Features Opinion Tech
Packaging and Impressions from Interpack

February 10, 2015
By Martin Habekost


The Interpack 2014 tradeshow took place from May 8 to May 14, 2014, at the Düsseldorf fair grounds, the same sprawling location that hosts the drupa tradeshow every four years. According to Interpack, this year’s exhibition attracted 175,000 visitors and approximately 2,700 exhibitors. The main sector trends, again according to Interpack, are resource efficiency for plant and machinery, as well as for packaging material usage, quality and safety to guarantee perfect and counterfeit-proof finished products (especially in such touchy segments as food/beverage and pharmaceuticals), diversity and flexibility for an ever wider range, and shorter product cycles.

The primary trend of shorter product cycles in packaging was emphasized by many exhibitors, most notably Esko. It was also a focal point for many exhibiting print companies that, in addition to the many machine manufacturers, demonstrated how their equipment can accommodate a sudden change in the packaging requirements to quickly build a new product. This can be done through a modular set up of the machine or an intelligent control logic system that is able to fill containers of different sizes.

Highlights and vignettes
Packaging is much more than just the design of the package. Manufacturers and designers alike must also consider variables like what type of material is being used, types of sleeves that go over the package, the stability of the package, and what kind of weight needs to be protected and transported.

Flexographic printing is the dominant process currently being used for producing all kinds of labels, sleeves and other wrappings. Paper bags are also printed with this technology. A Swiss print company at Interpack showcased the same design printed digital, HD flexo and gravure. At a first glance, the prints looked very similar in colour and appearance. Only a closer look revealed differences between the printing processes especially in the highlights and vignettes.

Hewlett-Packard made a big splash by exhibiting new three digital printing machines that are aimed at the packaging industry. HP showed its Indigo 20000 and 30000 devices, while also debuting the HP Scitex 15000 press. The HP 20000 press is aimed at the label printing market with a web width of 30 inches. The workflow for controlling the HP 20000 is powered by Esko technology. The HP 20000 can be used for printing flexible packaging, labels and shrink sleeves with a maximum repeat length of 44 inches. Printing materials can include film, paper and aluminum.  The HP 20000 features seven imaging stations that can be used for printing even opaque white. The well-known personalized Coke campaign was printed on an HP 20000.

Esko has teamed up with HP in regards to the workflow and converting of spot colours to extended gamut printing using CMYK plus O, G and V. The Esko software shows how far, in ∆E, the converted colours are from the original Pantone colour when four, five, six or seven colours are used to simulate the brand colour. Through the addition of either orange, and/or green and/or violet, the ∆E will get less, meaning the colour is closer to the original. Esko is also supplying its MIS software to HP, making it possible to have short turnaround times from when the job enters the print company until it is printed and ready for delivery.

The HP 30000 is designed for printing folding cartons with offset matching print quality. The maximum sheet width is 29.5 inches and prints on sheets of carton. The press can print on paperboard, metallized board and plastics. Like the Indigo 20000, the 30000 also features up to seven colour print stations which make it possible to achieve brand colours through dedicated Pantone inks or through HP’s IndiChrome technology that uses four, six or seven colours for on-press brand colour emulation. The maximum board thickness is 24 pt. It is even possible to add an inline coater for UV and water-based coatings. The Indigo technology makes it possible to print VDP cartons. This was also shown during the press demonstration at the tradeshow.

The third HP press shown was the Scitex 15000 for corrugated board printing. This inkjet press can print four boards at the same time. At Interpack, the imaging giant showed the printing of boxes for big screen LED TVs.

This very interesting demonstration of technology continues the momentum HP showed at drupa 2012. Although the print speeds are not that of offset and flexographic printing presses, it enables print companies to serve the quick turnaround market. I predict even more innovative solutions will be shown by HP at drupa 2016.

Bioplastics, boxes and pouches
QuickLabel Systems of the United States showed its Kiaro! Printer, a small, tabletop on-demand, roll-fed label system based on inkjet technology. It comes with Windows software that can also do VDP. Depending on the model you buy, Kiaro! can print with up to an eight-inch web-width at 40 feet per minute and at 1,200-dpi resolution. The maximum repeat length is 17.92 inches.

I found this product quite impressive, since it is an affordable solution for quick turnaround, short-run label production that has no make-ready and is perfect for small businesses that do not need large quantities of labels.

At Interpack 2011, bioplastics were an interesting trend, which I wrote about in PrintAction June 2011. At the time, this was a little side exhibition of Interpack squeezed into part of one hall. At the 2014 event, however, many suppliers showed materials made from bioplastics. Personally, I found it very interesting to see a coffee pod made completely from bioplastic. This means that you can throw the coffee pod directly into the kitchen garbage after brewing your single-serve  coffee. The pod composts in 90 days.

It is a little know fact that the currently manufactured coffee pods for the various single-serve coffee machine pose quite a problem in the recycling stream, since they can not be properly recycled.

Kolbus, a German company with sales offices in Canada, showed an interesting machine configuration that manufactures high-quality boxes with magnetic closure. The inside has a stable tray that protects the packaged product. The stand had a production line set up that inserted the magnets, secured them with tape, flipped the boxes over, scored the preprinted cover and then inserted the box. Interestingly enough, the outside of the box was printed digitally.

The company can also make various angled cuts into the box lid for 90, 130, 180 and multi-angle cuts to wrap the lid of the box around a round object. These boxes are designed for packaging high-quality items to give them a touch of luxury.

Pouches made for all kinds of purposes were also a dominant part of the packaging options highlighted at Interpack. These pouches today can hold a vast array of liquids from water and juices to baby food and soups to motor oil. The important thing is that the pouch is well made, the seams are properly formed and sealed, and the correct spout for dispensing the product has been inserted at the top.

Food materials and footprints
Interpack’s Halls 1 to 4 held all kinds of machinery for the production of food, mostly for grinding cocoa and chocolate manufacturing (hollow figure manufacturing), but also for candy and gum manufacturing. Many companies showed machines for the manufacturing of wafers and ice cream cones. These were halls were you could get many edible samples. I wasn’t quite sure what these machines had to do with packaging, but after getting through these food items, machines for packaging freshly made food items were shown.

Throughout the show it was clear that the traditional materials used to create packaging like PE, PS, PET are now available in all kinds of shapes and sizes. The trend is to use the material more wisely, meaning less of it and have the shapes more friendly/economic for stacking on skids, meaning less trucks are needed to transport the same amount of packages making the packaging product more sustainable. The use of less packaging and less material to create a smaller carbon footprint was a general trend of Interpack.

Recyclability was also a big topic weaving its way through the various exhibits. The special metal packaging plaza showcased not only the versatility of metal packaging, but stressed also the point that metal packaging can be recycled over and over again. Many high-quality metal packages were shown.

All of the wonderful packaging technology at Interpack spoke very little about one thing, all of these labels, wraps and special products need to be printed somehow. A few print companies were present at the tradeshow and showcased their high-quality print products using mainly the flexographic print process. Some print companies combined the flexographic printing presses with digital printing or rotogravure printing.

Like drupa, the Interpack tradeshow is a very interesting exhibition of printing potential, with regards to the protection of the product and the message it gives to the customer. Relative to commercial printing, short-run and quick turnaround technology finally seems to be a key focus for the packaging industry. This new focus of technology will surely disrupt the market, as there remains significant demand for printing labels, foils, cardboard and corrugated board.

Dr. Martin Habekost is Associate Chair of Ryerson University’s Graphic Communications Management program and can be reached at