Boxing clever

Obaly Morava’s HP T400 Simplex inkjet for corrugated

Gianluigi Rankin, worldwide product marketing manager for HP’s web press media technologies, demonstrating the boxes produced on the T400 at Obaly Morava. Photo Nessan Cleary

While digital printing is an everyday reality for many sectors from books to direct mail, the packaging sector still takes a mostly conventional approach. Every so often we see something new that moves the argument in favour of digital along a little. Recently, Nessan Cleary travelled to the Czech Republic to visit an independent corrugated printer, Obaly Morava. This is the first company to have installed HP’s new T400 Simplex inkjet press for printing corrugated media.

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The T400 Simplex, sitting in a separate building at Obaly Morava. Photo Nessan Cleary

Packaging print is facing many of the same kinds of pressures that have driven other sectors to invest in digital technologies. There is the same need to cut down on waste and to avoid having stock tied up in warehouses. Brand owners are constantly looking for ways to engage their customers, with regular promotions that can react quickly to events, such as a surprise win in a national sporting event or a sudden change in VAT rules. This means that run lengths are coming down as brands look at shorter runs of different versions. At the same time, digital printing technology is improving with higher image quality at faster production speeds which is helping to raise the break-even point where digital becomes a feasible alternative.

Obaly Morava

Obaly Morava is a family business, headed up by CEO Martin Rehorik. It has around 250 employees and runs three continuous shifts. To start with, the company outsourced the corrugated production but in 1996 installed its first corrugating machine. Today the company is still the only independent Czech producer of corrugated board and packaging.

Rehorik says that he realized that he would have to take the company in a different direction to survive, which led to a new Bobst Master Line for production and converting of corrugated packaging with flexo printing and diecutting. This was followed more recently by a Bobst Expert line.

But this in itself was not enough as Rehorik outlines, “Three orfour years ago our sales reps told me that we needed to improve the quality of our print to the level of offset. At the same time the European and worldwide prices were still falling and we were feeling the shortening of average orders.”

He continues, “The only way was preprinting a roll to be added to the corrugated to create a preprinted corrugated board solution. When I compared the two possibilities of lamination or preprinting Irealized how many unnecessary steps lamination would mean for me. It would need a 6-to 8-color offset press, with space and the operators plus the paper for lamination, which is very specific.

“Then there’s the lamination, which needs a special type. You need operators and space, and you need quite an expensive PVA glue and still you are not ready to manufacture the packaging because lamination is a cold set operation and packaging needs the right humidity. So you need quite a lot of space and time for the material to equalize in humidity and eliminate any distortion.”

Rehorik explains that he hates unnecessary steps and always prefers to take the shortest path to the target. “So Iruled out the typical way of producing high quality print with offset print and lamination. The only way was preprinting a roll to be added to the corrugated to create a preprinted corrugated board solution.” So he started looking around at the various options.

The T400 Simplex

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Martin Rehorik, CEO of Obaly Morava. Photo Nessan Cleary

At the same time, HP was looking to branch into the packaging market with its inkjet web press, eventually creating a T400 Simplex configuration. This is based around a single T400 print engine and uses the same A51 thermal printheads with the same water-based CMYK inks. There are seven print headsper colorbar, and two bars per color, plus 14 heads for the bonding agent. Gianluigi Rankin, worldwide product marketing manager for HP’s web press media technologies, says, “We estimated that customers would be replacing one printhead in every shift but now it’s actually one every two shifts.”

The press has the same specifications as a standard T400, with a maximum print speed of 182metres a minute. This equates to around 12,000 square metres an hour. The resolution is 600 x 600 dpi, which allows it to print text down to four points quite legibly.

But HP has had to make a couple of minor modifications. Thus the rewinders had to be modified to take the larger four-inch cores that are used in the corrugated industry. HP has also added web cleaners and there are some differences in the software to cope with the substrates and associated color profiles.

Media compatibility

The biggest single problem that most inkjet press developers have faced is the lack of suitable paper stocks and this is just as true of the corrugated industry. Rankin says, “Ultimately we want to get to where the mills do the optimizing. But the volumes are still too small for the mills to get behind that.” He adds, “It’s taken about three to four years with uncoated papers for the web press. The volumes are there but the paper manufacturers are hesitant. They want long runs.”

So in the mean time HP has developed a new priming agent and a coating unit that can flood coat the sheets to optimize them for digital use. There are currently two different priming agents, for coated and uncoated papers, with a third being developed for gloss coated papers.

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Francois Martin, HP’s worldwide marketing director for graphics. Photo Nessan Cleary

Rankin explains, “Uncoated boards can use bonding agent or priming agent. The priming agent gives you a little more color gamut and is more economical. But bonding agent is good for low coverages. The bonding agent only goes where we print so on a low coverage job you use very little. For the coated substrates there is only the priming agent.”

The coating unit itself has been manufactured by Harris and Bruno and the same machine can be used for coating and varnishing, with just a 30-minute washout to change over. Eventually Obaly Morava will use two of these, with one located before the press for pre-coating and a second sitting after the press and dedicated to varnishing.

Rehorik says that one of the immediate advantages of digital printing is that the process is extremely simple, with no need to mix inks, change plates or any other make readies. It’s simply a matter of sending the file to the press, printing to the liner, add it to thecorrugated board and then diecut.

He explains, “We can print to any type of paper. We are using a standard type of stock in our corrugator. Because the corrugator has a heated hot plate for drying we are able to control the humidity to the exact level for converting to packaging.” Coincidentally, while we were there Rehorik announced that he had just that afternoon taken his first big order for a job to be produced specifically on the T400. It was clearly a big thing for him, vindicating his faith in the technology.

The HP vision

The T400 Simplex is only the latest overture from HP to the packaging industry. There’s already an existing corrugated printer, the Scitex 15000, a UV flatbed that’s been developed from the FB10000 wide format printer. This is aimed mainly at the short-run market but can print directly to a corrugated board, whereas the T400 prints to a liner but can handle a much higher volume.

HP also has two packaging variations on its B2 Indigo press, which have been in beta testing at various sites around the world and are gearing up fortheir commercial launches in differentregions in the next couple of months. Thus there’s the Indigo 20000 forroll-fed flexible films and the Indigo 30000 forfolding carton sheets.

On top of this, HP Indigo is also the dominant player in the digital label market with its narrow format roll-fed label presses. So, HP has the packaging industry firmly in its sights as the next big growth area for digital printing.

Francois Martin, HP’s worldwide marketing director for graphics, is optimistic, pointing out, “The label industry has changed from 100% analogue to a very high digital penetration in the last couple of years and the same will happen in corrugated packaging but it won’t take ten years – it will take five, because we have the understanding of what is required to transform the industry.”

Aurelio Maruggi, general manager of the Inkjet Web division, stresses that HP’s strategy is to see its customers as partners that are necessary to its own success, adding, “Companies like Obaly Morava are opening new ground and understanding how to adopt this technology in a production workflow and how to properly position this technology.”

Maruggi says that HP has developed three inkjet platforms, with different web widths, and has no immediate plans to develop any more but is instead putting its efforts intoupgrading those platforms. He also points out that the number of pages printed with the inkjet web presses has gone up rapidlywith80 billion pages printed in total on these machines – including 36 billion pages printed in the first three quarters of this year. Maruggi thinks this is partly because customers have optimized the way they use the presses, saying, “Also people have found that they can address different industries with the same press from direct mail to books and newspapers.”

He adds, “So existing T400 users could get into packaging with their configurations.” Ultimately this sort of flexibility is likely to be a key aspect of inkjet printing businesses in the future.

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