Digitalization - So Much More Than You Might Think! -- drupa - 2028 - Messe Düsseldorf

Digitalization - So Much More Than You Might Think!

Simon Lewis, VP Strategy & Marketing, Highcon

Does your company have a digital strategy if it’s embracing digital printing? No, it doesn’t! A digital strategy must be end-to-end, and in paperboard packaging that means it encompasses Digital Die Cutting.

There have been so many “digital drupas”. And drupa 2024 will be no exception. Digitalization is sweeping the world. Digitalization is inherent to Industry 4.0. Clearly Digitalization is also impacting the printing industry. And when people say digital in the print industry, their first thought goes to digital printing. There will be a veritable feast of digital printing solutions on display at drupa, featuring different technologies, different formats, different applications focuses and more.

Digitalization in our Industry

But if you stop a moment, it becomes clear that digitalization in our industry requires a lot more than just digital printing. Clearly you require a digital workflow. But since the objective of digitalization is to solve challenges and open new opportunities, you need to think end-to-end to help optimize productivity every step of the way. How do I get more jobs through my shop, in the same amount of time and with less effort? Where are the bottlenecks that I need to resolve? What new value propositions can I offer my customers? How does digitalization become a lever for profitability and growth?

One domain that is often overlooked in the discussion of digitalization is what happens post-press. Finishing is so often the bottleneck. And in paperboard packaging (folding carton and corrugated) that bottleneck is often related to tooling – the lead time for the die, imperfections in the die – and the lack of balance between the capacity of print as compared to the capacity of die-cutting, especially when taking the ratio between set-up and run-time into account.

Digital Die Cutting

Industrial scale Digital Die Cutting (i.e. true die cutters making thousands of pieces per hour such as Highcon Beam 3, not CAD tables) allow tooling-free die cutting of cartons and POP displays. This means no lead time for dies, no need to send a die back to the die shop for modifications, no die storage and no die costs. So, jobs can be turned around quickly. Minimum Order Quantities can be eliminated making small batches affordable for clients and profitable for converters. Quality issues can be addressed at the click of a mouse.

Digital Die Cutting frees designers from the limitations of conventional dies. No cutting pattern is too intricate, no detail too small, no Zipper is difficult to open. Stand-out packaging – whether individual cartons or shelf-ready packaging – become more easily achieved. All the “bewares” that have tied the hands of designers are suddenly opportunities for differentiation and impact – on the shelf and in the unboxing experience.

With Digital Die Cutting, new jobs can be set up in minutes and set-up waste is generally limited to fewer than 5 sheets, even for inexperienced operators. Compared to analog die-cutting, this is essentially “zero setup”.

Digital Printing and Digital Die Cutting Hand-in-Hand

While Digital Die Cutting works with analog print and even with unprinted boards, it actually perfectly complements Digital Printing by delivering many of the same value propositions such as near-zero setup, affordable small batch production, rapid job turnaround, near-zero waste and overages, and more. Like Digital Printing, Digital Die Cutting requires less-experienced and -skilled operators so alleviating the pressing skill and personnel shortage that is challenging the industry.

Workflow Automation is Critical

Producing more jobs in the same amount of time and with less effort requires the creation of automated workflows. The “web-to-pack/print” revolution demonstrated how it is possible to process dozens, hundreds or even thousands of job files per day, prepare them for production and produce error-free without human intervention. It’s perhaps unrealistic to believe that packaging which must fold perfectly to create 3D entities can always be processed with total lights-out automation. The more the customer is limited – materials, design parameters etc., the easier it is to eliminate human intervention. But when the goal is to free the customer from limitations, minimal intervention may be required.

So, it’s possible to produce much more with much less intervention. Production bottlenecks can be freed, MOQs eliminated, job delivery times dramatically shortened. These are new value propositions for customers. These are levers for profitability and growth.

Digitalization and Sustainability

And what about sustainability? The environmental footprint of the package is first and foremost a function of the package itself – the material used, the waste in the process, the transportation and recycling. Digitalization doesn’t change that. Digital Die Cutting does eliminate the carbon-intensive mixed material die set that typically ends up in landfill after being stored, in many cases for years following its use. For small batch production and a one-time job, it has a demonstrable carbon advantage as compared to conventional analog die cutting. Digitalization – digital printing and die cutting – encourage zero inventories supported by production on demand of precise quantities, so eliminating obsolescence which is costly both environmentally and financially.  So Digitalization can contribute to the sustainability of packaging.

Mainstreaming Digital Die Cutting

At this latest “digital drupa” it’s worth paying attention to digitalization of finishing in general and Digital Die Cutting in particular. This drupa seems to be the moment that Digital Die Cutting is moving into the mainstream as its adoption by some of the biggest converters in the industry proves that it is, indeed, an essential component to a digital production platform for folding carton and corrugated packaging.

Visitors to the Highcon booth, hall 9, booth B24, will have the opportunity to experience Digital Die Cutting in live demonstrations on the new Highcon Beam 3 and Beam Writer.

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