The packaging and container production market has traditionally been reserved for flexographic and offset printing. Until recently, large format digital printing rarely made an appearance in packaging, with the exception of quick mockups. One company who has cornered the market in flexo-printed packaging has found a way to bring large format digital printing into the fold.
The Rand-Whitney Group LLC, founded in 1938, has established itself as an industry leader in corrugated container manufacturing and one of the largest suppliers of paperboard products in the country. Owned by the Robert Kraft family, who also owns the New England Patriots football team and the Revolution soccer team, Rand-Whitney consists of a mill in CT, paper supply from International Forest Products, a container division, and a packaging division.
The company provides a complete solution to customers from accepting orders electronically to finally shipping them out with their own fleet. At Rand-Whitney raw material is processed to transform paper into corrugated board. Packaging is then designed, printed, slotted, folded, and glued.
The company’s Worcester, MA location is home to its core packaging business, which is created with a four-color Bobst flexographic printing press, in-line die cutting, as well as a three-color Langston flexo-folder/gluer/cutter. The location boasts one of the industry’s first in-house platemaking rooms, where low duratometer deep relief printing plates are made from DuPont Cyrel TDR material. Dick Dargan, VP of manufacturing, Rand-Whitney Industries Corporation, with 24 years at Rand-Whitney and 40 in the industry, tells us that their unique platemaking room was a model for many nationwide.
Running with Digital
The Worcester site, which houses approximately 100 of The Kraft Group’s roughly 5,000 employees, has a dedicated team of five in its graphics and digital services department and five salespeople. This team has opened up a new output option for Rand-Whitney, designing and constructing digitally-printed pieces, with the help of a 42-inch dye-based HP Designjet 5500 printer and a newly-purchased Cromaprint 22UV from DuPont Color Communication.
The DuPont Cromaprint 22UV is a 86-inch-wide flatbed/roll-to-roll combination UV inkjet printer with 14 piezo electric print heads and seven colors, including white. The unit can print on media up to two inches thick, such as clear PVC, Cintra, cardboard, banner vinyl, foam, wood, and holographic substrates. The Cromaprint 22UV was acquired for rapid prototyping and sampling, and packaging runs of up to 300 sheets on rigid media, marketed at a two to three day turnaround. The added technology also adds a new revenue stream from signs and banners.
"I would say that digital is more cost effective up to 300 sheet runs. The net result of how many packages relates to how many you can get on one printed sheet—three sheets would yield 900 packages," notes Gary Nelson, manager, graphics and digital services, Rand-Whitney Industries Corporation.
Nelson highlights some key positives in offering digital. "The main cost savings is how digital eliminates the need for expensive tooling such as the printing plates, prepress proofing, makeready time, and running waste associated with packaging production. Although digital is a much slower process as compared to conventional production equipment, the increased speeds [of conventional printing] are not enough to offset the set up cost on small volumes."
Rand-Whitney is now able to provide customers with a quick turnaround on a high quality product with their digital department. Rand-Whitney states that the DuPont UV inks provide a wide gamut, which allows them to match 30 percent more spot colors than other systems. They also say that the ink provides good post print abrasion characteristics, eliminating the need for overprint coatings.
Some recently completed projects include rigid POP displays for an office superstore, golf club merchandising, Snapi salad servers, and Lenox air fuel and utility blades. Other work includes ballot boxes and packaging for Thermosuit and pasta sauce.
Robert Kraft’s team has begun marketing space for lease in their new Patriot Place hotel, retail, and office complex in Foxboro, MA, next to the Patriots’ Gillette Stadium. To entice potential high-end retailers and other vendors to become a part of the 1.35 million square foot complex, Rand-Whitney designed a special digitally-printed package with a custom label and lined it with fake turf. Approximately 100 of the football field boxes housed autographed footballs and were mailed to prospects.
Counting on Digital
Although the digital-dedicated space is a fraction of the operation and running time of the press is not at capacity, Rand-Whitney is confident that they will see tremendous growth in this area. "As quality and productivity capabilities increase in large format, it will facilitate a steady growth in what we call the digital packaging/POP print solutions market," notes Nelson.
"The drivers for customer growth are cost reduction, quick turnaround, innovative print/packaging solutions that support market segmentation, litho or better print quality, and advancements in supporting finishing equipment that help reduce costs and lead time," says Nelson. "Digital also affords the customer a less expensive opportunity to tweak the package structure and/or graphics for reorders without major tooling charges."
"In five years digital technology will evolve into being more utilized for longer production runs," says Nelson. "A second press is not out of the question at any time if the business demands require it," he adds.
Other possible upgrades to the digital packaging operation in the future could include adding a DuPont Cromalin Largo proofing system with Cromanet CS proofing software, and eventually moving the CAD cutting system to near line to reduce cycle time.
Backed by a powerhouse group of companies with a long track record of success, Rand-Whitney has established itself as a true leader in the flexographic/offset packaging and container market. With the expansion into the large format digital printing world, they can now produce not only flexo pieces in the millions, but also smaller, quick, and cost-efficient runs with digital. The company’s forward thinking addition of new technology should strengthen their business model and open up new opportunities.