As usual for this time of the year, our collective minds start wandering to next year and thinking about what the future will hold for our businesses and the wider industry in general. 

Thankfully, we are now moving beyond the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic that has dominated thinking ahead of 2021 and 2022, although supply chain challenges and the geopolitical climate are causing arguably even bigger headaches as the cost of business is now a real challenge for converters the world over.

That is a just a snapshot of what is predicted to define the next 12 months, which is far from all ‘bad news’, so read below to see in detail what various stakeholders from the digital print for packaging value chain are predicting. The points raised, and more, will be addressed across all of Digital Labels & Packaging’s output next year, in print, online and in person. Register your details here to make sure you’re up-to-date with the very latest.

Tony Mariani, AM Labels | Enrica Lodi, Cartes | David Pittman, Digital Labels & Packaging | Lee Metters, Domino | Chris Jordan, ExedraBridge | Dr André Schwarz, EyeC | Mike Rottenborn, Hybrid Software Group | Eli Mahal, HP Indigo | Benjamin Adner and Gregory Harwood, Inkcups | Phil Baldwin, Mark Andy UK | Oliver Kleinman, The Meliora Group (Delga) | Warren Werbitt, The Print Whisperer 

Tony Mariani, managing director, AM Labels Limited 

Sustainability will undoubtedly continue driving trends and developments in the industry throughout 2023, and businesses will therefore be required to adapt to meet the increased demand for sustainable products. We predict that biodegradable and compostable labels, in addition to those made from 100 per cent recycled materials, will continue to grow in popularity, as consumers are increasingly demanding environmentally friendly labelling and packaging solutions.

At AM Labels, we also forecast developments in the inkjet technology market, particularly the launch of the new Afinia x350 digital roll-to-roll press. We were lucky enough to work with Afinia to preview this model for the first time in the UK at the PPMA Show, and the digital press was certainly the star of the show on our stand. We predict that this full-colour, A3 wide model will provide new opportunities for businesses looking to expand their in-house production offering, while benefitting from a highly cost effective initial purchase price.

Additionally, we expect demand for automation and robotics to continue increasing in 2023, supporting businesses in driving efficiency and increased productivity in their operations.

Throughout 2022, sustainability has unsurprisingly continued to be at the top of the agenda. At AM Labels, to respond to increasing demand for environmentally friendly products, we introduced a range of sustainable labelling materials and linerless label printers to our portfolio. We plan to further expand our sustainable labelling range in 2023, providing our customers with additional options to support their needs and requirements.

Furthermore, we also witnessed a shift towards more businesses looking to introduce automation into their operations to create more efficient and cost effective processes, particularly amongst our customers operating in warehousing and logistics industries. The continued growth and popularity of personalisation and digital printing technology were additional trends that we identified throughout the year.

2022 was a year of major expansion for us at AM Labels, after several years of continued and steady growth. We relocated to a larger premises that is over twice the size of our previous facility, and we also began work on our brand new Technical Experience Centre, which will be used to display and demonstrate our comprehensive range of printing, scanning and RFID equipment. While 2022 was a challenging year for businesses that had supply chain disruptions and political uncertainty to contend with, not to mention the cost of living crisis, the market as a whole remains robust, and we feel positive about the year to come.

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Enrica Lodi, sales and marketing manager, Cartes

2022 was an incredible year for Cartes. Following the request of our customers and the innovation of our Cartes engineering team, in 2022, we have introduced a real and fully digital foil embellishment solution complete with a digital laser die-cutting. Our Cartes Jet D-Screen digital finishing technology paired with our Patented Invisible Laser Die Cutting Technology ILC offers our customers the ability to process jobs immediately from a pdf, all in OnePass with no tooling and no waiting time. In the current digital environment, converters want a machine that offers quick job changeover and automation that helps to reduce costs while maintaining job quality.

Our goal since starting Cartes company in 1970 has remained constant and consistent…to bring innovative, cost-effective machinery solutions to the market backed by a company that is willing and capable to stand behind it. 

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David Pittman, editor, Digital Labels & Packaging

My predictions for 2023 are as follows:

  • Companies up and down the supply chain will continue to struggle with the cost of business but will likewise show themselves to be resilient and resourceful, as they often do in a time of crisis;
  • Concurrently, the supply chain will have to continue to find a way to be more sustainable and produce labels and packaging with an ever-greener footprint and more astute environmental awareness;
  • The legal cannabis market will burst onto the scene in Europe, creating opportunities up and down the digital print for packaging value chain; and
  • Digital will take on a greater role in the wider packaging market, as converters look to update their processes and operations in line with next year’s turbulent and challenging business environment. The inherent benefits of digital will be thrust into the limelight and this will provide the digital printing supply chain with an opportunity to deliver irrevocable change to the way labels and packaging are manufactured. 

