FuturePrint and Pack 21

Earlier this month I attended the Future Print and Pack conference in Cambridge, UK, which as the name suggests covered a range of topics to do with the printing of digital packaging and related issues.

Frazer Chesterman, director of FuturePrint.

It was a packed schedule, with 26 separate presentations, which is far too many to deal with here. So instead I’ve picked out a handful of presentations where I felt that I genuinely learned something new and some of the main themes that emerged.

James Bull, head of packaging for Tesco, got the proceedings under way. He said that the supermarket aimed to half its environmental impact by 2030, noting: “That’s billions of pieces of packaging that we have to stop using.” Tesco is the second biggest employer in the UK with 3800 stores and group sales of £53.4 billion. Bull added: “We have got to move in a different direction and retail across the globe is part of that.”

Tesco has surveyed its customers as to what matters most to them and found that climate change and environmental damage are more important than their own health (though their main issue was mental health, which is not surprising after the pandemic).

He introduced the four R concept to the proceedings, which means asking what can be Removed, Reduced, Reused or Recycled, in that order. So, for example, where previously packaging was used to group items like tins of beans together for a multi-buy discount, this is now done through the checkout eliminating the need for the packaging. 

Tesco is currently experimenting with refillable packaging combined with a deposit; customers redeem a deposit when they return the container. He added: “At the moment customers can’t do much with certain materials to recycle themselves.”

Fred Lill, owner and director of Lil Packaging.

Bull was followed by Fred Lil, owner of Lill Packaging, who gave one of the most talked about presentations, describing his efforts to reduce his business’ carbon footprint. He found that the carbon footprint is officially split into three types: scope 1, which includes on-site gas and oil used; scope 2, which is the electricity used by a business; and scope 3, which describes the carbon footprint from the wider supply chain and dealing with the end of life disposal of products made. 

Lil had commissioned a report from an independent organisation, Carbon Quota, which specialises in working out the carbon footprints of print and packaging companies. Through this he discovered that Lil Packaging produced 12,912 tons of carbon in 2020. He added: “For our organisation, only 2.7 percent of our carbon footprint is our own Scope one and two. The rest comes from our supply chain.” This includes 47 percent on the supply of paperboard, 1.3 percent on glue and 0.6 percent on ink, plus a further 31 percent for the end of life of the paperboard.

He pointed out that there are many small steps that any business can take to reduce that footprint, such as giving his staff branded fleeces and turning down the heating in the factory. He replaced the roof to improve the building’s insulation and switched to electric vehicles. He also invested in a scheme to plant more mangroves, which costs 10p a tree; mangroves have an enormous and fast growing root system that has a very fast effect in absorbing carbon. He suggested: “Let’s invest 10 percent of profit to fight climate change. That’s not a huge proportion of profits to dedicate to this.”

The net result of this activity is that Lil Packaging will be one of the first zero carbon packaging businesses in the world by February 2022, having eliminated or offset all the carbon used right through its supply chain and end of life disposal of its packaging. 

The theme of companies watching their own environmental impact continued right through many of the presentations. Rob Karsten, EMEA regional director for Phoseon, commented: “We notice now that when we talk with customers they have a director of sustainability. So it’s not just a question of a fashion statement in a corporate brochure but we need to be putting solutions in place that are actually sustainable.” He went on to point out that Phoseon’s LED lamps are more sustainable than mercury lamps.

Tobias Lang, product manager for UV inks for Maribu Ink, described how all of the company’s ink is produced in a carbon neutral manner and that the company has chosen not to use toxic components such as heavy metals. He said that “Sustainability is a responsibility” and that Maribu Inks has been carbon neutral since July 2021. 

He also discussed the trend for personalisation, noting that up to 80 percent of people were willing to pay up to 10 percent more for personalisation, and up to 50 percent of people were willing to pay up to 20 percent. He added that people were willing to pay more for personalisation in fashion and home décor. 

He also passed around a couple of glass bottles that had been decorated with a MaruShape high build varnish, that had a very effective highly textured surface. The bottles had been printed by Koenig and Bauer Kammann and were safe for use in dishwashers.

Elayne Cousins, packaging director at International Direct Packaging.

Elayne Cousins, packaging director at International Direct Packaging, talked about designing paper-based packaging to avoid the need for magnets or other closures to make the packaging more sustainable.  She explained: “We are eliminating plastic. You don’t need it and when you take away lamination then craft paper feels better because it’s textured.” But she added: “We mainly specialise in primary packaging which customers often like to keep.” She cited an example of empty Rolex boxes being sold online for £160!

Paul Jenkins, who runs the PackHub consultancy, identified a number of current trends in packaging. This includes some examples of bigger brands experimenting with biodegradable materials, including Coca Cola, which has created a bottle using 100 percent biomass PET.

He also showed examples of retailers looking at refillable and reusable packaging, such as McDonalds and Tim Horton, which have looked at reusable food and drink packs that allow customers to redeem a deposit on return. He pointed out that one of the problems in asking customers to bring their own containers to shops is that it is quite inconvenient for most customers. He explained how Tesco has got around this: “Instead of customers bringing their own containers, they buy the pack but pay a deposit to return it for refilling later.”

