How HP helped print a million different covers for Diet Coke

With the tech major’s Indigo printers changes can be made on the fly, negating the need for minimum print runs or plate changes

hp indigo printer
A million customers of Diet Coke get customised bottles, all with different patterns, thanks to digital printing. With HP Indigo Printers changes can be made on the fly, negating the need for minimum print runs or plate changes.

Printing has been one of the biggest innovations known to mankind. However, it has had limitations of scale ever since mechanical printing was invented. Now, however, digital printing is changing all that. How else could a million customers of Diet Coke get customised bottles, all with different patterns, no two alike. That is where HP Indigo Printers are changing the printing business. With these printers changes can be made on the fly, negating the need for minimum print runs or plate changes. So Diet Coke ran another campaign where they had the customer’s name on each bottle.

Roy Eitan, director & general manager for the Indigo vertical of HP says digital printing is changing the equation. “The traditional form of printing is better when you have long print runs. But digital is the only option when the print runs are small, like when printing a few thousand wine labels or a special edition box for a product. But it
also lets you do things like adding the buyer’s name to the wine label or customising a storybook with the name of the child it is being gifted to,” he explains.

The power of digital printing is immense. These days you can print anything from wallpaper to dresses using the technology. For instance, a bread company in UK adds headlines to their packs every morning, impossible with traditional printer and technologies. Eitan says older technologies like offset and flexo have significant preparation times and are not eco friendly. “Since it is expensive and takes time, you don’t want to use it for shorter runs. But globally the trend now is to have shorter runs and that is where it is more economical on digital printers,” he adds.

HP, the 75-year-old company that almost single handedly kickstarted the Silicon Valley, claims to have the largest portfolio in print and computing devices. But it also thinks of itself as the world’s largest startup now. It wants to change the way things are done and that is a tough ask in any industry. In 3D printing, where it plans to enter by the end of 2016, it wants to introduce new medium like metal while drastically improving the speeds. This is when others are still perfecting their use of plastic. “I see this revolutionising the world, it will once again decentralise manufacturing like it was in the pre-industrial age,” says Nick Lazaridis, senior vice-president and general manager for the Printing and Personal Systems Group of HP APJ. “Two decades on, the world could be one in which
everyone will be self sufficient thanks to mass customisation.”

HP is also pushing printers that are cheaper, so that each household can afford. Here the innovation is more in terms of price. For instance, the new HP DeskJet Ink Advantage 3636 All-in-One Printer would be priced around $64, though it comes with a scanner and copier. “In countries like India we have pushed Ink Advantage printers with cartridges that can last for up to 1,500 prints though they are priced under $10,” explains Leong Han Kong, vice-president printing systems for APJ. “Many of these printers have good mobility solutions that let you print from mobile devices, crucial in markets like India,” he says.

The company is also thinking in terms of managing printing services for small and large companies. While its competitors also do the same, HP says it has an advantage like no other company as its rivals don’t have an IT legacy.

“It is about understanding how these devices work in an IT space. The other companies that offer these services are copier firms. We understand IT and we understand software solutions…that is our big differentiator,” Han Kong adds. “It is not just about sending something to the printer any more, it is about securely managing this entire digital process.”

While printers are becoming cheaper and faster, HP thinks companies using them should be smart enough to utilise the efficiencies better. Shifting to two-side printing, for instance, can reduce paper costs by half.

“We are working on creating ideal work-flow and cost balance in offices. While a centralised printer saves on money it is less efficient as workers need to walk up to it so often. These are the soft of things we set right,” Han Kong adds.

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First published on: 15-06-2015 at 00:12 IST