Our own Dave McConnen, vice president of operations, talked to L&NW Magazine about what’s exciting about the growth of hybrid technology, which combines both digital and flexographic units into a single press.
Deciding which press to use for a label project used to involve making trade-offs. You could have the short make-ready times and easy customizability of digital, or you could have the power of a flexographic press to create high-end decorative details.
Some jobs naturally made sense for one technology or the other, but many cried out for the best features of both.
That’s what’s so exciting about the growth of hybrid technology, which combines both digital and flexographic units into a single press. With hybrid, it’s possible to manage multiple SKUs and custom artwork in a digital unit while still using flexo presses to add high-end decorative effects like rotary screens and cold foils.
In other words, hybrid presses make it easier than ever to create work that would have been prohibitively expensive or time consuming with digital or flexo alone. If you think about it in terms of evolution, hybrid presses have a serious competitive advantage, and they’re only going to become a more important part of the industry.
With hybrid, projects that might have taken hours of make-ready to complete on a flexographic press can be completed in a fraction of the time. Suddenly, jobs that might have seemed possible only on a flexo or digital press fit naturally onto a hybrid press. Put one in place, and you’ll find you’re moving more jobs to the press than you originally planned. I’ve seen the shift first hand, and I’ve seen the benefits of hybrid for a wide range of jobs — most significantly the kind of short-run, high-end label work that is becoming a focus for area brands.
The label industry is moving in a direction that puts a premium on the kind of work made possible by a hybrid press. More specifically, consumers expect more options when they shop, and they expect options that speak to them individually. That means more SKUs, greater regionalization of labels, and a wider variety of artwork. There is no reason to believe that trend will reverse itself.
Hybrid presses will not replace traditional flexo in the short term, and perhaps not ever. There are still advantages to using a traditional flexo press on particularly large jobs. And as digital quality continues to improve, digital presses will continue to exert more influence on the market.
For the moment, though, hybrid fills a nice niche between digital and flexo assets for run length and speed, and it’s particularly beneficial on the kind of short-run-length, high-SKU-turnover jobs that are becoming a regular part of the work we do.
The benefits of hybrid technology are hard to ignore. The technology is going to grow, and it’s going to grow quickly.
About the author: Dave McConnon is vice president of operations, label and card, at Minneapolis-based Meyers, a national leader in brand marketing and high-end commercial printing.