Commentary & Analysis
Packaging Finds Its Proper Place on the Agenda at EFI Connect 2016
The user conference was too wide-ranging to have a single keynote, but it was a good place to catch up with what EFI is doing to streamline packaging workflows.
By Patrick Henry
Published: February 9, 2016
Technologies from EFI are almost everywhere—literally. With more than 1.9 million EFI Fiery digital front ends (DFEs) and related software installed in 176 countries around the world, there’s scarcely an aspect of graphic production in any corner of the globe that EFI products don’t enable in one way or another.
That explains why packaging didn’t dominate the proceedings at EFI Connect 2016—not because EFI doesn’t recognize it as a key application, but because packaging had to share a very crowded conference program with all of the other kinds of printing that EFI develops solutions for. As the event’s 1,300 attendees learned, the list of applications keeps getting longer:
• Printing on fabrics has been an area of focus for EFI since it acquired Reggiani Macchine, a maker of inkjet textile printing systems, last July.
• At about the same time, EFI deepened its reach into the signage, banner, billboard, and fleet graphics markets with the acquisition of superwide-format developer Matan Digital Printers.
• One way that EFI is pursuing opportunities in what it calls “the imaging of things” is by selling inkjet ceramic tile printing systems made by Cretaprint, a company it acquired four years ago.
• Thermoforming—heating plastic over molds to create three-dimensional objects—entered the picture last year with EFI’s introduction of a UV inkjet system for printing directly onto thermoformable substrates.
But, with many of its customers producing packaging and labels or aspiring to break into these markets, EFI pays equally close attention to packaging solutions even as it expands into areas unrelated to them. At EFI Connect, user educational sessions and trade media briefings yielded insights into what EFI is doing to streamline label and package manufacturing with one of its signature technologies: task-specific workflow software.
EFI delivers it in the form of “productivity suites”: bundles of software assembled into comprehensive and scalable workflows for getting particular kinds of jobs done. Built around one of EFI’s management information system (MIS) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions—Radius, Monarch, or Pace—a productivity suite aims at generating revenue, automating production, and controlling costs with “smart” features that enable the suite adapt to changes in the user’s business.
The bundles, moreover, are represented as “suite certified.” This means that they come with a pledge that they will work in the applications they were designed to support. EFI validates the pledge by testing the suites from end to end so that they will be ready to begin delivering ROI from the moment they are installed. Users who want help in help in making the most of them can get it by requesting supplementary consulting services from EFI.
EFI builds productivity software for all of the mainstream segments of printing: commercial; corporate reprographics and in-plant; creative agencies; franchise and quick print; government and university; publications and book printing; and sign and display.
Supported packaging segments include corrugated board manufacturing; flexible packaging and extrusion; folding carton and corrugated box converting; and tag and label. The packaging category provided a context for some announcements about productivity software at EFI Connect.
The principal one was the introduction of a productivity suite for printers and converters of corrugated packaging. To be available in the second quarter of 2016, the suite consists of assets for ERP and manufacturing execution from scheduling all the way to shipping and supply chain management. Among the production functions that will be controllable from within its certified workflow are corrugated scheduling and trimming; roll stock inventory management; and finished goods tracking.
The launch of the productivity suite for corrugated follows news of yet another recent acquisition by EFI: that of Corrugated Technologies Inc. (CTI), a developer of workflow software for packaging since 1981. Announced last October, the deal merges CTI into EFI’s productivity software business unit.
EFI’s already existing productivity suite for enterprise packaging has received some upgrades in the form of advanced estimating and planning for folding cartons; revamped data collection and dashboard features; improved layout for folding cartons, tags, and labels; and integration with Esko’s Automation Engine prepress workflow and its ArtiosCAD Layout Optimizer (a tool that calculates die forms from estimating data supplied by EFI’s Radius ERP).
Two more new productivity suites, not connected to packaging, were promoted at EFI Connect. The publication print suite offers estimating, planning, scheduling, tracking, and production support for magazines and newspapers in sheetfed, web, and digital workflows. The quick print suite, a SaaS (software as a service) solution, bundles e-commerce, MIS, scheduling, and Fiery integration for small shops. Two additional packages for enterprise commercial and midmarket printing bring the total number of productivity suites now available from EFI to six.
The company’s hardware play for packaging consists of corrugated and folding carton applications on some of its VUTEk wide-format inkjet printers; and label printing on its Jetrion narrow-web inkjet presses. Last year saw the launch of no fewer than six VUTEk systems for various uses. The newest platform from Jetrion is its 4950LX, billed by EFI as the first digital printer for narrow-web production with full LED curing. The 13" press can print, varnish, laser diecut, and slit at speeds up to 200 fpm.
The next edition of EFI Connect will take place from January 17 to January 20, 2017. One way to keep up with developments in the meantime is to enroll for courses at Fiery Global University, one of a number of training resources offered by EFI. The company’s online drupa touchpoint is the place to go for news of what EFI will bring to that international event.