HP Deutschland GmbH

Embracing the Intelligent Revolution: The Future of Labels and Packaging

The print industry has undergone a profound transformation over the past two decades. What was once dominated by long production series has now shifted towards shorter runs of customized products, tailored to meet the diverse needs and preferences of modern consumers. The demand for customization and variety continues to soar, yet with this surge in diversity comes a heightened level of complexity for the Labels & Packaging industry.

In an era where consumer habits evolve rapidly, regulatory requirements fluctuate, and e-commerce reshapes distribution channels, the ability to adapt quickly is key. Flexibility is the key to navigating this dynamic landscape, and digital technologies have emerged as a crucial enabler of agility.

Today, nearly one in two presses sold in the sector is digital. Within the next decade, we can anticipate this will increase to two in three. HP Indigo has been a pioneer, introducing liquid electrophotography (LEP) in the 1990s, which sparked this revolution and the results are evident today. The transition from conventional to digital printing has allowed for unprecedented flexibility in meeting client demands, with digital presses paving the way for swift adaptation to varying orders at no additional cost. However, all of this is ultimately just history.

As we look ahead, the real question is: What does the future hold for the Labels & Packaging industry? How will professionals in this sector operate in the coming years, and what transformations lie on the horizon? While no crystal ball can predict with certainty, several trends and developments offer insights into the path forward. 

Digitalization will define the entire process

Digitalization is set to permeate every aspect of the production process, especially downstream. While we continue to see new entrants breakthrough and some finishers go 100% digital, there is still a way to go when compared to the 2000 HP Indigo machines operating in Labels & Packaging.

We know that by embracing digital processes across the production chain, from printing to the finished product, the industry stands to gain significant advantages in terms of productivity, waste reduction, and sustainability. Orders would be executed more quickly and the entire system would move towards zero stock and zero waste, less warehousing across the supply chain and ultimately greater efficiency and reduced environmental impact for both converters and their clients. A 100% digital process would lead to a decrease in quality defects, errors that result in waste, and value destruction. 

Intelligent production lines are on the rise. We’re looking at a future where a job can be completed in just a few hours and ready to be delivered just a few later. But achieving this vision of a fully digitalized production ecosystem requires overcoming two critical challenges: standardization of file formats and seamless communication between machines. The ability to work from unified digital files containing both technical specifications and commercial data will streamline order management and facilitate rapid response to client needs. Similarly, enhanced connectivity between machines will enable real-time monitoring and optimization of production processes, driving efficiency and performance. These two challenges are by no means insurmountable and drupa 2024 will certainly be a moment where we’ll hear and see more. 

In the packaging industry, information flows at the machine level transferring data across the production flow and to Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs) so that the operators can control the machine and monitor its performance. This data also feeds into ERP systems and into a cloud infrastructure  where it’s used to understand if a machine, a line, or even entire factories are operating well or not. The calculation of profitability relies on this today. Major corporations beyond printing, with dozens of factories worldwide, operating hundreds of production lines use this information to compare the performance of their sites. Very soon we could anticipate converters will operate in a similar manner - measuring the performance of their production lines, the idle rate of their presses, the number and type of breakdowns they experience, consumables consumption, job execution time, and production costs. 

Robotics and intelligent systems will manage the flows

In an era where product differentiation and on-demand has become king, the number of substrates, films, primers, inks, and other coatings to be purchased, stored, and used is ever-increasing, efficient production cannot overlook more optimal management of all the flows of materials and supplies. As we look towards the future, the role of automation and robotics in managing material flows within factories will also become increasingly prominent. Accurate and real-time records of everything entering and leaving the production floor are critical, and as we look forward, we can expect the ERPs of printing companies will increasingly integrate traceability of these elements and finished products more efficiently, from the moment they leave the machines to the warehouse or the reconciliation area for swift shipping.

Logistics within printing production floors will also evolve to accommodate transport vehicles. Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are poised to revolutionize logistics within printing facilities, offering benefits such as improved inventory management, enhanced productivity and reduced reliance on human labor. By integrating these technologies into production workflows, manufacturers can achieve greater efficiency and responsiveness to changing demands. The automotive industry is already at the forefront of using these systems, while the printing & packaging industry is just beginning to adopt them. In the next five to ten years, we expect to see our industry follow suit. 

And the ultimate layer?

After the flows between converters and packers, the last stage of this evolution will involve the retailers and the consumers. In about a decade we can expect entire production flows to be managed automatically by machines and robots, with a minimum of human intervention. Traceability will be complete. Both digital and physical exchanges between consumer’s order to retailers and to factories and warehouses will be seamless.

It's indeed only a matter of time that it will be the consumer who triggers the order at the very moment they purchase the product in the store or on-line. The financial transaction will initiate a series of reverse orders to go up the chain the moment a product sells, from the retailer to the producer, up to the ERP of the converter, which will instruct the press to manufacture the appropriate type of packaging and label. In a matter of days, the converter can manufacture all the required packaging and labels for the sold products and ship them to the packager who will have manufactured the products and sent them to the retailer, allowing him to almost replenish his stocks instantly. With these digital flows and operating a zero-stock model, printers will be able to better manage resource, embrace sustainability and ultimately, embrace higher profitability. Is it possible to do better? 

AI will play a prominent role

Finally, the future of printing cannot overlook Artificial Intelligence (AI). The integration of AI promises to further enhance operational efficiency and quality control - detecting errors and correcting the work of printing, embellishment, or cutting systems on its own. AI-driven algorithms can also optimize machine performance, predict maintenance needs, and even assist in decision-making processes. From quality control to predictive maintenance and supply chain optimization, AI holds the potential to revolutionize every aspect of the printing and packaging industry.

Label converters are on the front line

In this rapidly evolving landscape, label and packaging is at the forefront of innovation. As the first sector to undergo its digital revolution thirty years ago, the industry is well-positioned to embrace emerging technologies. The next twenty years promise a paradigm shift in the way printing and packaging are conceptualized and executed. With digitalization, automation, and AI-driven optimization at the forefront, the industry is poised to enter a new era of quality, versatility, productivity, sustainability, and profitability. As we navigate this intelligent revolution, one thing is clear: the future of printing and packaging is bright, and the possibilities are limitless.

Exhibitor Data Sheet