12 Commandments about the pace of packaging: The Noel D'cunha Sunday Column

In spite of the Eskos and Quadtech and Robatechs, you wonder if packaging has evolved at a rather slow pace.

27 Jun 2014 | By Noel D'Cunha

Compare a cricket test match from the 1970s with the T20s of today; or watching the football games on a black and white TV in the 1980s to the HD avataar today. If you compare the packaging of those two products, you will begin to see the different rates of progress.

A few things are changing in packaging.

One is the role of IT in packaging, and systems plus the role of Indian gravure manufacturers like Pelican, Expert, Uflex, C Trivedi, who have installed hundreds of their units in India and overseas.

Then there is the new materials that work with printed electronics. For example, inks with the ability to use solar energy for flickering colours; and batteries that are printed and used on the package. Also unique DNA identifiers in inks for anti-counterfeiting purposes. Plus time and temperature monitors, which use colour-change inks to indicate how old a product is or if it has been exposed to an unsuitable temperature for too long; and papers, which includes RFID transistors inside its fibres. Also plastic materials used for food packaging which include the preservatives instead of putting them in the food.

Please nb: This is not sci-fi stuff. All these are do-able.

Meanwhile a few key take aways for this Sunday (29 June) are:

Commandment 1. Personalisation holds the key. What is absent is the viable economic business model to utilise it. 

Commandment 2. Will digital work? How flexible is digital? More importantly are retailers and brands that flexible? As my colleague Rahul Kumar loves to say: "The point about digital is its flexibility." Rahul is right. In which ever way the retail industry progresses in the coming years, what we can be sure of is that flexibility will be increasingly important and therefore, digital print will play a bigger role.

Commandment 3. One key question that emerged during the launch of The Marketing Whitebook 2014-15 at The Taj Land End is: Do products bought over the internet require as much printing and value addition as those in store? How does a packaging brand balance the online and offline offering? Hold two sets of stock? 

Commandment 4. Will we see a world sans plastic! In our lifetime? Or greener plastic?

Commandment 5. A zero-stock supply chain. This term emerged a lot in the four-hour conversation between publishers and printers which was hosted by Welbound in May. This means, only those books that are needed are produced. And if books can do it, why not boxes (be it: brown boxes or white boxes).

Commandment 6. Pharma legislation says the packaging messaging has to be clearer. This may mean, as many languages on an insert or outsert as on an Indian currency note. This means, runs will be vast and varied. 

Commandment 7. At Interpack 2014, one interesting technology Rushikesh Aravkar and I saw was inkjet. Near Dusseldorf, there is a packaging converter who deploys inkjet to print directly onto beverage products, cutting out a number of stages of the labelling process and doing it very cost effectively. The question is: in a decade (in India), will the big retailers be personalising packs onsite with a simple inkjet bar? 

Commandment 8. What is the future of colour digital presses, both electrophotographic (EP) and inkjet. Pragati Offset has installed an HP Indigo WS6600. They will be printing folding cartons and even flexible packaging and will make colour digital printing of packaging with it. After an installation at Sai Packaging, Epson's Surepress is making headway, in everything from prime labels to folding cartons. 

Commandment 9. And yes, according to the InfoTrends Survey, even ten years from now in 2024, conventional presses will continue to print over 90% of the physical volume in folding cartons and other packaging. The report says, "The main reason will be that litho and other analogue printing will still outshine digital in terms of productivity and running costs for printing longer runs. In some cases, though, inkjet printheads will be mounted inline with conventional presses, to provide the best of both worlds."

Comexi Nexus L20000 lamination and coating solution for digitally printed flexible packagingCommandment 10. . My colleague Tanvi Parekh who was at the HP Dscoop event in Bali, says, in her interaction with HP top management and a few printers from other nooks of the world, one thing emerged, the finishing options for digital packaging are not up to speed and the hope is, in the next five or 10 years, it will get there. Finishing holds the key, whatever the HPs and Xeikons and Epsons have to say.

Commandment 11. So what is this mystery called printed electronics? At Interpack, we asked a few people about this, they said, it could be: conductive inks. Also offset system that produce circuits that go into children’s toys and games. Also printing electronics for consumer goods that will interact with a smartphone or with a computer. 

Commandment 12. The supermarket will be supersmart. And for that print will have to be smarter than a smartphone. This means automated production workflows, standard languages such as JDF, eliminating bottlenecks. And products that "actually shout" at a customer who is browsing inside a shop.

A request from the PrintWeek India team

If you are out shopping today, do spend time at a shelf in the mall or your kirana store, and WhatsApp me an image from your cellphone. Tell me what you liked in that particular piece of packaging.

I will showcase the best images I receive in the next week's column.

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