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Live at drupa: Software Gives Brands Control of Pack Asset Libraries, Printing Review & Approval

With these new web-based software platforms, brands are taking more control over their own packaging asset libraries, not to mention multi-stakeholder package review and approval processes, that once tended to be the domain of their converter suppliers.

Dalim's Flaurent Epaud demonstrates Dalim ES Fusion platform at drupa, with an example of a chip bag from Swiss brand Zweifel potato chips.
Dalim's Flaurent Epaud demonstrates Dalim ES Fusion platform at drupa, with an example of a chip bag from Swiss brand Zweifel potato chips.

With a handful of exceptions among the largest, most vertically integrated brand owners, CPGs largely rely on printer or converter partners to print their packaging to their precise specifications. Afterall, those designs, logos, and label claims are crucial to brand identity, to consistent familiarity to consumers, and to be able to stand out on the shelf—real or digital—among a slew of tough competitors. For the major brands, countless hours of research go into eye-tracking studies, messaging optimization, and Pantone color matching. Everything needs to be locked in before package printing can begin.

In those brand and converter partner interactions, there’s always a design review period where the carton, flexible packaging, or label design PDF bounces back and forth between the brand manager and the printer. And perhaps a third-party graphic design agency joins in the approvals alongside the CPG and printer. Don’t forget the legal team, they need to sign off on product claims and ingredient lists to ensure compliance with FDA and other regulators. These days, a sustainability team has to sign off on any sustainable packaging claims you’re putting on the carton, pouch, or label.

All that’s to say that there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen until a gut-check go or no-go moment. After that, a converter begins to cut metal printing plates for a flexographic printing process which takes some lead time, or just plain starts the job for a digital one. And significant costs—or in the worst case, recalls—can occur if errors make their way into the package printing order.  

The software managing that package design review, correction, and approval interaction has historically been optimized for the printer/converter side of the equation, since they’re closest to the actual print job. But lately, brand owners themselves have been able to take a lot more ownership of this process, and on some occasions, have taken some of those processes, and software, in-house. This allows brands control over and management of all of the packaging asset files, from CAD to graphic, video to 3D renderings, and allows quick updates to packaging for new flavors, sizes, or brand families. 

Esko’s WebCenter platform

One brand-focused software out there is Esko’s WebCenter, and Packaging World stopped by the Esko booth at drupa last week to learn more.

“We are serving both printing suppliers and brand owners. Thanks to our knowledge of how printing on packaging should be, we’re able to help brands get exactly what they want,” said Zeynep Balci, account executive, brand owners, at Esko Brand Solutions. “For our brands, we have several software solutions—other than the biggest CPGs who do their own printing, they’re not really looking into hardware like flexo or digital printers. But they want and need to be a part of the process.”Esko plate-making equipment at drupa, making cylinders for flexo printing. WebCenter ensures accurate review and approvals are made before any plates are cut or substrates are printed.Esko plate-making equipment at drupa, making cylinders for flexo printing. WebCenter ensures accurate review and approvals are made before any plates are cut or substrates are printed.

In the past, or what Balci calls “the olden days,” this meant passing PDFs around physically or via emails, with one PDF to art design, another to marketing, to quality, to regulatory, and so on. This led to mistakes, and while you can chalk that up to being only human, expensive recalls were often the result.

“With our online proofing tool, which is WebCenter, everything is in the tool. [Brand reviewers] have their latest version, and they will be able to make annotations in our viewer, where they will be able to add color, or text, which is very important for regulatory. Different parties and different functions can have discussions very easily, all in one place,” Balci says. “The idea is that the platform becomes your single source of truth for your artwork and packaging, where everyone can connect. You have a library, you get the latest artwork, and you can apply it to your packaging. This is one of the things that many of our big brand owner customers are today demanding.”

Once artwork is approved on the brand owner side, the software suite also contains a workflow for the repro house, converter, or printer where they do their first digital check. At that point, depending on the preference of all parties, the repro and printer can then give the command to the printer go ahead and start the whole job. That could be digitally printing the job, or cutting metal plates for flexo printing.

“In some cases, what they will also do is still have a physical check that will digitally print a physical carton, pouch, or label, scan that physical package into the system, and again, compare digitally, in three dimensions, before they really go for the big bunch of printing the whole package job,” Balci says.

