“There’s pressure in the folding carton converter world, just as in the label converting world to print short runs,” says Bon Leahey, associate director for InfoTrends, a market research and strategic consulting firm for the digital printing and related markets. “Brand owners want to produce short runs of products, for marketing and efficiency reasons, and that need ultimately makes them order folding cartons more frequently – and in smaller amounts. And the same as is true for labels.”
Leahey notes that while a label printer may have the capability, there are a couple of natural constraints to consider. He says, “Folding carton images vary in size, just like labels do, but even a small folding carton job can require a fairly big image. When a small folding carton is in its initial, flat form, it can take up a fair amount of space, often in an irregular shape. The two together tend to require converters to use bigger presses, such a sheet fed Heidelberg 105, for example. So narrow web presses work well with only some folding carton work.
Packaging for many health and beauty products can work well on a narrow web press, Leahey says, but something like a big cereal box normally won’t work. However, label converters do have on-hand printing equipment and finishing equipment that is suitable for many folding cartons applications. “You don’t have to have a sheet fed press,” Leahey states. “The media that most folding carton converters buy comes in roll form and the converters sheet it on-site before loading into a Heidelberg or some other sheetfed press. Yet, many would like to just print roll-to-sheet if they could, to save a step and cut a bit of waste."
On the digital side, Leahey explains, there will be at least a few significant color digital presses that will be commercially available in 2014 that are specifically designed for folding cartons. “These will print B2 sized sheets (707 x 500 mm) or even B1 sized (1000 x 707 mm), so imposition will be easier and much improved from what can now be done on most narrow web digital presses (most digital units are about 330 mm in web width). “The HP Indigo 30000 will likely be the most significant digital folding carton press addition to the market,” adds Leahey, attributing that to the company’s strong role in label converting and to the energy and investment HP Indigo has put into development. The first beta sites for the HP Indigo 30000 are scheduled to go live early this year.
“All the new generation digital folding carton printers are sheetfed, but we should note there is one rollfed digital system already operating that is capable of printing B2-sized folding carton images. This is the Xeikon 3500 (2011), a 500 mm (20”) digital web press that is the top of Xeikon’s 3000 series label press line. Xeikon introduced a suite of folding carton finishing equipment for use with the press in 2012," Leahey says. "While the Xeikon 3500 is mainly used for label converting, at least a few installations in North America, Latin America and Europe are mainly printing folding cartons, and Xeikon is actively marketing this digital press for the folding carton market."