Brands that use or wish to use aseptic cartons for their food and drink now have a new option to print personalized graphics and unique codes to create smart packaging for consumer engagement or product traceability.
Tetra Pak has completed the installation of its very first digital printer across all of its global operations. Field testing of Koenig & Bauer’s new RotaJET VL 168 digital color inkjet press continues, but digitally printed commercial packaging is expected to roll off the chain by early 2022.
“We have invested heavily in our Denton and Queretaro plants over the past few years to meet the growing demand for aseptic cartons and smart packaging in North America,” said Bruce Mackimmie, chain vice president of supply, Tetra Pak Americas. “Our customers are looking for innovation, flexibility and scalability, and we are well positioned to meet them.
The full-width press (168 centimeters, or approximately 66 inches) can print at up to 270 meters per minute (approximately 885 feet per minute). Plus, a digital packaging printing workflow cuts the time between design and printing. This speeds up the delivery of filled packs to market, which could be even more important for products personalized for a specific event.
Resident digital printing expert Mackimmie responds Package summary questions about this development.
Why wait so long to embrace digital printing? What were the challenges for this to happen? Did this require a new cardboard converting / manufacturing process for the company?
Mackimmie: The digital printer developed for Tetra Pak represents the best in class for single pass inkjet printing and has been specially developed to meet the needs of Tetra Pak. We have been exploring digital printing solutions for our packaging materials for some time.
This project is a complex end-to-end development project. This means it’s not just about installing a printer, but also adapting our order fulfillment and design processes and developing materials such as ink and paper to ensure our high standards in quality printing and food safety.
We can now deliver digital inkjet printing capabilities at the scale and complexity to meet Tetra Pak requirements. While the image processing and digital printing process are different, all other steps in the production process remain the same.
Digital printing allows smaller and more personalized batch sizes for customers. What is the current minimum lot size for digitally printed Tetra Pak cartons? What was the minimum batch size previously for commercially printed Tetra Pak cartons?
Mackimmie: The minimums for our current flexo printing process may vary depending on the type and size of packaging, as well as the colors used in the design. As we begin commercial scale trials using the newly installed digital printer, we will be able to establish new order lines.
Since the digital printer allows dynamic printing of different models in the same roll of paper, the minimums will be inherently smaller. While this is an advantage for digital printing, we believe that the greatest value for our customers will be the ability to differentiate themselves through personalization.
The press release issued earlier in January 2019 announcing plans to install a Koenig & Bauer digital press said, “Field testing of the new digitally printed cardboard packaging is expected to begin in early 2020 with North American customers. Why the delay of a year and a half for the commissioning of the digital printer?
Mackimmie: Several factors contributed to the delays in manufacturing and installing the printer. As an industry first, we were often in uncharted waters and overcoming challenges in real time. This set us back just enough to be impacted by further delays due to international travel restrictions linked to COVID-19.
The installation team were very dynamic in managing much of the project via remote assistance when partners could not be on site. However, remote assistance adds unexpected complexities and time. Winter storms in Texas also created challenges for the original timeline.
How much is the ability to print cartons digitally compared to conventional printing?
Mackimmie: 1. Improved consumer engagement. It is now possible to print unique digital codes on each package during the conversion. When a consumer scans the code with their smartphone, they open a web page or other item that can relay a large amount of information, from where the product was made to where the packaging can be recycled. . This enables food and beverage manufacturers to transform their packaging into data carriers at scale.
2. Pack by pack customization allows variable printing of the entire packaging design. Text and design elements can be edited in the same order.
3. Smaller orders allow greater possibilities for personalization and creativity. It can be of great advantage in applications such as seasonal products, custom designs for events, etc.
4. The ability to meet continued demand through increased product diversification will enable food and beverage brands to respond. profitable niche markets. By implementing variable content and greater design diversification, Tetra Pak helps customers achieve a superior product experience.