Autopilot is a programmed control system that automatically steers modes of transport without human intervention. In an airplane, for example. After take-off, the autopilot is activated and only when the aircraft is landing do the pilots intervene once again. This can now be transferred to production processes and in the future it will even work in the design process.
Let machines design?
Layouting is one of the last open fields of automation in the production of printing. However, if printed products are to become more flexible and individualistic, layouting must also function without human intervention. Since design is based on logic and rules that can be defined, it should also be possible to program software for automated layouting. At least Tobias Köngeter, owner of WirbelWild GbR, is convinced of this and explained to the participants of the symposium what he means by this: dynamic printing.
For some years now, there have been opportunities for individualization and personalization. Usually placeholders are defined in a layout for this purpose, which are later filled with content. For example, for the name of the recipient or the address. However, this type of personalization hardly attracts attention anymore, since no additional benefit is created. The personal name on a direct mailing is not impressive.
“The information has to be adapted to the recipient via filters and automation as a whole”, explained Köngeter. “This is where placeholders fail, however, because different types of information can only be introduced and exchanged by placeholders to a limited extent. It is difficult to accommodate a text that, depending on the addressee, consists of 100 characters one time and 1,000 characters the other time. It is even more difficult if the number of design elements varies, for example, if one recipient is to see two pictures and the other five. Rigid layouts are not suitable for this purpose; several rigid layouts would have to be created for templates, which would cover as many application scenarios as possible – this could lead to endless problems the more flexible and diversified the information becomes.
What happens with automated layouting?
Design rules for companies are defined in a corporate design. These include fonts, sizes, formats and rules of conduct for elements: How large can they be, where should they be placed, etc. In addition, there are also general rules concerning color contrasts, proportions, symmetrics and harmonies.
“These design and behavior rules can also be applied by software to implement a given design – as a designer would do. With the difference that a complete layout can be created within seconds, as often as desired and in any number of variations. We are talking about highly dynamic layouts or, in the print sector, dynamic printed products,” says Köngeter.
A layout can be generated without having to know the incoming information. Whether there is a text and how many characters it consists of, whether two or five images are to be placed, is irrelevant. The software applies the defined design rules and places the elements according to these specifications.
“Such software for generating layouts can be connected anywhere to retrieve and process data – to any PIM system, CMS, e-commerce platform or other API. Information can be entered into a layout at the time it is processed – there is no longer a difference between the level of information and the layout version,” Köngeter explained. Only the print production, including further processing and dispatch, increases the time difference between the information status and the time when the recipient receives it. “You could say that layouts go live. And printed products are closer to the customer than ever before.”
During his lecture, he left open whether it is artificial intelligence with which Tobias Köngeter wants to create automatic print layouts. Much more important to him was the answer to the question of how layouts can be created automatically.
“Let’s imagine an e-commerce system with a web shop where purchases can be made and where the order data is stored and processed at certain intervals. Product recommendations can be generated and, based on the personal profile, the appearance for a print mailing can be oriented in different directions – for example, more conservative or more modern. Afterwards, required texts are generated, product images are loaded and a separate display is created for each person. At the end, these are exported in PDFs and sent to a print shop.” This is how Tobias Köngeter imagines the workflow for an automated mailing, which also contains an individual QR code including a link that leads the addressee directly to the web shop’s shopping cart. This shopping cart already contains the products recommended in the mailing. Accordingly, three interactions are necessary for the purchase: calling up the shopping basket via QR code or link, clicking the buy button and logging in. An evaluation of the purchases can then help to optimize the distribution intervals, design and content.
Strategic focus on brands
Craig Letton, CEO of MRM Global, was also concerned with individual marketing materials. He described his personal story of how he transformed a small family-owned digital printing company into an international marketing technology company that today serves international brands such as Bacardi, Diageo, Carlsberg, L’Oreal and Pernod Ricard in over 21 countries.
Craig Letton graduated from the University of Aberdeen with a degree in management and finance and spent the first four years of his career in sales and marketing roles at Mondelez and Mars Wrigley. He took over the family-owned digital printing business in 2012 and completed a management buyout in 2017 with the specific objective of aligning the business to focus on solving a specific marketing problem.
Seitdem hat Letton das Unternehmen von einer Digitaldruckerei, die eine Vielzahl von Kunden bediente, in ein Technologieunternehmen verwandelt – mit einer proprietären Web-to-Print-Software und einem umfassenden Dienstleistungsangebot.
Since then, Letton has transformed the company from a digital printer serving a wide range of customers into a technology company – with proprietary web-to-print software and a comprehensive range of services.
The offering is specifically geared to the beverage industry and enables the production of marketing materials that are brand specific, on-demand and personalized. By focusing on customer needs and the benefits of online printing, MRM Global has increased its revenue five-fold since 2015 and is on track to double its size due to strong international growth and many new customers.
Disruption in food packaging?
Disruption isn’t everything, despite the fact that ePac Flexibles is really stirring up the flexible packaging market. Nevertheless, it is more about closing a gap in the market and not about destroying or replacing an entire market. However, the ePac case is an example of a successful transformation from mass circulation to smaller units and to productions that do credit to the topic of mass customization.
Hobeica explained how the sustainability approach can also be applied to digitally printed flexible packaging and how the manufacturing models of the traditional flexible packaging industry are being transformed. This is because ePac enables small and medium-sized companies to establish and expand competitive brands for healthy food. However, let’s take a look at the still young history of the company.
Packaging Trends + Digital Printing = ePac
The history of ePac began in 2013, when the three eventual founders, Jack Knott, Carl Joachim and Virag Patel, recognized the need for shorter lead times and lower minimum order quantities for flexible packaging. However, flexible packaging printers in the U.S. were unable to meet this need because they had expanded their capacity with new equipment to reduce unit prices and meet the demand for long runs. At the same time, minimum order quantities were increased while lead times remained at 6 to 8 weeks.
A situation and gap in the market that was crying out for a new business model. Especially since Knott, Joachim and Patel were convinced that technological innovations such as digital printing had the potential to break new ground in the packaging market as well. In 2014, the HP Indigo 20000, the model for flexible packaging, was currently in beta testing. This was a perfect fit with ePac’s business model, which from the outset aimed to stir up the conventional flexible packaging market.
The ePac business model was to focus entirely on digital printing, offering competitive prices for short to medium runs and a delivery time of 10 to 15 business days – significantly shorter delivery times than conventional packaging printing. With a production platform optimized for customer service, ePac offers customer-specific prints with variable data so that customers can print as needed and avoid storage and administration costs. Incidentally, the company’s expansion plans for 2020 include the deployment of 52 HP Indigo 20000 presses by the end of the year.
In 2015 ePac was founded and in April 2016 the first location in the USA was opened. Within a few months, demand for ePac’s services grew. It did not take long before additional printing press capacity was installed, and the US expansion began with additional production sites. Today ePac works with brands of all sizes at 13 locations in the USA and one each in Canada, Great Britain and Indonesia.
“Since the opening of the first production facility, our mission has been clear: we want to help small brands achieve a large market presence and contribute to the creation of a more sustainable economy,” said Hobeika.
In doing so, ePac offers a more sustainable supply chain, limited editions and variable graphics for flexible packaging such as stand-up pouches, flat pouches and rollstock. Using new digital printing and software technology, ePac offers customers a smart way to have individually printed flexible packaging produced. The digitally printed packaging in small or medium runs is intended to enable distinction on the shelf through the automatic creation of different designs based on core patterns.