Is the packaging print market poised to be the next big opportunity?

Studies say pharmaceutical packaging will generate massive revenues – and smart packaging will lead the way.

A new report by Persistence Market Research titled Pharmaceutical Packaging Market: The U.S. Industry Analysis and Forecast to 2020 has cited the pharmaceutical packaging market as a key revenue generator in the years to come. It went on to say that the U.S. is driving the growth of the North American market for pharmaceutical packaging due to the presence of health-conscious people and their high spending power. Technological innovation in packaging and integration, and advanced manufacturing processes are some of the driving factors responsible for this growth. However, price volatility, the availability of raw materials and changing health regulations are some major restraints inhibiting this growth. The report also said that nano-enabled pharmaceutical packaging will open up new opportunities. Biotechnology and electronics will play an important role in enhancing the functionality of packaging. Plus, eco-friendly and child-resistant packaging is gaining popularity, as are special blister packs and cardboard packaging to replace plastic.

Smart packaging to lead the way

Another market research firm, RRI Research Report Insights, also revealed that “smart” pill boxes and bottles will be at the leading edge of this wave. Smart pill boxes keep a record of the amount of pills consumed by patients, their timing, as well as services provided during a stipulated time period. They use text, phone calls, light and sound to remind people to take their medications. They’re preferred over traditional technology because they facilitate better patient compliance. With rising incidents of chronic diseases, the demand for smarter packaging technology has significantly increased, RRI added. This increase is expected to drive the market – and of course the accompanying packaging printing market. In terms of geography, the smart pill box market is expected to be the most lucrative in Canada and the U.S., owing to the high penetration of advanced technology.

An opportunity for commercial printers

If you’ve thought about entering the lucrative packaging printing market, experts tell us that you must do your homework in detail before investing. For example, does your shop have in-house expertise on the intricacies of structural design? Can you offer a total, end-to-end, high-quality print solution to potential customers that includes digital finishing and perhaps embellishments? Can you guarantee a seamless workflow, especially on the front end? And what about strict compliance to government and industry-specific (in this case pharmaceutical) regulations? Regardless of what digital printing press you choose, can you guarantee compatibility between inks, substrates, coatings and so on. These key questions must absolutely be answered first.

According to industry guru Harvey Levenson, the package printing market has endured and grown when most other segments have experienced declines. One major reason has been the focus on packaging by OEMs. “While technology advancements must continue, the next area of development has more to do with marketing package printing technology to commercial printers in a way that demonstrates that packaging is a viable and profitable industry segment to enter,” he said. “Most commercial printers don’t yet understand this. However, advances in digital printing are rapidly addressing one of the largest concerns of packaging print buyers – reduced time to market. Today, production inkjet and toner equipment manufacturers have new technologies for digital package printing, folding cartons, corrugated boards and labels.” However, Levenson added that three traditional processes for package printing – flexography, gravure, and lithography – will still continue to be vital, especially for static and long-run printing.

Today, label printers and converters often use colour digital presses in tandem with their analogue systems, and some converters operate electro-photographic and inkjet presses. Realizing the present and future growth potential of digital packaging, today’s OEMs wanting to capitalize on these opportunities are engaging in joint ventures. For example: Heidelberg has partnered with Fujifilm in developing its Primefire 106; Landa has partnered with KBA combining Landa’s S10 technology with KBA’s VariJET Powered by Xerox; Xanté’s Excelagraphix 4200 is using Memjet page-wide inkjet printheads for high-speed output on corrugated board, and on and on.

So here’s my humble suggestion if you’re thinking about entering this market. Talk to your OEM first. Then arrange a fact-finding trip to one of its clients who’s already successful in this segment. Only then will you objectively discover your possible path (and possible pitfalls) in making the transition to packaging printing.

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.