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Lee Metters, group business development director, Domino Printing Sciences

Sustainability will be high on everyone’s agenda for 2023, and not just in terms of creating circular materials and sustainable packaging solutions. Brands will look to find out more about the impact of their supply chains, and how they can optimise processes to reduce their environmental footprint. 

We will see more brands looking for solutions for greater visibility, which enable materials to be traced back to suppliers, and products to be tracked forward from the manufacturing site, into the hands of consumers and beyond. This will be accelerated by new traceability requirements from legislation including the Food Safety Modernization Act in the US.

How to facilitate this exchange of data is going to be one of the big challenges for everyone. I foresee a huge adoption in the use of variable 2D codes to provide a link between physical products and supply chain data, so brands can optimise processes, promote efficiency, and drive out waste.

The last twelve months have been exceptionally challenging. With the world still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, manufacturers have been faced with supply chain issues, price increases, worker shortages, and ongoing non-availability of key components, which have created a very uncertain economic outlook. As a result, a key theme that we have noticed this year is flexibility as manufacturers have sought solutions that allow them to make changes to products and packaging when faced with materials shortages. In the food and beverage industry, in particular, we have seen a substantial increase in projects involving late-stage customisation, so manufacturers can change or adjust packaging to update ingredient lists and allergen labelling when dealing with new suppliers and ingredient shortages.

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Chris Jordan, product launch expert, ExedraBridge

What I hope to see, and what will actually happen will probably be very different.

I hope, but don’t really see a plan for the packing and label part of our industry to change dramatically. Commercial print and office print is shrinking at an alarming rate. Very few admit it, but it is having and will have a significant impact on many of the major suppliers revenue and profit in 2023 and beyond. Ray Stasieczko believes the services business in office print has dropped 20% since the start of the pandemic, and I and others believe that the number of commercial printers in the UK has done the same.

The industry desperately needs a growth engine, and it could / should be packaging. The tech is there, not sure the mindset among many of the converters is? Selling to the brands is vital, as more than ever they need to make their products unforgettable. At the same time new technology enables a much faster time to market, which apart from outstanding design, selection of packaging, and faster delivery is the way forward.

The best thing about 2022 for me was meeting many of my contacts and making new contacts, networking and going to events. People, people, people! ExedraBridge did run two Lunch@TheLoft, GetBack to GiveBack events in 2021 when it was legal, but 2022 has been a step up on them. There has been a huge jump in shows and events and my highlights were Sign & Print, Stockholm, PrintFuture, Geneva, IPIA, Xeretec at the Xerox Innovation Centre and the PrintShow in the UK. Networking in all its forms is now more productive than attending large shows. We will have run more than half a dozen events by the end of 2022.

The biggest change at the Print Show in the UK was that there was more software on display than hardware, a first? Is it possible that suppliers, printers and converters are taking software seriously for the first time as they are finding difficult to hire the right people, and that automation really is important and the only way forward. I am sure like many I have realised and enjoyed being able to meet people at events small and large. One of my specialities as a Product Launch Expert, is a one to one “Walk and Talk” session from Baker Street Tube to Piccadilly, and if any of you are interested in an inspirational couple of hours please get in touch.

Have a great end of year.

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Dr André Schwarz, marketing and documentation director, EyeC

Packaging and printed materials are becoming more and more complex and of higher quality, and the requirements on producers are becoming more demanding. Therefore, it is all the more important to ensure consistent quality throughout the entire production process. EyeC is the only provider on the market that can ensure these requirements with innovative solutions – from the artwork revision control to the artwork template file to the finished printed product.

Prooftext is used for the initial correction and revision control of print templates in order to speed up work in the prepress stage. EyeC Proofiler Graphic detects all errors in print-ready PDF files. This allows to identify deviations even before the printing plates are produced. Proofrunner ensures an automatic 100% inspection of an order on the printing press and in further processing; for highly finished products with the ProofRunner HighLight. Samples from production or materials from suppliers can be inspected with the EyeC Proofiler and receive a precise and fast inspection of samples, also with an integrated Braille inspection if necessary. A 1D/2D code check and other options such as distance and colour measurements are also available upon request.

