This June marked the 25th year of the EskoWorld user group conference. Post drupa, Esko showcased an abundance of new technology and included 75 educational workshops and sessions for the attendees. The sessions focused on digital flexography, commercial print, digital finishing, packaging, structural design, 3D design and brand management. Udo Panenka, President of Esko, stated that they are “serving the packaging value chain from concept to consumer”. I had an opportunity to catch up with some Canadian attendees who shared their thoughts. “This is the 11th year I’ve attended EskoWorld, and as always I’m thrilled to attend on behalf of Atlantic Packaging. It’s a great opportunity to interact with the Esko staff to not only learn about but also influence what’s coming down the pipeline,” shared Steve Noorhoff, Sr. Structural Designer at Atlantic Packaging Products Ltd. The conference theme was Packaging Simplified, with a focus on creating solutions for all value chain stakeholders from brand owners to prepress, to printers/converters and beyond. The company has focused its product offering to help overcome the ongoing added pressures of higher quality, faster time to market, and shorter press runs, all in the face of an increase in package complexity. An obstacle that came up in several sessions was SKU proliferation resulting in complex packaging workflows that require robust systems. The technologies showcased allow companies to take their products from mass production to mass customization.
Integrated software solutions, such as the newly branded Esko Software Platform, are allowing employees to make productive contributions to their company with less training. Further focus on user experience and automation makes finding qualified operators a bit easier, not to mention the inherent production efficiencies coming from implementing a system to manage and execute simple tasks. This goes beyond software and extends to some of the new hardware technologies released. As an example, smart 3D cameras can help change blades and substrates on your Kongsberg table. These makeready add-ins, together with a robotic arm to load and unload the substrate, dramatically increase throughput. These Kongsberg smart set-up features provide up to a 20% increase in table output. Esko also launched big changes in their flexo plate imaging technology, showing off their CDI Crystal 5080 imager and XPS Crystal digital UV exposure device, which decreases plate handling by automatically transferring the plate to be exposed. Plate consistency, a key driver of quality, is also improved as both the front and back of the plate are exposed at the same time. “Controlling for plate consistency to this extent has not been possible in the past,” shared Jan De Roeck.
On the software side, the new Esko Software Platform largely boasts a reduction in errors. It is a new generation of software that allows subscription-based licensing either locally or to the cloud. Leadership shared that WebCenter has become one of the largest packaging management systems with 500,000 packaging assets in the cloud. Improvements within WebCenter include integration with Media Beacon (DAM solution), improved operational reporting and project management hierarchy. This will be incredibly important in food and pharmaceutical packaging as the U.S. rolls out the new nutrition labeling legislation. Many of the packaging solutions at EskoWorld were geared towards digital printing. Drivers of digital printing are cost reduction and value creation. In order to leverage these capabilities, you need software to control and optimize on-demand digital packaging.
Keynote Mike Ferrari spoke about the changes in consumer behaviour reminding the room that “When you give value to customers they will part with their money.” Omni shopping channel retailing (mobile, online and social) has redefined the variety of purchasing applications available outside of a retail store environment. These channels are reaching consumers globally and can easily connect to web-to-print front ends and digital presses to provide a personalized product. Ferrari also encouraged attendees to “connect social media to a brand experience through packaging” as a new powerful means to market products. Online channels are a small percentage of total sales today, but are growing by double digits. This is not a market we should ignore, especially as the buying power of millennials increases.
In his drupa summary, Jan De Roeck shared that the company’s approach to the show this year was to create a booth in the style of a complete workflow, sharing the spotlight with other sister companies such as X-Rite Pantone, Enfocus, and Media Beacon. Playing the drupa naming game, Jan dubbed 2016 as “Industry 4.0” as reflected by the newest industrial revolution within the current network of automation and data exchange in manufacturing. Reflecting on the size of the show and the complex nature of packaging today, Bernard Zwaenepoel, VP of Software Business quipped that “drupa is a party, packaging is a game!”