“China is a visionary in the market,” remarks Kathy Tobin, vp and GM of Specialty Printing Systems for Hewlett-Packard. While track-and-trace continues to be a great challenge to most of the world, Tobin opines that China has taken a leadership role with the technology.
The printing and technology manufacturer has been working in China for approximately nine months launching a new coding hardware-and-cloud-computing solution. For this project, the company has leveraged technologies across its disciplines from computing to printing. The resulting solution uses cloud-computing technology for the database platform and a hardware solution designed to be both lower cost and high quality.
For this project, HP had several challenges, including working with a language barrier (all the interfaces were built in Chinese) and bringing in staff to China. On top of these challenges was a need to move the product very quickly to market. Remarks Tobin: “The Chinese [as a culture] move very quickly, and I can relate to that.” Jokingly she adds that she’ll often want an idea implemented almost instantaneously after conception.
There were some benefits for HP when working in the Chinese market. The country had a large-scale, real-world test of its track-and-trace systems during the earthquake that hit southwest China earlier this year. “When they had the earthquake, they knew where nearly everything in the country was and was able to move it to the victims,” Tobin recalls.
She adds that HP has benefitted greatly from China’s collective knowledge of track-and-trace. “Our knowledge has gone up 10,000 fold,” Tobin remarks. HP also reports interest in track-and-trace technology continues to ride high after the earthquake, with the company receiving high-interest in its current coding project from Asian publications such as Packaging Digest China.
HP sat down to speak with the U.S. edition of Packaging Digest at PackPrint 09 in response to worldwide interest in track-and-trace technologies. “We seeing needs for this across the world,” remarks Tobin, who predicts that a new administration in the U.S. might result in increased regulation.
She says more regulation might be a good thing for the pharmaceutical packaging industry “because if only one brand does track-and-trace, it’s going to add costs.” If an entire packaging segment adds track-and-trace at the same time, it wouldn’t harm one individual manufacturer’s competitive edge, she adds.
But that isn’t the only reason Tobin attended PackPrint. She believes there’s an additional opportunity for HP specialty printing systems. While the manufacturer boasts OEM partners, including but not limited to Wolke Inks & Printers, which she describes as the “premium of pharmaceutical printers”; Nutec Systems Inc. with its APS coders; and ITW Diagraph.
She says HP Specialty Printing Systems' most current opportunity and challenge in the U.S. lies in hybrid printing at the packaging converting stage of manufacturing. “We don’t have a partner to do that package printing hybrid solution,” says Tobin. Hybrid printing would enable a package printer to leverage the economic advantages of traditional printing processes while accessing the variable-printing capabilities of inkjet for versioning.