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Mike Rottenborn, CEO, Hybrid Software Group

The printing industry – especially labels and packaging – showed tremendous resilience during the pandemic, and we expect this to continue during 2023, despite recessionary economies, high interest rates, and rising energy costs. Strong businesses learn to adapt, and many printers and converters continue to execute process improvements initiated during the pandemic, including:

  • Data-driven automation: smart factories driven by ERP systems, with fewer human touchpoints and reduced labour costs;
  • Just-in-time production: digital printing reduces capital costs for raw materials and finished goods inventory; and
  • Software-as-a-Service: centralisation of job data and production software in the cloud, with lower acquisition costs and minimal IT staffing.

All businesses must also operate sustainably. We’ve been carbon neutral for the past two years, but sustainability is more than that. In order for a business to operate sustainably, it must be sustainable itself. For technology suppliers, that means steady, profitable growth to allow engineers to deliver printing solutions that meet future needs.

Our customers operate in a challenging environment and face price increases for everything from raw materials to energy and employee salaries. Thus, we’ve decided not to increase our software or maintenance prices in 2023, to better help everyone navigate the coming recession. We look forward to a fast recovery and a bright future for the industry.

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Eli Mahal, head of L&P marketing, HP Indigo 

I think the megatrend we have seen in the last couple of years which I do not see changing is the demand for sustainability. This is ongoing and will be shifting jobs into flexo and digital. The last year or two has seen more awareness of energy prices. If you look to Europe many of our customers report four- or five-times higher energy bills due to the crisis in Ukraine. Some of them are already investing heavily in their effort to reduce energy costs. For example, switching from a UV lamp, installing solar panels and transitioning into digital print which saves a significant amount of energy compared to a flexo with six to eight UV lamps.

We’ve seen during Covid a big increase in the volume of labels and packaging as most of us stayed at home. This year converters report lessening growth rates, but I’d say overall the market is going its regular level given the fact we can go out and the demand at the supermarket is slightly decreasing so this is something that will impact converters.

There is some concern about the economy slowing down. So, if you think back to last year, converters were really occupied with filling the shelves, despite supply chain issues, ensuring the shelves were full of food. The mindset has now changed from supply to demand. This is a positive sign for next year.

We are now preparing and gearing up into moving into medium and long run in flexo. The label market is very strong but some kind of slowdown may take place but we have learned that the labels and packaging industry is quite resilient. The trends are very clear, nothing can change the volume of trends because if you think about the number of products, you could buy 50 years ago versus what you can buy now, the growth number has exceeded the growth of the population by a landslide. Once you acknowledge that, it’s very clear the need to invest.

If businesses think they can wait another three years to jump on this fast moving train, they should think again. The overall production of digital machines is 95% labels and packaging. This is a very general area everyone knows. A big interest in digital is shrink sleeves, which is quite the unique application as the media is very sensitive and if you apply heat, it’s very hard to control. Shrinksleeve is a nice growth area despite the pressures of sustainability. Another growth area is flexo packaging, we saw a lot of people in 2020 start their own businesses. Sometimes there are trends popping up out of nowhere, for example the cannabis market in the US. Once legalised, we saw a huge demand for short run options.

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Benjamin Adner, CEO, and Gregory Harwood, digital product manager, Inkcups

Direct-to-object (DTO) machines will continue to develop as there is much to be learned and tried. There are still so many applications and substrates to print on, including wine and spirits bottles, bags, hard goods and an expanded drinkware assortment. Two things to watch out for are increased throughput on equipment and wider gamut printers featuring orange and green that will help achieve improved Pantone colour matching.

Every year manufacturers make DTO machines more reliable, speeding up the machine’s uptime and enhancing them to produce ever-better quality products. Providing turnkey solutions will become a priority for many manufacturers to deliver an overall well-rounded product and service that many businesses and industries can benefit from.

With innovations around every corner, a wide variety of businesses and industries, and countless untapped applications, one thing is for certain:  DTO printing will flourish in 2023.

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Phil Baldwin, sales manager, Mark Andy UK

If there is one fact that label and narrow web converters can rely on from Mark Andy, it’s the objective advice available on the best print process for your specific requirements. With a wider range of print technology than any other press manufacturer in this sector, Mark Andy is perfectly placed to steer the inexperienced through the variety of flexo and digital hybrid technology available and design and build tailored solutions for the experienced at the sophisticated end of the market.

