Last updateThu, 23 Mar 2023 12pm

Corrugated board - strong, loved and indispensable

Since the start of the pandemic at the latest, it has become clear that corrugated board is not only relevant to the system but also ensures that supply chains function. No wonder, then, that in recent months there has been an increase in the number of new digital presses being launched for this segment. Is corrugated becoming the new money machine for digital printers? By Sabine Slaughter

The pandemic has given e-commerce and online trade a boom that no one could have predicted. Many ordered "online" for the first time. But online trade also has an "analogue" part - delivery of the ordered goods. This requires packaging. And this was and is mostly made of corrugated cardboard. There are many arguments for this, not least the environmental compatibility, recycling and reuse possibilities.
But good packaging does more than just serve as a means of transport for delivery. It should and must also be a message - for sustainability, but above all for the company. It can be used to convey all kinds of messages to the customer. The logo? Of course. But even more - from advertising messages such as "We are pleased that you have ordered from us" to encouragement "Please hang in there - after the lockdown we will be there for you personally again" to QR codes which can point to pURLs (Personal URL landing pages) as well as contain other messages such as games or even product descriptions.
Individual packaging messages
This also means that although many corrugated orders have to be printed - either as standard or with an advertising logo and message - it is precisely individual messages that need to be conveyed. Who is not happy about a parcel or package that speaks directly to them? Gives the recipient the feeling that this one parcel is just for him or her? The sending company has a "connection to its customer" and possibly addresses him individually with personal messages about his preferences, making him offers that the customer largely accepts? The pandemic has shown that this kind of packaging leads to high customer loyalty.
While until now most, or rather almost all, orders were produced in analogue form and thus individualisation was not possible or could not be produced economically, this situation has changed in the meantime.
As early as 2004, Sun Chemical and Inca Digital presented the first digital printing press for corrugated board with over 500 print heads in single pass mode, a printing width of 1040 mm, as a prototype. Scitex had the CorJet at the start. But as is often the case, the time was not yet ripe for the corrugated sector to enter digital production. Now, 16 years later, the time seems to have come.
Drupa announcements
Several manufacturers, including Xeikon, Screen, Koenig & Bauer/Durst, Domino and HP, have already announced that they will be exhibiting digital presses for the corrugated sector at drupa. The product announcements mostly came during the lockdown, with some of the machines' availability presumably around the time of the postponed drupa in spring 2021. Other manufacturers will not be long in entering this lucrative field and introducing their own digital corrugated presses.
What is different now than 16 years ago? Well, several factors are coming together: Digital technology is more mature, higher speeds can be achieved and the print quality has reached the point where it is equal to or even better than the products of the analogue printing process. Both sheetfed and web presses are available for printing on corrugated. Consumer awareness of sustainability is heightened - and here corrugated board is way ahead.
Individual marketing
Last but not least, one of the most important points: Marketing and PR companies, brand owners and e-commerce participants have understood the potential that digital printing offers. New ideas and concepts are being developed. Cross-media advertising across all platforms is being used to create customer loyalty. Even products that used to be so simple, such as the packaging of deliveries as well as the product packaging itself, are used to communicate all kinds of messages. And the further processing or finishing of corrugated board has not stood still either, but offers a high degree of individuality with sometimes very high-quality solutions for all types of corrugated board.
Many branded companies now also use corrugated cardboard as product packaging. In addition to high-quality content, high-quality packaging with appropriate finishing or security features is also in demand. In addition to the consumer demand for more environmental friendliness, this also meets the requirements for recyclability and reusability.
Technological progress
The individual offers for digital printing will at least move a large number of printing companies to deal with this topic. Since almost all manufacturers of digital printing machines know that individual solutions that are adapted to the environment, operation and type of order are also required in the digital printing sector, companies should obtain comprehensive information and ask questions. Depending on the technology used - mostly toner or inkjet printing - certain orders can be executed.
In the field of inkjet technology, several ink manufacturers have now upgraded and are now offering environmentally friendly inks tailored to the needs of the digital corrugated board market. These mostly water-based inks are characterized by excellent color brilliance without VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and thus ensure excellent printing results on corrugated cardboard. Another point of criticism which in the past has led to the fact that interest in digital printing solutions in the corrugated cardboard printing market was low. Paints (including antibacterial solutions) are also already in the range.
New advertising platform for a new normal
From one day to the next, Covid-19 created an awareness of a not new, but long-neglected advertising platform. The conventional advertising platforms such as in-store advertising were only able to convey their messages in the food and beverage sector, since all other shops were closed. However, the delivery traffic in the e-commerce sector increased very strongly, so much that in some countries the return of the parcel packaging was asked so that it could be reused. In particular, the area of ​​food packaging increased - by almost double. While before the pandemic, according to Bitkom, only 16 percent ordered groceries online now and then, it was 30 percent during the period. It becomes even clearer for online orders from farm shops and agricultural producers. Here the share of online business with deliveries has risen from one to five percent (figures from April 2020). This proportion has increased in the last few weeks and months. Globally, especially in the US, these numbers are even higher.
Covid-19 flare-up
The new, digital printing machines, which cover exactly these needs for a new communication channel, cross-media interaction, and thus customer loyalty, should have found their market right away. Restrictions in relation to the ability of the ink or toner to penetrate the printing material have now been removed to such an extent that the quality is more than good. Individual corrugated cardboard printing is currently still rare, but will play a major role in customer communication in the future. In addition, the sustainability factor, which should not be underestimated, plays a not insignificant role especially in today's world for all companies, customers and end customers involved in the supply chain. Print shops should now use the boost that Covid-19 has given the strained corrugated board industry and develop new business areas. In this respect, digital corrugated cardboard printing certainly offers the potential to be viewed as a “new money machine”.


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