A new company, Screen GP IJC, has been set up near to Screen Graphic & Precision Solutions subsidiary Inca Digital in the UK to pursue the venture. It currently employs 20 staff.
German firm BHS Corrugated is the world leader in corrugators with market share of over 50%.
Managing director Christian Engel said the project had the potential to be as transformational as the computerisation of typesetting.
“If printing moves into the corrugator it takes out enormous complexities from a box plant, improves throughput significantly and makes converting extremely simple,” he said.
Inca executive director Bill Baxter said: “For some time we’ve been looking for different areas to use our inkjet technology, which up until now has just been used for retail graphics, and we identified corrugated board as an excellent target.”
BHS has been looking at how to integrate digital printing into its corrugators since 2002. “We had to wait a long time for inkjet technology to come out of its baby shoes,” Engel added.
“With Inca and the background of Screen in many kinds of digital printing heads and systems we are confident we will achieve our goals.”
Lab tests have been completed and Screen GP IJC is now working on a CMYK alpha machine with a 2.8m working width. It is likely to take three years to perfect.
Inca Digital chief executive John Mills said Inca had significant expertise that would be relevant for the project. "At least 600 printheads will be required and we have a confidence level about that because we already have systems with large numbers of printheads," he said.
"We also print a lot of corrugated for point-of-sale and have developed techniques to protect the printheads in those very difficult environments."
Printing takes place on the paper part of the substrate before it goes into the corrugator.
There has been an explosion of activity in inkjet printing of corrugated packaging, with a newly-announced systems from both EFI and HP at Drupa, and existing joint ventures between HP and KBA, and Bobst and Kodak.
“Others will run into inefficiencies in the total logistics of a box plant, whereas we will change the logistics completely,” Engel claimed.
The system is intended to be retrofittable to BHS’s latest-generation corrugators. Engel said there were currently around 200 such lines in the world.
A corrugator typically costs €5m-€10m (£3.9m-£7.8m), he said.
BHS expects to have sales of around €450m this year. It plans to invest around €15m per annum into the project from now, while Screen will invest €3m-€4m a year.
Screen GPS president Tsuneo Baba said: “We will invest our best energy and efforts into this project.”