Pack Expo East 2018 took place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, PA, USA from April 16-18. The show attracted more than 6,000 visitors and 400 exhibitors. Among the companies present were Epson, Inland Packaging, Herma, Afinia Label, TrojanLabel, Simco-Ion and more.
“The one thing we’re seeing is the need for investment in automation,” explained Jorge Izquierdo, vice president of market development, PMMI. “It’s the highlight of the event. “We recently had a meeting with 60 end users and 25 OEMs, and we discussed issues in the printing and packaging industry. One of the topics that really jumped at me was the significant increases in automation.”
Izquierdo added that many companies have made note of the recent tax reform and how it has freed up extra funds for their businesses. An executive said that one-third of the money would go back to the employees, one-third would go toward local charities, and the final third would be invested into new technology–specifically, automation in the workplace.
In order for converters to invest in new technology, the machines must be sophisticated but easy to use. “The interface for the end users needs to be very intuitive and easier in terms of training,” said Izquierdo. “The learning curve should be shorter, and that’s what companies are aiming at when they’re buying equipment. The people operating this new equipment are not necessarily as well trained either, so it’s the same as an iPhone. It’s a sophisticated piece of equipment, but it’s intuitive and you can move through and learn about the product. It’s about making equipment very intuitive and shortening the training.”
Companies have also found that utilizing more data can aid their operations. “You’re storing data for different reasons, for maintenance or maybe using artificial intelligence,” said Izquierdo. “So, it could be very sophisticated. But a lot of this philosophy is also about tracking data to comply with standards like food safety modernization acts, where you need to validate that your process is complying with key points and you’re keeping consistent and reliable records. That’s another driver for investing in automation.”
According to PMMI, a recent study showed that 30% of companies are utilizing a form of data acquisition, and in 10 years, that number is expected to approach 100%. The data, in addition to track and trace capabilities, can lead to remote access for maintenance and diagnostics.
“When they have a need–when the equipment stops or slows down for a reason, and they don’t have the capability to diagnose it–converters can work with the OEM to fix the problem in an hour or two instead of waiting a day or two. And that’s something that will be increasing. I think you’re going to find that maintenance will be significantly different over the next 5-10 years.”
On the show floor, Epson was highlighting the C7500 on-demand inkjet label printer. The C7500 operates at speeds up to 59 fpm and features Wasatch SoftRIP software. Complete with software, users can print high-quality color labels at an entry point of less than $10,000. Meanwhile, Afinia Label showcased the L501 and L801 color label printers. The L501, complete with Duo Ink Technology, is designed to print with pigment and dye inks. TrojanLabel, an AstroNova company, displayed the T2-C, a high capacity tabletop label press. According to TrojanLabel, offers print resolution up to 1600 dpi and runs at speeds up to 60 fpm.
Inland Packaging also delivered a presentation on brand protection at Pack Expo East’s Innovation State. Inland’s Aaron Sniker and Julie Hatlem explored “Digital brand protection that your marketing team won’t say no to.”
“People at the show are interested in what’s driving digital label printing,” explained Izquierdo. For a number of years, the consumer demand has pushed for smaller runs and the SKU explosion. It makes much more sense to consider the use of digital printing, especially as digital has become more affordable.”
With the explosion of craft breweries and a desire to provide consumers with personalization, digital helps converters keep up with changing consumer preferences. “When talking about labels, you could have changing seasons or ingredients,” Izquierdo added. “Maybe one month consumers want blueberries, and another month it’s dark chocolate. As these preferences change so fast, the label needs to change that fast. The process–the ingredients on the label and what you want to highlight–needs to change very quickly. Consumers have shown that they are willing to pay for quality.”