He says that personalisation is a growing trend in packaging, noting that many people are happy to pay twice the price for a personalised package, and some will pay even more. He finished by saying that that there was a clear trend towards designing packaging around a single material to make recycling easier.

Barry McGregor, integration manager at Fujifilm ink solutions group.

This theme was picked up later by Dr Barry McGregor, integration manager for Fujifilm ink solutions group, who talked about the need to ensure that the ink will adhere to the surface of the media. He says that ink manufacturers like Fujifilm will talk with material manufacturers to ensure that their ink works on their media, adding: “We try to redesign ink to work on these new materials.” However, for the ink to perform as designed, there has to be consistency between batches of materials, which can be more challenging where recycled materials have been used. 

He addressed the trend to design packaging with mono materials, which make the packaging easier to recycle as there’s no need to separate different elements. He pointed out that these materials are mainly designed for functionality, for a package to be sealed and with a barrier layer, but not necessarily with printing in mind, adding: “Also the ink is no longer protected by lamination.” He noted: “The materials manufacturers do talk about printing but not digital printing.” He says: “We could corona treat the surface but that would change the material capabilities at the surface and we don’t know if it affects the material or weakens the barrier properties.”

He also talked about new pulp-based materials, including a paper bottle made out of pulpex as used by Pepsico. It might be possible to eliminate the label and print direct to the surface but this also could affect the surface properties so he concludes that ink and materials manufacturers need to talk more: “If we work collaboratively together we will get there quicker.”

Several speakers addressed the need for automation. Allen Bendall, global business development director for Saueressig, talked about using artificial intelligence through the use of data, noting: “We have all been capturing data for years but do we really use that data in an efficient way?” He added: “We want to close the gap between us as humans and the potential that machines have to aid us in our daily life.”

He talked about the efforts to automate the creation of art work but said that automation could be used to drive more collaboration between the different parts of the supply chain that needed to access that artwork. He continued: “We are all working in siloes and that means that efficiency goes out of the window. But using AI technology we can start to reenergise the workflow.”

Ross Edwards, customer enrolment manager for Tharstern, pointed out that print runs are getting shorter and that there is lots of new printing technology to deal with this, adding: “But a lot of time now on a job ìs spent on the administration side, the estimating and so on, which is less costly and slows things down so we want to help businesses automate this.” Edwards noted: “The further down a workflow that any problem happens, the more money it can cost.

Robert Stabler, managing director at Koenig and Bauer Durst.

Robert Stabler, managing director of Koenig and Bauer Durst, talked about the challenges of selling high volume single pass inkjet presses into the corrugated and folding carton packaging markets. He commented: “We are aiming to have very high end, very industrial solutions that can drive a high level of volume which is a challenge in the sense, not only technically, but the inertia in the market that it’s a very significant investment and this isn’t the fastest segment in the market in accepting this technology.”

He added: “The industry is very volume driven, big players that own forests. The reality is that most big brands are focused on unit cost rather than sustainability. I do think it’s going to come but there is a lot of inertia out there that we as an industry have got to come through.”

Stabler continued: “Digital printing is for people who want to a lot of versions so they don’t need a lot of personalisation.” Though he does also say that sequential numbering is a real driver for why people are looking at digital technology in corrugated and folding carton.

He believes that the demand for digital printing is mostly being driven by mid-sized brands today but that it is only a matter of time before bigger brands become more involved and then the converters will have to follow them. He says that some converters do really want to talk to their customers about new opportunities, adding: “For a B1 format press you need to have an ambition to have 1 million B1 sheets per month if you are going to use that technology. So it’s really for those converters that have a vision to be more of a supply chain partner to their customers.”

Stabler accepts that both digital and conventional are fit for purpose but added: “There’s no doubt that digital has a significant role to play in managing fluctuating demand and we saw that in the pandemic.” He went on to say: “Ecommerce has grown so much that brands are now wondering if they should have complete separate packaging for their ecommerce.”

He said that Koenig and Bauer Durst is focussing now on ensuring that its presses can handle a very high duty cycle for those converters that can sell higher volumes, noting: “If you can get that then you can lower unit cost. And if it’s manageable run lengths then there’s a virtual circle.”

There were some interesting questions from the audience with Fred Lil pointing out that the biggest bottleneck for converters such as Lill Packaging is the folder gluer.  Stabler replied: “We will have an announcement about how to do something inline with a digital press and folder gluer.”

This neatly illustrates the value of having a live event, where people can speak more freely and ask questions either directly or at one of the breaks. The event was sold out, and everyone that I talked to seemed to feel that it had been worthwhile and that quite a few of the presentations were genuinely thought-provoking. It still feels strange to meet with people in person and most people admitted that they had only had a handful of face to face meetings in the past year, and that the opportunity to meet with people was an useful as the presentations.

In addition to the presentation that I’ve covered here, I’ve already written about new product announcements from Inca Digital on its SpeedSet corrugated press and Ricoh on its plant-based ink. However, there were many more speakers than I can write about in a single story. But the proceedings were videoed so anyone should be able to find a copy of that recording. You can find further details from futureprint.tech.

…with a little help from my friends

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