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Technology Focus

Modern Folding and Gluing Technologies Take Their Cue from Innovative Carton Design

by Dan Maurer, Heidelberg USA, and Beatrice Schmitt, Heidelberger Druckmachinen AG

February-March, 2010
We all learn never to judge a book by its cover; nevertheless, we all do it every day in a variety of ways. As consumers, for example, we are relentlessly encouraged to learn and make judgments about a product based, at least in part, on information conveyed – instantaneously – at the point of sale by its packaging. Design, brand, function, aesthetics – packaging is now far more than a colorful accessory. And when it comes to combining versatility, visual and emotional appeal, and function in a single product, folding cartons outperform every other type of packaging.

Picture a perfume shop stocked with more than a thousand different perfumes. A single customer would never be able to try them all. Research has shown that in order to make a choice, a customer will preselect based first on the color of the box – red, orange, or yellow for a flowery fragrance, for example – and then by the uniqueness of the package: a flamboyant embossing design, say, or any other feature or combination of features that arrests attention.

As evidence that brand orientation is an increasingly important element in the purchasing decision, marketing experts have found that a majority of consumers recognize their favorite perfume by its packaging rather than by its scent, and specialists state that women tend to remember a perfume by its packaging and will select a product based on brand rather than on content or price. In fact, today’s consumer is likely to spend more money than really necessary for brand products associated with a lifestyle that appeals to them. Young, sporty, elegant, intellectual, glamorous – there is a brand for every feeling. Innovative carton designs aimed at specific target groups are increasingly being used to make products stand out. These and other factors combine to make the folding carton a key part of the product with an active role to play at the point of sale.

See Me, Feel Me
This new emphasis on the visual and tactile elements of the consumer experience means that manufacturers of luxury lifestyle products display a heightened interest in using more distinctive printing materials and special effects to create dynamic, high-impact packaging fashioned with differentiating designs to attract their targeted customers. Inducements include spot coatings, raised effects and embossing, foiling, elaborate diecuts, and nonstandard folds that both surprise and delight the eye.

With new trends emerging all the time, folding carton manufacturers need to be able to react flexibly by offering appropriately dimensioned packaging solutions geared to consumer needs and designed to persuade consumers to buy. New printing and coating technologies, machinery designed to convert nonstandard folding box shapes, and hot and cold foil stamping applications merely hint at the advances equipment suppliers have developed in recent years to meet these changing market requirements.

Folding carton manufacturers that attempt to compete in this market space without these capabilities may be rapidly outstripped by companies that are able to work smarter and faster, and offer outstanding products produced on appropriately configured, modern machinery.

Buy Today, Expand Tomorrow
Given these market realities, to rely on a folder-gluer in one fixed configuration is like trying to kill all birds with one stone: It can’t be done. Especially in design-oriented market segments, the state-of-the-art calls for modular machines that can be configured and expanded according to current (known) and future (unknown) customer requirements for long-term flexibility. In today’s brand-driven world, innovative packaging boosts business. Moreover, because capital budgets also require tighter scrutiny of equipment purchases, modular equipment enables users to purchase what they need for today and expand for tomorrow.

The most versatile equipment boasts specialized components including turning modules, double wall boxes, partition boxes, windowing, conical boxes, attachments for envelopes, CD jackets, presentation folders, and specialty finishing marketing pieces with tipped-in product and slide components. Telescopic roller bars with adjustable lengths offer greater flexibility and open up many different options for processing special cartons with cross-folds. Features like hinged central transports, a transport carrier design that permits significantly faster belt exchanges, automated makeready systems, and integrated computers designed to store job data help shrink set-up times dramatically and maximize uptime by shortening maintenance. Belt-edge folding technology extends the range of processable boxes. Modern servo drive technology enables higher running speeds, improves accuracy, allows for quality adjustments during production, reduces noise, and eases service work.

Design for Manufacturing
The focus for folding box makers is to work as efficiently as possible, even when clients request a nontraditional box style. While straight-line folding cartons, lock bottom, and four- or six-corner collapsible boxes are still the most commonly requested box styles, the variety of carton styles is virtually endless. For both traditional and nontraditional box styles, the challenge is to deliver the highest consistent quality, process as many pieces per hour as possible, shorten makeready times, and reduce waste production.

This requires the folding carton manufacturer to function as a marketing and design consultant as well. Manufacturers benefit greatly by providing consultative services, collaborating on the design of the product with their customers to make sure that these designs will benefit from improved manufacturing efficiency, faster run speeds, and quality enhancements. Carton designers also stand to benefit from gaining an understanding of the wider array of available carton design options. The rendering of the carton then can be streamlined for prepress and avoid iterations of adjustment and sample generation prior to printing and finishing. Waste also is decreased as design issues that may reduce manufacturing yield are addressed proactively. Alternative board types may be recommended that can improve the quality of printing and finishing, as well as reduce the cost of the carton.

In direct competition between a traditional line shaft folder-gluer and a modular Heidelberg Diana X 115, the same operators were able to reduce first time set-up times by 50 percent and more with unconventional folding box designs like partition boxes. With job parameters saved, repeat jobs have realized further reduction in makereadies. In tests, maximum performance improvements in the range of 300 to 400 percent have been achieved. The option of integrating many different folding elements opens up a range of different possibilities. Integrated carton packers also have further extended the real gains in production speed.

Especially with respect to product categories including food, personal care, beverage, liquor, confectionery, tobacco, and cosmetics, buyers are demanding higher levels of customization reflected in more complex designs with unusual surface finishes complete with multiple coatings, hot foil, and embossing. For applications like these, the specific purpose of a folding carton extends beyond the job of simply protecting, transporting, and storing the enclosed product to the job of transferring knowledge and communicating a specific sales message to the consumer. This leads, inevitably, to the need for functional, attractively designed boxes with enough space to carry all the required product information, boxes that can be opened up in a special way, boxes that can be turned, boxes with speak features – memorable boxes. If the challenge for packaging designers is to create something that amazes the consumer, the task for packaging printers is to help their clients position themselves and their brands for maximum impact.

Dan Maurer is the vice president, product management post press, for Heidelberg USA. He has spent the past 18 years in the printing industry. His experience spans product management, commercialization, including OEM JV products, sales operations, and international business development, R&D, engineering design, and manufacturing engineering. Beatrice Schmitt is the channel product manager for post press packaging for Heidelberger Druckmachinen AG. For more information, visit www.us.heidelberg.com.