KBA Industry leader sees dynamic growth in digital packaging printing

As part of a series of interviews, the VDMA Printing and Paper Technology Association will be highlighting member companies that are leaders in this segment. The VDMA (Verband Deutscher Maschinen und Anlagenbau), Mechanical Engineering Industry Association represents more than 3,200 companies in the capital goods industry, making it the largest industry association in Europe. In this special question-and-answer interview, Dr. Christian Maas, one of the two Managing Directors of KBA-Kammann GmbH based in Germany, explains the importance to his company of industrial printing, which markets are involved, and which technological challenges must be overcome.

Dr. Christian Maas.
Dr. Christian Maas.

Q: What is your understanding of “industrial printing”?

A: I would draw a dividing line to graphical printing. In this sector, the printed product is the actual product. Industrial printing, on the other hand, is normally part of a multi-step industrial production process within which its task is to decorate products, to enhance the appearance of them, and to add information.

Q: What are the sectors of industrial printing you’re active in as a technology manufacturer?

A: Our core business is the decoration of primary packages – above all bottles – for the beverage industry – especially high-quality alcoholic beverages. Furthermore, we manufacture technology for printing on glass and crockery, hence, all sorts of tableware. Our third pillar is the decoration and enhancement of glass containers and flacons for alcohol-based cosmetics and perfumes. Whenever alcohol is involved, direct printing on glass is the better solution compared to labels or packages made of plastics.

Q: How do customers’ requirements differ from the traditional print market?

A: There are, above all, differences when it comes to substrates. Usually, we print on three-dimensional containers made of glass or glass-like plastic containers in sizes up to 50 x 50 x 50 centimetres. In comparison with paper and cardboard, the surface qualities of glass differ substantially. The tolerances are often in the millimetre range. Moreover, the shapes and sizes of the glass containers are not standardized. Just think of the large variety of flacons or the different whisky and cognac bottles. In order to achieve the required print quality, exact guidance of the substrate and precise process monitoring is essential.

Q: Which printing methods are on your compan’s priority list in industrial applications?

A: Above all, we focus on screenprinting and digital printing as well as hot-foil stamping on hollow containers. In some cases also pad and flexo printing. In most cases, our customers use UV curing inks in the screen and digital printing systems. For that, we provide the corresponding UV technology. In screen printing, however, many customers also use thermoplastic or ceramic frit inks. They’re dried in downstream oven lines.

Q: Do you have to handle new substrates, inks and paints?

A: Increasingly there are also glass-like plastics that need to be printed on directly. However, apart from a few exceptions, the plastics industry prefers labels. That’s where we were also active in the past. Now, we focus completely on direct decoration. Mainly on glass, but also plastics and already shaped metal containers – for instance, three-piece cans or deep-drawn aerosol cans. Sometimes it’s also about the decoration of ceramics such as individually printed coffee mugs or promotional items.

Q: To what extent does industrial printing contribute to your total sales?

A: 100%. We’re solely and completely active in this segment.

Q: Market studies forecast strong global growth for industrial printing. Does your experience confirm these high growth expectations?

A: This may well seem to be true for technology manufacturers seeking to re-orientate themselves from the media to the packaging market. We experience strong and dynamic growth in digital packaging printing. As far as other processes are concerned, the development is rather moderate. There’s a continuous upward trend. The drivers are the global growth of population and the growing middle classes in the emerging countries, because of the positive economic development there. Besides that, the trend towards sophisticated, high-quality packages is favourable for us. Especially in the luxury segment, for instance, as regards to spirits or perfumes, the appealing look of the product and package design is an important tool to stand out from competitors. Packaging designers focus increasingly on the possibilities offered by digital printing.

Q: Will your company develop work in the future areas of printed electronics, printed bio/medical technology or 3D printing?

A: We were active in the field of printed bio and medical technology when we still built machines for label printing. However, sales were not sustainable. At the moment, this isn’t a relevant future field for us. Its market potential is overestimated at least by one, if not two factors. For printing technology manufacturers, I don’t see relevant sales potential in printed electronics or in printed bio and medical technology. Things are different with 3D printing, which for us primarily means printing on three-dimensional containers. To us, additive manufacturing is only interesting from the use’s perspective. We already use numerous printed parts in our machines – partly in order to produce complex components, and partly in order to produce spare parts.

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.