Esko has delivered a world-first in connected packaging production, supercharging secure Variable Data Print (VDP) capabilities in terms of both speed and scale for a new collaboration with Scantrust and pioneering packaging company ePac Flexible Packaging. Esko Automation Engine is at the heart of the operation, with its innovative VDP technology enabling the printing of serialized and secure QR codes on flexible packaging on a mass scale, unleashing the power of VDP for the new connected packaging and connected goods service, ePacConnect.
“Variable Data Printing has the ability to take the role of packaging to a whole new level,” said Esko Product Manager, Paul Land. “With opportunities for localization, serialization, personalization and traceability, the advances in automation mean it is now possible to further harness the technology to transform the prepress environment. With cloud deployment for 24/7 global access to data and new scalability capabilities, Automation Engine is enabling ePac to realize the power of VDP for an organization without the downsides.
“By connecting the VDP module in Automation Engine with Scantrust, we have created a framework for codes that makes it easy for converters to use,” said Paul. “Not only is this implementation the first of its kind, but it also unlocks capabilities that were previously difficult to achieve.”
Because every ePacConnect flexible pack includes a Scantrust QR code, every pouch becomes an online gateway. The unique on-pack code, which is smaller than a postage stamp, activates the Scantrust suite of connected goods and connected packaging tools. Accessible features range from consumer engagement tools to active brand protection and anti-counterfeiting features that work through scans of a safe QR code on the pack.
“Scantrust gives every single physical product a unique digital identifier, which adds complexity for prepress and production,” said Peter Kostur, Scantrust Sales & Partnership Director. “Our platform can deliver protection against counterfeiting and improve traceability within the supply chain as every single label, pouch, or bottle can be traced, even when in the hands of the consumers,” he said. “Brands utilize such digital interface technology to connect with consumers, integrate with loyalty platforms and customer relationship management tools, and also for internal supply chain operations. When incentivizing consumers to interact with the products, not only can the relationship and trust between brand and consumer be significantly improved, it can also help by crowdsourcing the supply chain data for further strategical improvement.
“There are three building blocks to making the connected packaging,” added Peter. “There’s the variable QR code, a mobile environment enabling the user interactions, and a platform that enables the customer to manage the codes, product content, and extract the data. However, each project starts with a question from the brand: How do we get the variable data on our product?”
Automation Engine makes the integration of VDP requirements as easy as a few mouse clicks. “It is now simple to integrate the VDP requirements into the process,” said Paul Land. “The process can even happen in the cloud, for added flexibility in terms of printing a job at any location.
“Typically, once the order details are entered, the information is passed through into Automation Engine which then acts as the enabling platform between all the systems,” he said. “It consolidates and pulls the variable data information through, determining the quantities and parameters of the job. So for example, with a quantity of 100,000 records it expands the files and the variable elements for printing, and then automatically expands the template file to the quantities needed – each with its own unique QR code – and lays them out for production. The automation means that a process that used to take hours or even days is now completed in just a few minutes.”
Ryan Kiley, Director of Market Development, ePac Flexible Packaging, said the ability to produce mass scale VDP regardless of run size had been a game changer. “Scale is where the rubber meets the road,” he said. “Scale is what we can accomplish through working together. Now, with a single click, a customer can turn their packaging into an interactive platform delivering consumer engagement, proof of provenance, and brand protection while reducing touchpoints in prepress and production.
“With the VDP automation, we can accelerate our rate of growth as we add plants, people, systems, languages, currencies, substrates, structures and other technologies,” said Ryan. “And with Automation Engine being cloud-based, it means we have total control over our production – with our teams able to access files from anywhere, at any time for 24/7 operation, scale production up or down to meet demand and enabling us to divert the production to any plant around the world.
“As a result, our ePacConnect service has achieved customized, flexible packaging with connected packaging features that require very little or no up-front costs, lower minimum order requirements, and minimal technical setup.”