HP Thinks About the Box


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By Noel Ward

drupa 2016, day 1

One of the fascinating things about drupa is how it reflects both subtle and massive changes in the print industry. It used to be that Heidelberg, long the largest exhibitor here, had a permanent presence in Hall 1 with one of its massive Sunday presses installed year round. Today that press is made and sold by Goss, is not shown here, and the largest exhibitor, as I have noted previously, is HP, which has filled much of Hall 17 with just about everything the print side of the company makes. I could easily spend an entire day there, getting into all the gory details of the company's hardware and software. Technology junky that I am, I will hit the House of HP another time or two while here, but won't belabor you with too deep a dive. But I will relate a few things I see there that are interesting or are harbingers of changes that are afoot.

Corrugated thinking
Today it's the T1100, the 110" wide inkjet press HP has developed in conjunction with KBA and is intended for corrugated topsheet production. The press prints the topsheet or top liner that is then glued to corrugated flutes during the creation of a corrugated container. The process, amazingly, is called "corrugating." This application is an interesting place for digital to play. An erstwhile colleague used to insist that corrugated was not and would not ever be a place for digital printing. And, at a quick glance it really does not seem to be a fit for the typically short-run nature of digital printing. But as a variety of reasons drive corrugated printers and converters to shorter runs, digital printing starts to make sense.

For example, a job of 10,000 topliners could occupy half the width of the web used on the T1100 while one or more shorter jobs could occupy the other half, and change based on the run lengths of each job. Such flexibility can substantially improve productivity and efficiency, as well as offering a significant increase in print quality over the conventional presses normally used for topsheet production.

The T1100 targets the upper end of the corrugated topsheet market, and comes on the heels of the T-400 series presses that have been targeting some of the corrugated market for a couple of years. According to HP, corrugated converters and brand owners alike are now taking advantage of digital printing to better match demand and improve print quality. Truth be told, I don't expect corrugated topsheet converters to migrate en mass to any of HP's T-series presses, but depending on the needs of their customers, some of those that do may well enjoy some competitive advantages.

Playing for all the marbles
In a press conference here HP showed a slide depicting its full range of systems for printing corrugated containers and that the company's moves in this segment are not limited to topsheets. Other HP presses for corrugated include the new PageWide C500 press, which is being rolled out here at drupa (but not commercially available until 2018) and will ultimately print corrugated boards, and cater to smaller shops with different needs than those running web presses. Other offerings include the HP Scitex 15500 and 17000 flatbed printers that print carton flats in multiple passes. While intended for very short run jobs, the flatbed devices fill yet another segment and help round out another segment of HP's take-no-prisoners strategy to dominate the print market. As company execs pointed out at a press conference here on Monday, HP is continuing to leverage both its inkjet and electrophotographic liquid toner technologies to maintain and grow market share.

It true HP fashion, the topsheet or board substrates require pre-treating, which are done inline as a flood coating to accommodate a complete mix of text and graphics. This ensures both ink adhesion and print quality, and the examples I saw were also coated after printing to afford protection for abrasion and perhaps some fade resistance. Some critics would claim these add-ons make up for shortcomings in digital technology, and I hear that, but in a changing world it probably doesn't matter. Some brand owners will complain, others won't. Life will go on and digital print will continue to take a bigger share of some parts of commercial and package print, which in this case is corrugated containers.

There's more at HP and I'll cover some of it, but there are other drupa tales to tell. For instance, it's interesting to listen to the strategies behind the technologies and try to discern which are real and which are posturing or smoke and mirrors. There is plenty of each on hand here at drupa 2016. Imagine that!
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Will get there on photos. Have an incredibly full schedule, but will add some photos as I go.

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