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The recent advances in 3D printing, digital printing and smart packaging, although revolutionizing most businesses, may be most profoundly felt in the beauty industry. We take a look at how recent advances in technology are re-shaping the packaging business.
While traditionally having been used for rapid prototyping and tooling, 3D printing is coming out of the shadows and having a big impact on the packaging industry, evolving beyond prototyping to producing final products. Rapid developments are eliminating the need for costly tooling and reducing costs for difficult-to-source replacement parts and also enabling the use of 3D printing for short runs of targeted offerings.
The greatest challenge has always been in price to volume and it may take some more time yet before 3D can come close to matching traditional techniques on cost for volume basis. But where 3D printing wins out is in the flexibility it provides for manufacturing differentiated products for niche markets, customization, special events and any consumer demand requiring quick turnaround of specialised packaging. For brands seeking to enter or expand into niche markets 3D printing has opened up a new range of creative possibilities; offering lower volumes of customised products in shorter lead times.
Over the past few years the packaging industry has seen developments in digital printing at the forefront of the enormous changes. The days of analogue being the sole ruler in terms of speed is no longer the case as digital closes in.
Technical innovations in digital have made finishing effects possible that are beyond the scope of analogue. The latest inkjet technology can support a wider range of substrates while increased press speeds are enabling the development of hybrid printing environments that combine the use of both digital and analogue.
The flexibility of digital presents a whole new spectrum of possibilities for brands to engage with their target audience; adding names or customised designs for limited editions, personalisation and even Digital Braille. For the beauty industry, where innovative packaging design is an imperative, this is good news; allowing designers to be more creative in their thinking and making packaging more engaging, exciting and interactive.
These advancements are inevitably changing the way companies are approaching their market strategies. The scope for greater customisation in packaging design means that brands can seek to target their offering towards more niche markets.
Digital printing technology is leading the way but is not without its challenges. Maintaining standards over increased numbers of short runs is essential, requiring greater vigilance. Shorter print runs require more jobs in entry administration and prepress. Inevitably this demand for customisation and personalisation is driving innovation in prepress workflow automation.
Analogue is still the most cost effective for longer print runs, but digital is closing the gap and has the edge for short, customised runs.
RFID chips and QR codes are familiar to most of us but now smart packaging offers additional embedded security features that will also facilitate traceability and anti-counterfeiting; a major issue for the beauty market. Packagers are working on solutions that will offer both brands and consumers the possibility to check a product’s authenticity and origin.
Added technology layers, such as printed electronics, QR coding, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality layers will allow brands to create a greater level of engagement with the consumer on a variety of channels. Links to websites, tutorials and additional product information and content too large to fit within the space constraints of the packaging itself can all be accessed by the consumer. Approaching the product with a smartphone brings up links to content without having to download an application. And the content can be updated in real time. Brands can also benefit from data gathering; delivering special offers in return for information. Despite the attractive possibilities of these technologies, take up is still lagging mainly due to the difficulties associated with integration into the supply chain.
Online Packaging Design
A relatively new phenomenon is the online packaging platform. Offering solutions for brands to configure their packaging requirements online and without any specialist knowledge, these platforms typically offer 3D modelling tools and renderings that allow customers to design, configure and visualise their packaging, remotely. Not everyone is convinced of the benefits though, with some sceptics questioning the limitations of the process. Online design may have appeal in some quarters but many beauty brands, especially the bigger names, prefer a physical prototype that can be evaluated for its tactile qualities and not just visual appeal.