The Benefits of Digital Printing in the Factory

Late-stage customization allows the use of one generic label, where the variable data, in the form of multiple languages and SKUs, can be added in the last stages of the production process. © bodnarphoto – stock.adobe.com

An Overview of Late-stage Customization

By Jim Orford, Product Manager at Domino Printing Sciences

Recent years have seen a marked change in how brands approach their product packaging design and manufacturing. Consumer trends and demands and market challenges like continued supply chain disruption have led to a drive for greater control and increased autonomy and flexibility.

Customizing more packaging within the factory walls is a key element of this market evolution, with manufacturers turning to digital printing technology to make this a reality – a process known as ‘late-stage customization.’

Late-stage customization of product packaging on- or near-line using digital printing can provide new opportunities for brands, including creating limited-edition packaging for special events, facilitating consumer engagement via on-pack marketing campaigns, and implementing personalisation to elevate the unboxing experience. Greater customization of packaging in-house can also allow manufacturers to maximize upstream productivity and mitigate supply chain delays.

The Rise Of Late-stage Customization

Late-stage customization is any packaging printing or customization performed by the manufacturer, instead of by a third-party packaging provider or converter. Traditionally, printing costs would have limited this to information such as batch and product codes and best-before dates. However, in-line printing technology advancements can now enable brands to buy generic packaging and add additional customization within the factory walls while ensuring efficiency and cost-effectiveness without compromising consumer appeal.

Late-stage customization allows brand owners and converters to add or modify variable information shortly before it is applied to the product, for example, translating a product’s ingredient summary into multiple languages. Rather than having to purchase and store a large quantity of stock for each language variant, late-stage customization allows the use of one generic label, where the variable data, in the form of multiple languages and SKUs, can be added in the last stages of the production process.

The Benefits Of Late-stage Customization

Late-stage customization offers many benefits for brands, from increasing factory efficiency and reducing the amount of stock and waste material in supply chains to helping expedite products to market in response to evolving consumer demands. These benefits include:

Reduced costs: Late-stage customization reduces brands’ reliance on external packaging providers by providing the opportunity to trial new packaging designs and variations without having to adhere to minimum order runs or additional costs for short-run prints.

Increased flexibility and responsiveness: Late-stage customization gives brands more flexibility to respond quickly to changes in the marketplace in response to, for example, consumer feedback or material shortage. Making the necessary adjustments in the factory also has the added benefit of increased production uptime – with reduced lead times and limited downtime due to product changeovers.

Reduced inventory: Late-stage customization minimises the need to store multiple packaging inventories because brands can buy generic packaging and add customization in-line. This can translate to significant cost savings, as packaging typically has the longest lead time of all material stock, which can lead to it being the largest inventory item with low stock turnover compared to product ingredients.

Reduced waste: Buying large quantities of media for short runs to achieve minimum order quantities can be exceptionally wasteful as only some stock will often be used. This is not a problem with late-stage customization using digital printing, as brands can produce their own short-run packaging in-house, providing the capability to flex production without over-ordering.

Enhanced consumer experience: Brand owners understand the difficulty in standing out from the fierce competition on the supermarket shelf and are always looking for ways to interact with consumers. With late-stage customization, brands can adjust packaging designs for greater consumer interaction. For example, in recent years, there has been significant interest in including variable 2D codes on product packaging, allowing brands to link to additional information, collect feedback, and further engage with consumers in-store and at home.

Considerations For Late-stage Customization

Late-stage customization enables brand owners to have better control over their packaging content and to speed up the process of experimenting with new packaging designs. There are several potential scenarios where late-stage customization could benefit brands, including:

New or experimental product launches: Creating multiple SKUs that correspond to various languages and multiple formats is a long process – up to 12 months – when launching a new product range. The time it takes for the product to reach the market can be reduced significantly by using digital printing and late-stage customization.

Seasonal products: Keeping up with market trends is the key to making products attractive on the supermarket shelf and standing out from competitors’ products. With late-stage customization, brands can create engaging variations of product packaging – for example, seasonal product editions, or with a picture of a champion team for a sporting event – without relying on external packaging providers.

Security features: In the late-stage customization process, it is possible to print variable data on labels or packaging that will allow track and trace of the product using unique codes. For example, high-end consumer goods can be protected against counterfeiting by applying variable data to 2D codes, such as QR codes, to allow consumers and supply chain partners to verify authenticity.

Regional language versions: Brand owners understand that engaging with their audience in their native language can establish a stronger emotional and cultural connection with their end user. Late-stage customization allows for different language versions for each region rather than printing multiple languages on one label. This frees up more on-pack space for branding and creative design. It also allows packaging to be modified to create special editions in regional languages.

Personalized packaging: The rise in ecommerce has increased the need to engage with the end-user in more personal and unique ways to stand out from the competition. Digital printing and late-stage customization can provide new opportunities to include more personalized unboxing experiences.

Conclusion

One of the main advantages of digital printing and late-stage customization is that it is possible to create multiple packaging varieties, colors, and SKUs in record time and with minimal waste. Late-stage customization offers flexibility, which means brand owners can respond quickly to market demands without compromising their footprint. Last but not least, it provides better security, brand protection, and a more personalized packaging experience for consumers.

About the Author

Jim Orford is a product manager at Domino Printing Sciences. Digital Printing Solutions is a division within Domino Printing Sciences. The company, founded in 1978, has established a global reputation for the development and manufacture of digital inkjet printing technologies, as well as its worldwide aftermarket products and customer services. Visit www.domino-printing.com.

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