Inline one-pass production is the only way forward in today’s competitive marketplace, especially at time when skilled operators are becoming scarce, and automation is acknowledged as the route to production efficiency. Mark Andy is committed to digital hybrid technology and has a globally installed base of more than 350 machines to prove the point.

Highlighting the company’s ability to supply a range of digital hybrid presses from the popular Digital Pro Series, which uses toner technology, through mid-range inkjet, the DSiQ, which uses a Domino engine on a Mark Andy Evolution platform, right up to the top of the range DSHD, which is Mark Andy’s own in-house creation based on a Performance series platform. All three offer various levels of inline converting and embellishment techniques, according to need and budget.

Despite its rapid and continued growth, digital print still holds a minority market share of label production when compared with flexo – and this situation will not change anytime soon. What will happen is a polarisation of the market that will see digital take up the legacy flexo work, while modern flexo presses will move into the mid-web sector and become complex production tools for a range of top-end labels and types of flexible packaging.

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Oliver Kleinman, sales and marketing manager, The Meliora Group (Delga) 

The Meliora Group consists of five businesses, each with a specialism and focus on different market sectors which has helped to minimise risk and impact in what has been a volatile market over recent years. Many conversations with customers and prospective customers surround minimum order quantities. The trend towards customers ordering shorter print runs incorporating personalisation is increasing substantially, a trend we suspect will continue to grow in to 2023 and beyond.

Established businesses are developing additional product lines (SKUs) and printing shorter, tailored packaging and label solutions more regularly due to the process being so easy and cost effective, which also enables efficient stock control. Many new business start-ups emerged over the Covid period and have stuck around, continuing to grow. More start-up businesses continue to emerge and so those print providers offering lower MOQs, high-quality and professional packaging and label solutions are well placed to grow with this trend.

The Meliora Group has partnerships with HP Indigo and Highcon and so are well placed to accommodate this growing demand and look forward to seeing how this turns out in to 2023 and beyond.

The previous 12 months has been an interesting and exciting year for The Meliora Group. The year started with new ownership following the completion of a management buyout at the tail end of 2021. This brought new energy, ideas and investment that has been implemented across the business since. New equipment, software, a revised structure and new business/product ideas have been established and launched across all group brands.

Whilst the landscape across the marketplace continues to be challenging, our approach seems to have weathered the year well. With further challenges on the horizon, our approach was and continues to be consistent, proactive, putting customers first and being diligent. The growing trend towards lower print runs and personalisation is positive for our business as we have HP Indigo technology to manufacture labels and packaging to help cater for our customer’s ever growing, developing, and changing demands.

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Warren Werbitt, print consultant, The Print Whisperer 

As far as I can remember, our industry has always faced challenges. Think back when there were negatives in platemaking, paper plates and rubyliths. CTP technology was a game changer. Aqueous coating and UV printing was a game changer. Printers must continue to embrace future change. I also believe that printers must step up in their game. They need to sit down, look at their business realistically, adapt to what their clients need, and get in front of their customers. So how do you get in front of your customers? Well, you prepare programs, you bring samples, you ask the difficult questions, you ask how their business is doing – and above all, you ask how you can help them. Manufacturers must make sure that printers are buying the right equipment for their needs. Printers must make sure they’re buying equipment that’s right for their own needs, as well as those of their customers. There also has to be much better printer-client communication. For example, if a printer doesn’t know how to sell what his sophisticated equipment produces, it’s a problem.

I’ve always maintained that everything is constantly evolving in life and in our industry. So when I think about printing trends, I think about the growth of digital inkjet, colour management, automation, print embellishments, targeted direct mail using variable-data, and so on. All this will make our industry better, but printers must make a concerted effort to learn the new technology. There are so many solutions out there, but it depends on what your customers want and the direction in which you want to go. As far as predictions, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I believe that print is here to stay. I see large format growing – especially wayfinding and directional signage. Digital label printing and print embellishments are also on fire. Packaging will also be a great sector to enter. But again, you must do your homework, be practical, and keep your ear to the ground. Ultimately, the future is going to be what your company wants it to be.

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*The image used to illustrate this article is courtesy of papermaker James Cropper, which has partnered with family-owned Champagne maker Rogge-Cereser and French packaging producer L’Agence Le Sanglier to create an example of eco-design in the luxury drinks market. Using paper from its Rydal Packaging Collection, which is claimed to ‘unite beauty and sustainability’, the minimalist design of the Rogge-Cereser champagne box is said to, ‘combine the art of gifting with environmental responsibility.’