Kento Hybrid: a Case Study and New Developments

A simple concept in practice
Designed specifically for corrugated, Kento Hybrid takes the best of both worlds, using flexo to print extensive backgrounds to save on expensive digital inks, and using single-pass inkjet to print high-definition graphics to save on printing plates.

Presented in 2021, Kento Hybrid received an innovation award from FEFCO – the European Federation of Corrugated Fabricators – and has 3 active installations, two in the USA and one in EMEA.

Continuous Research

Over the past three years, Kento Digital Printing representatives - Javier Quesada, Co-Founder, and Lloyd Kent, VP Kento North America - had hundreds of meetings with converting plant owners and managers, discussing the drivers that propel many to purchase digital single-pass printers, also why so many have chosen not to adopt single-pass to date.

These findings have been key drivers for the development of the Kento Hybrid concept and its innovation roadmap, resulting in the first viable printing combining up to three flexo units + single pass inkjet + rotary die cutter, promising to boost ROI and OEE of new and existing corrugated plants.

Digital printing on corrugated is insignificant

Based on information collected by KENTO from commercial interaction with corrugated companies.

Worldwide digital print for corrugated is insignificant at only 0.3%. With ~10 years of single-pass printers for corrugated on the market, it is clear the adoption of single-pass is insignificant. Other industries, most notably ceramic tiles, have seen a 95% transformation rate from analog to digital in the same period.

Let’s look at the primary factors why this same transformation has not happened in corrugated.

Barriers to a faster digitalization of corrugated

The KENTO team detected and documented the main obstacles for digital printing adoption in the corrugated industry, and has come up with proposals to overcome these barriers:

  • Cost of printing with digital inks  ► hybrid printing
  • Separate die-cutting process  ► inline RDC for digital
  • One-shot Capex  ► modular and scalable solutions
  • Very narrow sweet spot  ► wider applicability
Cost of printing with digital inks ► hybrid printing

The primary drawback to digital print on corrugated is primarily ink cost, which is 8-10x that of flexo inks. To a lesser degree, printheads have a finite life that adds to the consumable cost.

High ink cost has a detrimental effect on the economics of a printed sheet, in many cases ink cost per MSF far out-pacing paper cost per MSF.

With limited industry adoption of single-pass, overall digital ink consumption is low, meaning ink prices remain high.  Until a massive shift in adoption happens, minimizing digital ink used for solid colors is imperative.

The Kento response : A corrugated hybrid printer uses flexo for solid or special colors, and digital single-pass for HD graphics. Saving up to 80% in digital ink costs

Separate die-cutting process ► inline RDC for digital

Another drawback to digital print has been its inability to print and convert in one pass. For high-margin market segments this may not be a big issue, but for lower-margin projects it is a deal breaker.

The Kento response : An inline rotary die cutting module, run by the same software controlling all of the machine. The first Kento Hybrid with inline RDC will be installed in the US in Q4 2024.

One-shot Capex ► modular and scalable solution

The fact that many single-pass printers are painfully upgradeable, or not upgradeable at all, is a major drawback for many potential owners.

They look for robust machines that can perform well and last 15-20+ years in their harsh environment, and that can be upgraded and updated as needed to meet their ever-changing customer and market demands.

The Kento response : Kento offers a modular and scalable solution, starting with a low-capex basic machine to enter the digital printing market, and to scale up on demand, alleviating evolution and obsolescence concerns.

Very narrow sweet spot ► wider applicability

Digital has proven profitable for HQ boxes or displays, in short printing runs, up to 10 MSF. In order to grow, printing costs must be lower, allowing digital printing to expand into major segments not currently accessible. The most logical ways to save costs are digital ink price reduction and or lower digital ink usage.

The Kento response : The basic principle of hybrid printing becomes evident here; using flexo for extensive backgrounds reduces the usage of digital inks and its costs in up to 80%, and using inkjet for HD details saves on plates, becoming unbeatable in printing runs up to 100 MSF.

Market-driven innovation

Even when Kento Hybrid was just an idea in the mind of their founders, listening to plant managers and the ongoing study of the digital printing market have been crucial in the development timeline of the company.

The concept itself received an innovation award before the first machine was delivered, and the experience with 2 printers in the Americas and another one in Europe have been great opportunities to discuss and explore new ideas with the visitors to Kento demo centers in America and Europe.

The key feature for 2024

Kento’s design and engineering teams have been busy. The latest models include LED UV curing, new software options for color management, and a much-needed inline rotary die cutter, making Kento Hybrid a true converting corrugated plant machine.

Scalability is the keyword for 2024. As a consequence of its modular design, small companies now have the opportunity to start experiencing the benefits of hybrid printing with the Kento Hybrid “Explorer”, the simplest model with just a feeder, one flexo unit, and a single-pass printer, with a Capex similar to a multi-pass printer.

This basic machine can grow in features to match new needs or market demands by adding extra flexo units, rotary die cutting, OPV, and primer modules.

Mid-sized and big operations may consider the Kento Hybrid “Performer” – with 2 flexo units – or the Kento Hybrid “converter”, a full-featured solution with 3 flexo units, the widest single-pass and inline rotary die cutter between its bottom feeder and the stacker.

Exhibitor Data Sheet