WebCenter links other tools in a brand owner’s toolkit, as well. Esko’s ArtiosCAD, for instance, is a 3D package design tool for both the structure and the appearance.

“And with that, the packaging team can design a technical drawing. They will be able to choose where a crease is, where a lip needs to go, or if they need a window inside the pack. They will be able to choose creases that allow the product contained to be affixed in the pack. And these all can be again linked to our online platform, WebCenter. You have all these departments that will be able to link all these tools together. This is mostly used by brands, but of course, suppliers are also using all of these tools and our 3D resources.”

The 3D model adds of physical reality for approvals. But it can work for marketing in that it  provides a digital representation of a real, physical package that can be used by a brand on any e-commerce or D2C channels, allowing a consumer to view, rotate, and virtually “hold” a package before adding it to an online cart.

“Together with other stake holders, a brand will be able to see the package in a high resolution, you can choose your finishing. You might decide which paper to use. ‘Which paper will I use? Do I want the glossy paper or matte? Which thickness will I use? And for the 3D file, which lighting to I want to use? Studio lighting or outside lightning?’ Some brands like the luxury or cosmetics brands need to see it in a beauty setting, where the image will be in high-end print magazines, so they will want to see how it will look in beauty resolutions. All of that can be done in the tool,” Balci says. “What we try to give our brand owners is help with their physical package, to make sure that they time to market is reduced and their errors are reduced so that they can print quickly. But we also want to make sure that, at the same time they, have their digital twin as well, so that they can use these also on their ecommerce brand, their marketing, and that the package itself looks identical to what they designed. We want their first package print to be the right print.”

Dalim’s new ES (Enterprise System) Fusion software

Epaud (left) and Werle demonstrate carton packaging review, commenting, and approval prior to printing the carton by cutting metal cylinders and printing 2D blanks to be erected.Epaud (left) and Werle demonstrate carton packaging review, commenting, and approval prior to printing the carton by cutting metal cylinders and printing 2D blanks to be erected.

Built on a MACH (Microservice API-first Cloud-first Headless) architecture, Dalim ES is a cloud-based solution for digital asset management and project management that can apply to a host of industries using printed substrates, packaging figuring prominently among them. The solution helps users centralize, share and collaborate on digital assets, and more generally control access to their digital assets with the system. The API is based on GraphQLFor a brand owner, that might be primary, secondary, or even display and RSS packaging specs, colors, brand families, special edition or seasonal regional packs, and more.

From a distance, this seems pretty similar to Esko’s WebCenter. From a general functionality point of view, it is very similar. But Esko has both software and hardware (flexo cylinder and plate-making services) functions. Dalim is strictly software and is agnostic to any hardware. It could just as easily send files to a digital printer or videos to retail channels. 

The new Dalim ES Fusion Software, currently in beta and early adoption phases but demonstrated at drupa last week, is named for its status as a fusion of multiple different proofing technologies in a single format.

“[The files being worked on] could be a video or an image, or it could be a 3D element like a package, a folding carton version, for instance. It lets users look at all the separation, color, and details, and within the brand owner, make sure that either this is actually what they want to send to the [printer, repro, or converter] service provider. For a [printer, repro, or converter] service provider, it’s used to have the brand owner look, whether this is exactly what he needs,” explained Dr. Carol Werle, CEO, Dalim.

It seems that this type of proofing and approval software might better reside within the four walls of converters. But brand owners with a wide array of brand families have huge artwork and package design libraries that require management, and perhaps sharing with multiple different printing service providers—say a flexo shop for huge print jobs, a digital print shop for regional or seasonal releases, and converters that specialize on different substrates (cartonboard, corrugated, flexible packaging, or labeling). It can make sense for a brand owner to take that packaging information in-house to better manage, and grant access to third parties like graphic design agencies or legal teams, not to mention different printers in different locations.

Dr. Werle described one instance of a brand owner who used Dalim ES software with a converter provider, but seeing the value, took those capabilities in-house as well by licensing the software. That example was set by Ritter Sport, known in Germany and more recently in the U.S. as the square-shaped chocolate among a sea of rectangular bars.Ritter Sport chocolates on the shelf, several with their characteristic square shape. The brand brought Dalim software, and packaging asset library management and editing, in-house.Ritter Sport chocolates on the shelf, several with their characteristic square shape. The brand brought Dalim software, and packaging asset library management and editing, in-house.

