The industry's focus on packaging has grown over the years, but how will this disrupt the market?
Inkjet technology developers have shifted their focus from wide-format printing to packaging over the past few years, with good reason. Package printing is a seriously huge business, dwarfing the wide-format markets in retail graphics and outdoor advertising by many orders of magnitude, and right now it’s almost entirely analog. It’s a very enticing target for the inkjet OEMs.
But packaging itself is not as immune to disruption as I had previously supposed. This realization came to me as I watched Brent Nelson of Amazon speak at the Package Design Matters Conference, produced by Screen Printing’s sister title BXP (Brand Experience, formerly Package Design), in January. Nelson is Amazon’s senior manager of packaging sustainability, and he outlined why the e-commerce explosion isn’t just creating an existential crisis for retailers; it’s also transforming how consumer products are presented to the buying public.
The key driver: Once the point of sale shifts from a store shelf to an e-commerce site, the idea of packaging completely changes. Critical messaging that helps consumers decide between brands largely migrates from the physical packaging to an HTML page. Anti-theft considerations are eliminated. Concerns about how the package conforms to a shelf or merchandising unit go away. And, to the interests of those who produce and print these materials, the amount of packaging required goes down.
Amazon is working with consumer product manufacturers to reinvent their packaging to make it less wasteful, easier to open, and more sustainable. Nelson showed innovative new packaging approaches from such major brands as Fisher-Price, Hills Brothers, Norelco, Rubbermaid, and Phillips. And he said that in Amazon’s estimation, through more efficient production, reductions in package sizes, and elimination of additional shipping boxes, the program has already saved more than 1.1 million trees, a stat that earned a long ovation at the conference.
Initiatives like this won’t dampen the collective enthusiasm over packaging in the inkjet community, of course. Inkjet lines designed for high-volume package printing were among the most exciting technologies previewed at drupa last year. Some of those systems, such as EFI’s Nozomi C18000 and Durst’s Rho 130 SPC, benefitted from and greatly enhanced innovations the manufacturers originally developed for their wide-format lines. In turn, the single-pass print engines driving these systems will migrate back toward wide-format applications – not just retail and OOH, but to industrial settings where inkjet has yet to make an appreciable dent.
As always, print will endure – just not necessarily in the exact form that today’s technology developers envision for tomorrow’s market disruptors.
P.S. I’m very pleased to welcome three new members to the Screen Printing team: Renowned consultant Marshall Atkinson, who will be sharing management advice for high-volume garment printers in every issue; artist Kelly Farrar, whose work for our sister title Boutique Design has earned numerous design awards and who is bringing a fresh and contemporary look to our pages; and last but not least, Assistant Editor Kelsey Johnson, who joined us just a few days after graduating from Purdue University last December.
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