Volume 11 | Issue 6 | Year 2008

Given today’s tight economy, now is the time when companies must have innovative solutions to distinguish themselves. With the brand, logo and graphic doing so much of the heavy lifting for sales, understanding the imaging options available can help manufacturers improve their revenue performance.
Imaging also helps manufacturers become uniquely distinctive through the look of their packaging and even the facility interior design, which can be a big employee morale booster. These are all a vital for effective marketing initiatives that help sustain company growth.

In a business culture that, for the past few decades, has embraced cost-cutting measures and lean production environments to make up for shrinking profit margins, it’s no surprise many manufacturers outsource the graphic imaging services of their products.

“There are very few vertically integrated corporations that have product (identification) or packaging printing as part of their operations,” says Printing Consultant Clint Bolte, head of C. Clint Bolte & Associates. A greater focus on cutting-edge graphics for products – along with technological advancements that allow more customization and creative ingenuity in the printing process – have contributed to a dynamic market for print providers.

This $12.6 billion U.S. market includes more than 10,000 printing establishments, according to the most recent research from InfoTrends/CAP Ventures, a market research firm. Additionally, these print providers can handle high-production volume more cost-effectively through screen printing, flexography and offset printing.

Product identification imaging should not be confused with imaging that is an integral part of the manufacturing process, such as circuitry and solar panels. Often circuitry or membrane switch manufacturers will keep their printing work in-house.

In-house printing means manufacturers can maximize the control of their specific product needs and production schedule. They also can eliminate freight costs for shipping components to a printer and reduce chances for improper handling of those components.

Manufacturers with an in-house printing operation often use a screen printing method. They do so because the inks allow for a manageable and repeatable deposit process. For example, facilities printing on circuits and solar panels often use screen printing because the inks can lay down metal in a specified thickness and location that isn’t possible with inkjet imaging. Screen printing inks also can meet incredibly stringent requirements such as long-term outdoor exposure and repeated use.

But don’t count digital imaging out of the mix. Already, in-plant printers use digital printing for prototyping and other work that calls for greater customization.

As consumers increasingly make their purchase decisions at the point of sale, package design has taken on a higher sales value component. Packaging, from a carton holding a shipment to the container holding the product, such as a shampoo bottle, is crucial because of its influence on consumer perceptions, according to a study in the May 2008 Journal of Marketing.

With imaging for packaging, there are a wide variety of printing capabilities available to manufacturers, depending on the end use, quantity, the scale (large and oversized packages), durability, use of color and special effects, and more.

For example, packages made from flat materials that have images on them can de done via screen, digital, flexo and offset workflows. Meanwhile printing on the actual product container – more often an in-plant process for a manufacturer – can be completed through applied labels that are printed by a screen, digital, offset or flexo production. Direct printing on the container through screen, dry offset (offset printing that doesn’t use water) and pad printing also are options.

Additionally, new advancements in digital printing can create graphic designs on packaging that incorporate variable data, greater customization and short-run capabilities. “Manufacturers should push their print providers to investigate these digital options,” says Larry Hettinger, product marketing manager for Screen Graphics at Fujifilm Sericol USA Inc., a global manufacturer of screen printing, narrow web and digital inks.

Demand for more customized looks on products and packaging is moving into the manufacturing work environment as well. Companies are incorporating more graphic elements into the overall interior design to give their work environments elegance, sophistication, uniformity and greater appeal.

Improvements in wide-format digital imaging, including the kinds of media it can print on and greater ink flexibility, are allowing interior designers to break out of traditional, mass-produced design elements. They’re incorporating customized images printed on glass, tile, wallpaper, fabrics, ceramics, ceiling tiles, carpets, acrylic panels, laminates and many other surfaces.

For example, when Korean-based electronics manufacturer Samsung Electronics built a new, $3.5 billion semiconductor facility a few years ago in Austin, Texas, the facility’s design team turned to a digital imaging shop to help give the employee locker room and smock room attractive interiors that were easy to clean. Find more details about this graphic application and others at the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association’s (SGIA) free Product Case Studies section on SGIA.org, Keyword: CaseStudy.

Michael Robertson is the President and CEO of the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association, a Fairfax, Virginia-headquartered trade group representing the specialty imaging industry. Learn more at www.sgia.org.

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