU proliferation, increased usage of variable bar codes, serialization, and overt and covert security items. Brand owners want more promotions, event marketing, high quality graphics, and more detailed supply chain management."
This, he said, is the challenge that is being met by digital printing in its various formats. While HP Indigo is the world leader in digital label printing systems, Briley acknowledged the viability of competitive systems, particularly noting a growing interest in high speed UV inkjet printing. Customers are moving to digital printing, he added, because it offers consistency, quality, cost advantages, ease of use, and a seamless transition away from conventional print.
Quoting Yogi Berra, the famous New York Yankee baseball player, Briley said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
Following his presentation, three converters with experience in digital printing – mostly with Indigo machines – answered questions from moderator John Bennett of FLEXcon and from the audience. Joel Carmany of Consolidated label noted that his company’s first venture into digital printing was with a Degrava system, a small four-color press. “Once we learned what we could and could not run, we bought the Indigo.” Carmany added that the sales force initially asked a lot of questions about how and when to sell digital labels. “The sizzle is in the quality of the digital press, not necessarily the price. We had jobs that were difficult to produce with flexo, and now we can move faster on those with digital.”
Alex Elezaj of Whitlam Label said that owning a digital press “has helped us keep a lot of customers. It gives us flexibility with our sales force.” Only about 10 percent of Whitlam’s original customer base has shifted from conventional printing to digital, he noted; the rest of the digital customers are new. “It’s a great way for us to give added value.”
Steve Smith of Lightning Labels presented a different perspective, because the company has only HP Indigo machines (no conventional presses) and no sales force; orders come in online. “Our customers are small and medium sized businesses, and we are deaing with the person who runs the company. It can be both difficult and easy.” In response to a question about the issue of slower speeds on digital presses, Smith said: “I don’t aree that speed is an issue in our marketplace. If you have a run of 300 feet and the press operates at 50 feet a minute, your job is done in six minutes. How many flexo guys can say that?”