“Typically, a brand owner such as Ritter Sport is exposed to Dalim software through a marketing department through a validation session that has been sent by a brand by a [flexo or digital printing] service provider,” he says. “The brand owner will just receive a link, they click, and they have a rendering of their package that they’re able to manipulate, just in a browser window. And then the brand owners say, ‘Wait a minute, what is the software you're using here? Because this is so easy, I don't need a plugin, I only have a web browser, you just sent me an email with a link. I want the same internally, can I use that for my own purpose?’ And this is how you how we got into cosmetics, food, beverage packaging, all these sorts of things, because our viewer is probably the easiest there is to deploy, and to use from the end user standpoint.

“Once the brand owners have been confronted with these capabilities, they say to their printers, ‘You know what, gentlemen, thank you for showing us the way. Now we're going to evolve things. We [want to have] our own brand portal, and you are going to come and dock yourself to our brand, you're going to upload whatever you did for us last year, and we will manage our asset library and make files available to you and converter colleagues for printing, instead of multiplying the service provider web services controlling that for us.’ And we [at Dalim] sit somewhere in the middle as facilitators.”

As the licenser of the software, a brand owner can set up permissions in such a way as to restrict change-making access to certain parties, and expand them to others. For instance, third-party design agencies or converter suppliers may only have viewing access, or only have control or access to pre-determined dashboards that are relevant to them. Flourent Epaud, solutions product manager at Dalim, said this is quite common for brands who take ownership of their files. They also can be structured into different brand silos for larger brand owners with different brands, and brand families within those brands.

“Say you are the owner of a cosmetic or a chocolate manufacturing” Epaud said in a hypothetical. “Maybe every year, or every season, you want to change your packaging. For example, to adapt the colors, or to add new ingredient images on the pack if you have some new products. Whether the system is given to you by your printer, or maybe owned by you (we can do both), you can manage your multiple brands, multiple entities within those brands, and multiple customers if every brand has its own set of customers. The users of the system can see everything, or only one company with only one customer, or maybe only the active projects. It can get very big, very fast, so you limit your access and views only to what files and libraries are needed, and who needs them. And then you can work to redesign your packaging to address your change.”

In the case of food and particularly sweets retail in Germany, retailers expect the brand owner to drop-ship presentation collateral like end caps or retail product displays along with the products themselves. The brands choose organize the products into the end caps for the retailers as a better way to control the shelving. With Dalim ES Fusion, files developed for packaging printing and approvals can be used elsewhere, such as printed on retail displays, files for e-commerce carts, or print and video advertisements.

Adds Werle: “You can follow the tracking of your packaging at the same time you're creating video advertisements for the product, the 3D model for online, e-commerce version, or even sizing them for, and printing them on, to an in-store display. Or you can use the file for the brochure that's going to accompany the product. The versatility of the platform makes it interesting for a brand owner because you're not locked into the medium. If it’s yours, you won’t have to hear ‘I only do packaging,’ or ‘I only do publishing,’ you actually have a platform that is versatile. That covers the whole footprint of your media mix.”

Digitally printed, mass customized labels

Dalim Drive is another new element of the Fusion suite that is primarily used for variable data printing. The software is being rolled out now for direct-mail applications with complex variable data for individual recipients, and the mailers are being printed on the likes of HP or Canon Hi-Speed web digital printing machine with throughput reaching millions of documents per day. Interestingly enough, innovators on this front are more often than not also the early adopters of Landa digital presses. Werle envisions see the same application used on labels for packaging, instead of printed mail pieces, for mass packaging customization for beverages or food (or any pack format that accepts a label). The speeds are around 20 files per second, so they can keep one or multiple digital presses running at full speed for high volumes printing variable data.

“A digital press can do that today. But [without this type of software] they cannot do it at speed, because if you need good-looking variable data prints [on labels], it means you're combining two PDFs together, or two complex images, and combining two complex pages. [If this combination is done on the fly] in front of the press, it's going to slow down. The more you send, the press will not be running at speed because you will be preparing those 100,000 different documents, maybe even with a different QR code on each. What we do that we prepare all the documents on the file, organize them into digital impositions, and the press produces at speed without interruptions.” PW

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