The Evolution of Digital Inkjet Labels

Variable data and personalization are just the tip of the digital print iceberg, as new developments alter purchasing, production and supply chain in the market.

Lee Metters, Group Business Development Director at Domino Printing Sciences
Lee Metters, Group Business Development Director at Domino Printing Sciences

Lee Metters, Group Business Development Director at Domino Printing Sciences, spoke at Digital Print for Packaging in Berlin in December about how the digital inkjet labels business has changed, and where it is expected to go in the future.

Domino is part of the larger Brother corporation, and the labels business is its most mature sector. Metters said that initially it was assumed that variable data and personalization would drive the digital printing business.

 “When we entered this business,” said Metters, “we expected it was all going to be personalization. This is what we thought was going to drive the market.” What is actually having impact, he said, is the broader mindset of digital’s potentiality in production, changing supply chain, and the way that organizations buy product.

This evolution came about, said Metters, as “single-pass inkjet became less expensive than electrophotography, and the cost of plates, changeover waste and origination in a new increasingly short run world compensates for digital’s increased costs.”

“For purchasers the value of reduced waste and inventory compensates for higher printing costs, as wasted media is more expensive than increased digital costs,” he said. Additionally, supply chain flexibility drove changes in behavior as customers became used to shorter lead times and faster turn-around on orders.

So, what is the future for digital labels? Metters laid out the following points:

·     Digital already means no compromise on quality, and productivity is closing the gap with improved speed, width and short changeover times increasing capacity. Also, gamut and embellishments are more widely available.

·      Inkjet competitive applications will continue to expand in labels and elsewhere, as total costs per m2 improve to cover more work profitably, and compliance and compatibility continue to grow.

·      Workflow and software continue to automate the process, which is especially important as skilled workers retire – digital enables “just in time” supply chains. Ease of delivery will enable more in customer production plant deployments to reduce lead times further.

Metters proposes that we need to think about the market in a completely different way. “Digitization,” he said, “is really only a way of delivering lean thinking efficiencies.” More customers are wanting the flexibility that digital print offers, and delivering a “complete system” is key, with a workflow that fits within the system.

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