Industry News

Digitally printed packaging: HP Indigo branches out

July 17, 2013

The country is just 65 years old; the company’s general manager, though considerably younger than that, is well past adolescence. But both the country, Israel, and the company, HP Indigo, have that irreverent, can-do outlook that characterizes those go-getters who won’t take yes for an answer.The GM in question is Alon Bar-Shany, and in June he welcomed a group of printers, consultants and journalists who spent two days visiting the HP Indigo and Scitex installations in different parts of the country.

Although part of HP, the Indigo division appears to function very much a state within a state, and to be incredibly active internationally.  With just 4000 customers (owning around 6000 presses) HP Indigo is everywhere a market leader in narrow web digital, but still a small cog in the HP machine.

The main purpose of the June 2013 event was to introduce, explain and promote the company’s “Next Generation Breakthrough” with its HP Indigo 10000, 20000 and (soon) 30000 series digital presses, aimed at the label and packaging sectors. In terms of total pages printed, labels and packaging together account for 20% of HP Indigo’s business, Bar-Shany told his audience. In terms of sales dollars the percentage is certainly a good deal higher. HP Indigo’s marketing manager François Martin, also present on the platform, pointed out that although these presses are new and different, they are based on “the sum of our twenty years’ experience in digital printing.”

The new range uses Esko front end and color matching technology, can be fitted with inline priming and post-coating units, and is equipped with a special unit to prevent curling of the substrate during the printing process. Various finishing lines are compatible, including AB Graphics’ Digicon. Use of Indigo’s “Enhanced Productivity Mode” (EPM) using just three colors, with no black, saves time, ink and clicks, and is said to give high color saturation on dark areas, while still offering a very broad color gamut. For pre- and post-press technologies HP Indigo benefits, directly and indirectly, from the cluster of other high-tech companies in Israel, including Highcon and AVT. The HP Indigo 10000, launched in March, has already been sold and installed in 30 locations, including eight in China, according to Bar-Shany. A further twenty units are on order.

The HP 20000 now being beta-tested is a roll-to-roll, 30” web press designed to run PS labels, shrink labels and flexible packaging, on substrates from 10 up to 250 microns. It is available with options up to seven colors including opaque white.

The HP30000 uses the same basic print engine as the other two models of the range, which is saving development time. However the 30000 is a sheet-fed press and is able to print on substrates up to 600 microns at speeds up to 4600 sheets per hour. “This is the press that will bring the digital revolution to the folding carton market,” says Bar-Shany, who invited his listeners to come see the 20000 and 30000 in action at Labelexpo 2013 in Brussels.

The thinking behind the strategy
In a small group Q&A session, Bar Shany explained why HP Indigo is now keen on penetrating the packaging field. “Around two-thirds of label jobs can be run economically on our digital label presses,” he said. “For packaging, the figure is closer to 5%, but of course the packaging market is much larger, and it’s expanding, unlike commercial printing. Global cartonboard production is increasing in all the major regions of the world, even in Europe; worldwide the increase 2009-2012 is 28%, which is impressive given the state of most countries’ economies over those years. We are confident that with packaging, as already happened with labels, our digital technology will help create new market opportunities. One of our strategic goals is to promote digital printing to the brand owners, so they will realize the potential for short-run packaging for promotions, test-markets and specialty SKUs. With this in mind we plan to bring major brand owners to our booth at Labelexpo to get the message across. This does not mean we will be encouraging brand owners to install digital presses themselves, anyway, few of them want to, but just to be aware of all the varied possibilities, when discussing with their package and label suppliers.” Asked about future projects, Bar-Shany said, “Our immediate aim is to make the first 100 buyers of our new press series very happy and successful. We also hope that the users’ association Dscoop or something similar to it, will catch on with package printers.” Bar–Shany also mentioned further improvements to white ink, and to finishing equipment, as development projects. Indigo does not plan any big investments over the next few years, he said, except for completing its ink production plant in Singapore. He was questioned (by L&NW, not that it matters) on the risk to Indigo of some new digital print technology bursting onto the scene, possibly even emanating from a competing Israeli company. “Of course we are aware of the possibility,” replied Bar-Shany, “But any such competing technology will need massive investment, billions of dollars in development, and that’s before you start talking about the marketing, sales and technical support structures.”

Will it all work out for Indigo? The new press series has considerable synergy with Indigo’s sister company and neighbor Scitex which is planning to expand further its inroads into digital inkjet production of corrugated packaging and displays.

On the downside, as Bar-Shany admits, most label converters will probably stay with just that specialty, although a significant minority is already using the ws6600 and other Indigo presses to develop flexible packaging and carton production. Given the level of investment in the new generation of Indigo presses, customers are likely to be major, established label or package printers, rather than mom-and-pop set-ups. Are big package printing groups on the lookout for ways to get into the short-run business that too many brand owners are not looking for, not knowing that it exists?  Well, if we suppose that the package print sector is today where the label sector was ten yours ago, the answer could well be yes.

And on this, it looks as if HP Indigo will take yes for an answer.
– John Penhallow
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