Major product announcements from makers of printing systems for corrugated board draw attention to the vigor of that segment of the packaging market. This week, HP and KBA will host a media event at a KBA plant in Germany where both are building the HP T1100 Color Inkjet Web Press, a machine for printing corrugated top liner. Bobst is beta-testing a press that uses Kodak’s Stream Inkjet Technology to print CMYK directly onto corrugated material. (Both developments will be covered by WhatTheyThink.)

If market forecasts are correct, there should be plenty of work for these and other corrugated printing solutions to do. A report being prepared by Future Market Insights notes that around the world, growth in demand for corrugated will be driven by rapid industrialization; growth in sectors, such as automotive and electronics, that use corrugated; and innovations in corrugated packaging design that make the material suitable for a wider range of products. Rising demand for corrugated in point-of-sale displays is another anticipated driver.

A report from another firm, Persistence Market Research, sees the eco-friendliness of corrugated as an element of its popularity. It says that because many corrugated products are made with high percentages of recovered fiber—from old corrugated containers, kraft, discarded newspapers, and mixed paper—they are recognized as sustainable packaging solutions. The report states that corrugated packaging has the best recycling rate among packaging materials. In 2012, 91% of all containerboard produced in the U.S. was recovered and recycled.

Historically, corrugated’s primary role has been as secondary packaging—the shipping cartons containing the primary packages with merchandise inside. But, corrugated is expected to be in more demand for primary packaging thanks to continuing improvements in appearance and performance.

The Corrugated Packaging Alliance (CPA) describes corrugated as the only rigid shipping container and packaging medium that can be cut and folded into an infinite variety of shapes and sizes and direct-printed with high-resolution color graphics. The material also can be custom-designed to fit specific requirements for product protection, shelf space, and shipping density.

According to Persistence Market Research, processed food was the largest application segment in the global corrugated packaging market in 2013, followed by applications such as personal care and household products and beverages. The U.S. currently represents the largest market for corrugated boxes, but China is expected to overtake it as the leading consumer by 2020.

Citing data from 2012, the Corrugated Packaging Alliance identifies the corrugated industry as an important contributor to U.S. success in the global economy. In that year, the industry shipped more than $26 billion worth of product and exported more than $1 billion. About 1,300 manufacturing plants employing 70,000 people produced 359 billion square feet of corrugated material.

“Corrugated. It’s not just a brown box,” declares CPA, noting that the development of corrugated packaging often includes intensive R&D for strength, barrier properties, and recyclability. Improving printability also is a focus, and it appears that with the advent of printing solutions like those from the HP/KBA and Bobst/Kodak partnerships, this workhorse packaging material is about to get the high-tech print production treatment it has been waiting for.