Forum 2017 brought flexographers together to digest the latest industry trends, analyze and tackle the workforce crisis, solidify a foundational understanding of the basics, examine special effects and disruptive technologies, and come away better equipped to meet ever-changing customer demands. This year’s event was chaired by Paul Teachout, Nilpeter USA, with Co-Chair Bob Coomes, Plastic Packaging Technologies.
As it does every year, Forum 2017 featured four days of educational and informative sessions, taking place from April 30 – May 3 at the Sheraton Grand Phoenix in Phoenix, AZ.
Forum 2017 kicked off with “Flexo: Legals, Markets and Logistics.” Cyber Graphics’ Kevin Bourquin spoke about the impending Nutrition Facts label update. “Start talking to your customers, to your supply chain partners right now,” he implored. Kevin was followed by a three-person panel—Rick Rosenberger, Hart Industries; Troy Johnson, SGK; and Dan Muenzer Constantia Flexibles—which looked at a number of flexographic industry studies and spoke to the results of the Flash Poll in January’s FLEXO Magazine. “The label industry is hand to hand combat,” mused Dan, who said customers have a simple demand: “Wow me.” Asked, “How do you see business prospects for 2017 and beyond?” more than half of all Flash Poll respondents said “good”; specifically, 5 percent to 10 percent forecasted growth. Rick said his company sees the same, owing to significant improvements in margins, substrate advancements and new equipment.
Looking to solve maybe the biggest problem facing the flexographic printing industry, “The ‘Press Crew’ Crisis: Now Who’s Going to Run My Press?” took place Sunday afternoon. The session began with Brendan Kinzie, VinEquities’ CEO and co-founder of GoGetter, providing hard numbers as backing evidence of the crisis named in the session’s title. James Stone, an FTA board member and co-founder of both GoGetter and VinEquities, followed. Summarizing the issue, he said the problem is there is more demand than supply for the skilled trades, and no effective or trusted way for people and companies to connect. Poly Print’s Co-Owner, CFO and Administrative Manager Elsie Genova spoke third, detailing her company’s training programs. Clemson University’s Dr. Nona Woolbright, shared the findings from a study of the industry’s demographics, using data from educators, Clemson students, Clemson alumni and FTA’s membership.
Monday morning’s first session, “Disruptive Technologies: Embrace the Possibilities,” sought to demonstrate how the latest printing technologies can be applied to the real world. Cal Poly’s Dr. Malcolm Keif began the session with a look at printed electronics and smart and interactive packaging. “How do we interact with packaging?” he pondered, before listing reasons a CPC would be interested; the common theme is capturing data through things like trend analysis and loyalty programs, as well as programmatic advertising. Ken Pavett, CEO of Flexografix, gave an in-depth look at the steps taken to calibrating a flexo and a digital press to the same uniform standard, covering a banded anilox test and analysis, fingerprinting, characterization and profiling, optimization, and linearization. The session’s final presenter was Kyle Desautels, operations manager at Heritage Paper, to discuss his company’s journey from flexography, to digital, and back to flexography. “We will never buy a flexo press again,” he quoted his own company as saying in 2012. “We were wrong.”
A 2016 FTA process and technology survey revealed there was large interest in decorative processes. That led to the second Forum 2017 session on Monday, “It’s All About Ink!” A half-dozen speakers took the stage during the two-hour discussion. They included: ACTEGA’s Kurt Hudson (Who said that to deliver value in 2017, use multiprocess printing and sensory stimulating effects that appeal to consumer preferences), Sun Chemical’s Helen Rallis (“Studies show the more senses that are engaged, the more emotionally connected the consumer feels, and the more likely they are to take that package home with them,” she told the audience), Flint Group’s Mike Buystedt, Digimarc’s Derek Awalt (who revealed 73 percent of Generation Y is willing to scan products in a store but noted designers are running out of real estate), Anderson & Vreeland’s Kevin Schilling (on optimizing metallic effects and particles, “Size and shape does matter,” he said, noting a coarser pigment equals a larger bcm, and a finer pigment equals a smaller bcm.) and X-Rite Pantone’s Brian Ashe.
“Who is responsible for color management?” That was the driving question behind “Let’s All Get RIPed: Practical Prepress,” the first Tuesday session of Forum 2017. Speaking first was newly minted FTA Hall of Fame Member Steve Smiley of SmileyColor & Associates, who gave an overview of practical color workflows. Steve said color management starts at the brand owner level. If a brand owner does not specify exactly what its expectation is, accurate reproduction is impossible. Brad Turner of Sealed Air, blurred the lines between prepress and press, offering thoughts on color process control at the press level. There’s value in collaborating with the press department, he said, noting that time spent on the pressroom floor can pay dividends back in the prepress room. Scott Thompson, SGS International, Inc., said real-world color involves multiple substrates, different print technologies, print technology variability and people. The solution is to determine a standard appearance model that’s printing method agnostic and bring physical printing production into alignment with industry standards.
Tuesday’s “Pressroom Pressures: Getting More for Less” looked at how external factors are forcing printers to improve efficiencies. “We’re not necessarily eliminating people when we automate their tasks, but we’re giving them new opportunities,” Esko Presales Specialist – Digital Flexo David Chinnis was quick to point out. In the plate room, that translates to removing touchpoints and implementing a fully automated and integrated system, which can reduce total processing time by more than 35 percent while boosting productivity by 25 percent. On a two-day streak of presentations, Cal Poly’s Dr. Malcolm Keif returned to discuss the eight ingredients that matter in the pressroom: changeover time, press spoilage, unplanned downtime, press speed, reprints, plate remakes, non-chargeable time and shift variation. Tim Crawford, Berry Global, wrapped the session with a look at Hal, a made-up persona who works in flexography by day and is an aspiring cook by night. He offered parallels between the two environments, including good housekeeping, the right ingredients, equipment and more.
Great Northern Corp.’s Mike Schliesmann closed the session with a look into corrugated’s future and how it will be impacted by digital. Mike provided a look at the various technologies fighting for box printers’ attention and what their capabilities are. “I think in 2017 and 2018, we will see multiple manufacturers offering solutions that address both speed and quality. As with any disruptive technology, I think adoption could be slow at first, as companies work to understand the fit, so I don’t think digital will be 50 percent of our market anytime soon,” Mike said. “I do think that as our clients get a taste of what digital can bring to the market, demand will certainly increase and we will see very steady growth where it makes sense to provide solutions to our end customers.”
Most session attendees reported that the session was very relevant to their job responsibilities, and that the speakers were engaging in their delivery. Eight-nine percent reported that it met their expectations.
“I enjoyed hearing about the digital landscape,” said one attendee. Others who attended the session said it was well-rounded and conveyed great information from enthusiastic speakers.
The final day of Forum 2017 featured back-to-back sessions with related themes. In “Now Only How to Use, But How to Choose: Flexo Consumables 101,” attendees heard updates on the latest trends and functionality coming from inks, aniloxes, plates and pressure-sensitive adhesives, as well as developed a foundational level of understanding of them. “These things never stop changing,” said Forum Chair Paul Teachout at the start of the session.
In “Optimizing for Production Performance: Flexography 102,” the flexo fundamentals discussed in the prior session were used to carry out a press optimization from start to finish. The same roster of speakers—Sean Teufler, Siegwerk USA; Tony Donato, Harper Corporation of America; Jason Cagle, MacDermid Graphics Solutions; and Joseph Prunier, tesa tape Inc.—discussed their consumable of choice’s role in the optimization process.