The benefits of digital technology in print production have long been demonstrated, and we see them in the increased analog-to-digital conversion rates in many print applications. While electrophotography (EP), was the early entry technology and is still the major contributor of volume and value in the digital market conversion, production inkjet is now growing more rapidly. According to a recent Smithers Pira study, The Future of Digital Printing to 2024, “Inkjet is forecast to overtake electro-photography after 2019; and by 2024, inkjet will account for 56% of the value and 53% of the digital print volume”. Although, putting it in perspective, keep in mind that digital print volume is still less than 50% of the total volume as compared to analog. We know that there are many document printing applications, like direct mail and commercial print, that are transitioning to or already settled into fully digital print production. However, this journey has been more of an evolution than a revolution, primarily due to the development pace of the digital technologies, tempered by market education, acceptance and demand. Some of these same developments in digital technology are likely to translate to packaging production, and there is significant overall growth projected.

Let’s look more closely at packaging and label production. Unlike document printing and distribution which can be replaced by online and mobile channels, printed packaging is not only required but consumption is increasing with population growth, regularly increasing the demand. Global packaging production in general is projected to maintain an annual growth rate of approximately 3.5%, but how much of that growth or of the estimated $900 billon market size can be expected to transition to digital, and more importantly, in what period of time?

Some of the same drivers that have driven the growth of digital print applications have a place in packaging and label production, although when you start to look at the rest of the drivers and constraints, many of those benefits may be outweighed by disadvantages. We will look deeper into those in future articles.

For now, however, it is important to remember that labels and packaging are not just two applications. In each of those categories, there is a subset, each with its own set of requirements, whether it be media, ink, post production, etc. Digital label production was the first to begin to make the move to digital for limited applications. Over time, we have seen additional label application requirements met, increasing both the volume and type of digital label production being adopted as a result of technological and materials innovation. Yet even with those increases, in a significant amount of cases, the cost of digital production vs. that of analog still is the determining factor for the lack of transition.

According to a recent Printing Industries of America report, “Packaging industry application in the market is expected to witness the fastest growth, at a CAGR of over 12% from 2016 to 2024. Growing demand for low migration UV cured inks in food & beverage as well as other consumer goods packaging is likely to augment growth over the projected period. Furthermore, stringent regulations restricting the use solvent based inks in packaging application owing to its VOC content is expected to promote demand for UV curable inks.”

The number of application subsets in packaging are even greater than in labels, and the transition process started later. Some of the growth in that area will also come from new or redesigned forms of packaging. The automated corrugated packaging solution showcased in Cary Sherburne’s WhatTheyThink article last week is one example of technology redefining and enhancing packaging production. However, that solution currently addresses a fairly limited need. The use of flexible packaging, combined with new digital production techniques are an early indication of what opportunities will lie ahead as innovation continues, costs relative to analog go down, and market development and acceptance go up.

Next week we will look at the potential demand for high barrier pouches and another opportunity for how digital printing might play.

More to Come …

I would like to address your interests and concerns in future articles as it relates to Packaging and Labels. Please feel free to contact me at [email protected] with any questions or suggestions.