Carton converting in India – looking for the wow factor!

Finishing and converting cartons is becoming more interesting

Consumer product manufacturers want the same shelf impact for a coffee-maker or a pressure cooker carton as they see on the luxury cartons for personal care and cosmetics. Photo PSA

The product mix for cartons has changed in the past two years with an increase in litho-laminated cartons. Litho-laminated cartons are generally an offset printed packaging board that is pasted on an E- or F-flute (micro-flute) corrugated sheet and then die-cut and creased on a diecutter and put through a folder gluer for making the boxes. Since the majority of monocarton converters in the country operate within the B1 format (102-106 cm or 40-inches), for slightly larger white goods consumer products, this could also mean that the final carton is made of two pieces.

Consumer product manufacturers are asking for more litho-laminated cartons than before. Moreover, they want the same shelf impact for a coffee-maker or a pressure cooker carton as they see on the luxury cartons for personal care and cosmetics. The glittering and haptic effects of metallics and foils, the texture of varnishes, and even embossing effects are now considered desirable for more or all consumer products.

The internal fitments of the packaging have to be provided for the product to withstand the logistics of warehousing logistics and eCommerce last-mile delivery. In addition, machine-readable product identification is needed for pick and place in the warehouse and inventory control. In the case of some product cartons, pilfer proofing may also be required – since the value lost in case of theft is not just of the product but also of the excise taxes paid.

Consumer product manufacturers want the same shelf impact for a coffee-maker or a pressure cooker carton as they see on the luxury cartons for personal care and cosmetics. Photo PSA

There is also the shift to paper for food service products and packaging to avoid the use of plastic and to be compliant with the ban on the use of select single-use plastic items. While many converters are purchasing coated boards with moisture barriers, others are developing their own products using offline pasting and coating machines. For many other consumer products, the combination of paperboard and plastic is likely to shift to a paperboard with specially shaped board and paper fitments inside.

Thus the old formula of one multicolor press, two autoplaten die-cutters, and one folder has become more complex. The number of die-cutters and folders is increasing at a slightly higher rate than the earlier ratio because litho-laminated packaging takes much more space not only as work in progress but also on the feeder board of a die-cutter or folder-gluer. The change has also come because of the affordability of higher quality Asian and Indian-made die-cutters and folder-gluers with a high level of local service commitment.

In the modern carton-making plant, there is an increasing proliferation of several finishing equipment, earlier considered luxuries. Corrugated pasting machines or automatic lamination have become an essential requirement. Offline coaters in addition to the inline coaters are also useful for special coatings at times.

A number of hot foil stamping and embossing machines, and blanking machines, are being added to the shop floors of even the mid-level carton producers. Single-color gravure presses for adding gold and silver are being imported by even newcomers to the carton business. Paper and board pasting machines are also essential. In the case of suppliers to the food service industry, tray forming equipment is also needed.

The variety of cartons required by what was earlier a simple monocarton (solid board or folding box board) printer and converter has grown and become more complex. The complexity will continue to increase especially when track and trace elements such as RFID antennae and various types of holograms are added or embedded in the packaging. 

It reminds one of the complexities of a modern bookbinding facility where there are a large number of special machines for round case making, cornering, gilding, embossing, perforation, and other pieces of decoration that are meant only for specific products. At one time these were considered frills and cost centers.

Perhaps with the currently growing demand scenario for packaging, this ancillary equipment will become essential. Hopefully, as the value add machines become more capable and automated, they will point the way to more interesting, active, intelligent packaging. Even new shapes and creative cartons with more wow factor.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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