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Eco responsibility and 3D tech take centre stage at HK Printing Fair

The 2014 Hong Kong International Printing & Packaging Fair saw a greater emphasis on the need for printer and packaging companies to show corporate responsibility, while 3D and augmented reality proved the event's buzzwords.

Photo: Often copied, never bettered: The 2014 Printing and Packaging Fair.
Often copied, never bettered: The 2014 Printing and Packaging Fair.

The Hong Kong International Printing and Packaging Fair has always been at the forefront of change and its ninth edition was no exception, with digital and anti-counterfeiting solutions, 3D printing and environmentally-friendly production collectively taking centre stage. 

Hong Kong's central position in the printing and packaging industry was confirmed by Fred Lam, Executive Director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the organiser of the event. As part of his opening address, he took the opportunity to announce that the city's packaging exports grew 16.7%, last year reaching US$5 billion. At the same time, printing exports grew by some 5%, climbing to a total of US$2.4 billion.

Hong Kong has long benefitted from its close proximity to the Chinese mainland, with the country representing a massive 68% of the world's packaging market, while it also represent the second largest market for printing materials. Despite this geographical advantage, Lam was also quick to stress that the city had maintained its leading position by responding quickly to emerging trends, notably the greater emphasis on recycling and the tighter focus on hygiene and safety with regard to food and beverage (F&B) packaging.

This theme was reflected in a number of the seminars and forums that took place over the course of the fair. Significantly, the seminars on Intelligent Design with Luxury Printing and Packaging and The Advantages of Green Printing Solutions were notably over-subscribed.

As part of Hewlett-Packard's presentation, Victor Tse, the company's Business Development Manager, outlined the way digital was driving the growth of outdoor advertising and point of purchase/retail. In line with this, he said, mobile technologies were enabling marketers to collect consumer data and deliver print jobs with shorter print-runs, all specifically geared to individual demographic groups.

He also emphasised that it was now more important than ever for brands to demonstrate their environmental responsibility. To this end, he said, it was incumbent on businesses to be seen to cut back on any wastage of paper, chemicals or energy, a requirement that had the added appeal of saving money.

One of the busier themed areas at the fair, the Printing Services Zone, was packed with international companies, all keen to promote their latest wares. One of the most visited booths here was the Taiwan stand, this year representing 15 individual manufacturers.

Manning the stand for the second year running was Alston Chang, Director of the Planning and Training Division of Taiwan's Printing Technology Research Institute. Explaining why Taiwan was so keen to have such a pronounced presence at the event, he said: "It's very international, which is essential for us, and also very convenient. We see our products as falling somewhere between those of Japan and China, in terms of innovation, quality and cost.

"There has also been considerable interest in our stone paper, a material made from ground stone. We see it as the most environmentally-friendly type of paper. It also offers a traditional kind of print and finish, while having the durability of synthetic papers."

Another item on the Taiwan stand to command considerable attention was a mega-sized 3D cardboard image featuring the parrot in Rio 2, a recently-released animated movie. According to Chang, it was printed using a patented 3D technology and represented a real "Made in Taiwan example of creativity".

Taiwan, however, didn't have a monopoly on such 3D creativity. CEL Technology Limited, a Hong Kong company, offered its own take on the requisite technology with its Robox desktop printer, a compact unit featuring proprietary software capable of rendering 3D designs.

Photo: In demand: green printing.
In demand: green printing.
Photo: The dedicated De Luxe Zone.
The dedicated De Luxe Zone.

As if three dimensions were not enough, a number of exhibitors were taking things a stage further still – via the imposition of augmented reality technology. This allows for an enhanced view of the world, overlaying digital information - such as sounds, videos and photos – on a printed page, with the information accessible via smartphones or tablet sensors.

C & C Joint Printing Co (HK) Ltd is, reportedly, a market leader in the field, with the staff on its stand demonstrating a number of the technologies necessary to deliver augmented reality. One of the major elements of this was an RFID (remote frequency identification) printing service (similar to bar code identification), that can provide digital information about specific products.

Originally a conventional printing company – with roots stretching back to 1897 – C & C is one of many in the sector that have demonstrated an ability to remain technologically competitive, staying abreast of all of the latest innovations. The company is now also looking to make a name for itself in the field of smart packaging solutions, an area that had particular appeal to many of the buyers in attendance.

One such buyer was Ken Wong, a Sales Manager at the STI Group, an international packaging company. According to Wong, STI now holds key accounts with nearly half of the world's manufacturers. He attributes this success to the company's ability to work closely with customers and customise their products.

He said: "We see this fair, in particular, as first of all a business opportunity. It is also very much a marketing exercise for us within the Asia Pacific region, as we have only been operating here for five years."

In the Green Printing and Packaging Solutions Zone, as the name suggests, exhibitors were keen to demonstrate their environmentally-friendly credentials, with eco inks, non-polluting products and green solutions all on show. One such exhibitor was Taiwan's KH Pack Co Ltd, a company in Hong Kong to highlight its range of recycled paper pulp crafts products. These included baseball caps, cushioning, outer food packaging and agricultural products.

One of the most sought-out buyers at this year's event was Allan Shrem, the International Procurement Manager for Fanatics Authentic, a US-based sporting collectibles convention and website. A veteran of the Printing and Packaging Fair, Shrem has been coming to China for 20 years in search of ideas and manufacturers suitable for souvenirs and sports memorabilia. He particularly focuses on the major United States sports franchises, notably the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA.

Assessing the appeal of the event, he said: "I often go to the fairs in China – Canton in particular – and see a lot of the same people there. Hong Kong, though, is always good. There's always something different and new. The service is notably more aggressive and I like that. Here you walk into a booth and the whole sales team swoops. I like the undivided attention."

Like a number of other attendees, Shrem had distinct views – and concerns – over China's future role as the international manufacturing centre. He said: "I don't know how it can continue in that capacity. Costs are going up as wages are going up. While I can't say for sure, it is entirely possible that the bulk of manufacturing will migrate elsewhere, possibly to Mexico. I would give it about five years as it currently stands."

Photo: 3D printing in process: a new technological dimension.
3D printing in process: a new technological dimension.

The Hong Kong International Printing and Packaging Fair was held at the AsiaWorld-Expo from 27 to 30 April 2014. More than 400 exhibitors from across the world took part, marking a significant increase on the previous year's turnout of 360. Significantly, the event also attracted 12,300 buyers.

Jules Quartly, Special Correspondent, Hong Kong

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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