Bring on the SKUs!

The Variable Sleeve Offset Printing (VSOP) press provides a significant competitive advantage when handling multiple image changes.

Gary Hughes, Muller Martini’s Director of Global Packaging, comments on how Muller’s VSOP technology is poised to play a significant role in packaging’s future.

Muller Martini’s Variable Sleeve Offset Printing (VSOP) press handles a variety of packaging formats. What opportunities are best suited to this technology?

GH: The VSOP offers a significant cost savings over conventional printing methods, particularly when a client has to keep changing an image. So the press is ideal for specialized applications and on-demand printing within the label and packaging industry.

In addition, within the folding carton market, for instance, sheet-fed printers lose a considerable amount of capacity every day by running short sheets in their presses. But, in the past, that was not considered a problem because everyone was using sheet-fed presses. Today, with more printers using web presses, they are gaining upwards of 13 production days—and in many cases much more than that—of added capacity without adding more equipment or labor. To some, that may sound too good to be true. But it is.

Flexographic presses have long dominated the packaging industry. How does the VSOP fit in?

GH: Narrow web flexographic presses remain ideal for certain applications like decorative embossing and foil stamping. But they’re also fairly slow. The VSOP excels in the shrink sleeve, label, pouch and folding carton arena where its low cost of image change, combined with high repeatability and print quality, can meet increasing brand demands for lower costs and shorter runs.

Moreover, Muller Martini can combine the VSOP with in-line web processing capabilities such as die-cutting and hybrid printing, as well as engineer and configure systems with offset, flexo and rotogravure units to handle very complex packaging. That makes the VSOP a very powerful, complementary technology for packaging companies that utilize dedicated and less flexible high-volume systems.

What are the major brand managers saying about VSOP technology?

GH: Brand managers see great value in the cost effective “on-demand” production VSOP enables. But the VSOP is much more than an alternative printing method. Its true value is in the cost-effective flexibility it provides marketing champions. Brand managers also value the fact that there is no new technology risk because offset is an established technology with an experienced labor pool. Moreover, they are well aware of Muller Martini’s extensive track record in commercializing new systems.

We’re seeing innovative packaging formats evolve day by day. Any comment on what’s ahead?

GH: There’s a curious dichotomy that makes predictions somewhat difficult. The packaging industry is hyper-competitive, and therefore driving continuous innovation in order to differentiate their brands while reducing costs. On the other hand, it’s a risk-adverse industry due to the enormous responsibilities that come with packaging retail consumables and the need to constantly balance consumer demands for convenience and environmentalism.

What’s clear is we will continue to see flexible packaging innovating to meet sustainable packaging goals, which in many cases is displacing conventional rigid packaging. One need only look at all the new products being released in pouches, not thought of a few years ago.

Yet ultimately the Digital Generation consumer wants instant gratification. And that means more personalization and more customization. The impact on packaging? Greater brand fragmentation creating more and more SKUs. And that’s where the unmatched capabilities of the VSOP will play an integral role.

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