FORUM 2020’s Chair & Co-Chair Detail the Event’s Highlights
FORUM CHAIRS Q&A
FORUM 2020, which takes place April 19 to 22 at the Hyatt Regency Columbus in Columbus, OH, is themed “Color, Brands, Technology: The Complete Package.” Throughout the four-day event, nine technical sessions will reinforce and focus on that trifecta of topics.
Here, FLEXO Magazine talks to FORUM 2020 Chair Hank Welter of TC Transcontinental Packaging and Co-Chair Ellen Farrell of DuPont Advanced Printing to discuss what to expect at this year’s event, details about each session, as well as what attendees will take away from the overall experience.
FLEXO Magazine: FORUM 2020’s theme is “Color, Brands, Technology: The Complete Package.” It namechecks three inarguably crucial components to flexographic printing. What does it say about this year’s event?
Hank Welter: It says we are both listening to what is important to our customers and our members, and building an agenda that will take all of us to the next level. Last year’s FORUM brought the focus back to the hands-on technical side, and as we left, there was a lot of buzz around these three components. We are all focused on building that end product that will meet our customers’ needs and in turn provide the “complete package” to the end user.
FLEXO: Why are those three elements—color, brands and technology—so essential?
Welter: Understanding each of these elements is essential to building the final package. Color communicates a message, grabs your attention, affects your mood and delivers a known brand image. Our brands and those of our clients and customers are what set us apart and allow us to provide our unique offerings, and what our customers are drawn to. Technology allows us to achieve new levels of product or service, and can help us be more competitive in our chosen markets.
Ellen Farrell: When I think of color, brands and technology, I think of what encompasses our industry as premedia companies, designers, brand owners and converters. Regardless of our individual roles, we all touch color, brands and technology. As we engage in learning in these areas at FORUM 2020, we can all leave with increased knowledge that is applicable to our companies and customers.
FLEXO: At the end of the four-day technical conference, what will designers, CPCs, prepress personnel and printers have learned?
Welter: Our theme of the “complete package” is just that. Our objective is to provide a learning opportunity for everyone in each of these roles so that as they return to work, they will have gained a better overview of their processes and specific ideas they can apply directly to their function. With a wide variety of speakers from each of these fields, we feel confident there will be something for everyone in attendance.
Farrell: With FORUM’s strong technical focus, attendees will have the opportunity to learn in a variety of areas from industry experts who are passionate about education, skills development, researching and problem solving. The topics are extremely relevant and whether you are new to the industry or a veteran, your time spent at FORUM will leave you with increased knowledge and ideas to implement at your own company.
FLEXO: Echoing the idea of “the complete package,” FORUM 2020 kicks off with “Evaluation, Optimization, Control: The Complete Plate Making Package.” Plate making technology advances rapidly. How will this session enable printers and prepress providers to stay on top of those advancements while maintaining control of their process?
Welter: It is always good to start with the basics and define the foundation on which we will build our process and package. In this session, we will be defining the optimization process and looking at how to balance printing, prepress and design to allow us to achieve our desired results consistently, and hopefully easily, each time.
Farrell: We often think of optimization as something that happens in the pressroom. Optimization in prepress is just as critical, so we can deliver a high-quality, consistent product to the pressroom. With advancements in technology, it is even more critical that key best practices and quality control measures are established. New screening technologies for both highlight reproduction and solid ink laydown performance offer technical solutions that make proper setup imperative. This session will cover the variables, controls, measurements and best practices in prepress and plate making that are critical to taking full advantage of new technologies and delivering consistency and quality to the pressroom.
FLEXO: The print quality score has become a tool relied on by brands, printers and prepress providers as a way to measure not only if a print sample passes or fails, but how far from a match it is. How will “Print Quality Scoring: Friend or Foe?” explore everything there is to know to understand the measurement and the results?
Welter: The “art of print” has been in the process of being replaced by the “science of print” since before the initial publication of Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST). As we continue this transformation, CPCs are jumping on board and asking that we show them the numbers. While initially this can be scary, when viewed in the correct way, these new scoring systems and tools allow us to understand where we are today, make improvements and verify the impact to ensure we are moving in the right direction. Each of these steps improves our individual results and our industry capabilities.
Farrell: Attendees will gain an understanding of each component used in print quality scoring, how it is evaluated, and how to achieve the best results. While the scoring methodology has certainly improved print quality, this session will explore an “in-tolerance” score and what can optimally be achieved beyond in-tolerance through the metrics available to us.
FLEXO: Corrugated printers and their customers need to answer the question “Preprint or postprint?” every single time a job ticket comes in. How will “Contrast in Print Technologies: Preprint vs. Postprint” help them choose the correct process on a job-by-job basis?
Welter: “What is expected by our customers, and how can I reach that goal in the most efficient way?” We all ask ourselves this question every single day. To answer it when considering preprint versus postprint, we have to understand our capabilities, the tools available to us, and have a solid grasp of how we are applying each. This session is designed to help you do just that—understand the variables and help choose the best path forward.
FLEXO: FORUM 2019’s “Defectives” session received strong feedback, and Monday’s first session—“The Defectives II: A Virtual Guide to Troubleshooting”—serves as a sequel of sorts. It will investigate five new print defects but with the aid of a virtual reality press to demonstrate the solutions live and on stage. Why do attendees enjoy this problem-solving format, and how will the VR press add to the learning experience?
Welter: A truly “hands-on” experience, live, for hundreds of people at once—The goal sounds simple, but has been impossible to achieve. Through the use of VR, we will provide a closer look into the impacts of our actions/decisions and see how these changes resolve an issue. This experience will allow us to bring the knowledge of our expert panel to life, while allowing the audience to participate and observe the process. We all know learning never ends, and making that learning interactive and fun has us all wanting more.
FLEXO: “FQC: Exploring Technology & Defining Value in Packaging” will look at technology advancements coming from two different groups: students of flexography and Flexo Quality Consortium (FQC) project teams. What research results are we going to see and how could they impact the future of flexography?
Welter: In 1899, Charles H. Duell, commissioner of the US patent office, claimed, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” It is often easy to get lulled into thinking we have seen it all, but each year during the FQC session, I am amazed by the work being done, and I am excited by the passion and drive the individuals and teams bring to the stage. I am looking forward to seeing what the future has to offer to help us build a better and more complete package.
Farrell: This is one of my favorite sessions; I love hearing from the future of our industry through the various scholarship recipients and Phoenix Challenge winning team. This group of talented students will present on relevant topics and research impacting our industry. There’s also the FQC, presenting project updates on opacity measurement methods and instrumentation—a key area for brands in packaging design functionality—as well as ink temperature and its impact on the printed result.
FLEXO: Tuesday starts off with “Press Optimization: Straight from the Mouths of Printers,” which will demonstrate all the parameters of press optimization from the pressroom all the way back to the prepress department. How will this session demonstrate the means to balance print quality with stability and efficiency of operations?
Welter: We are all working to build a simple, consistent and efficient process. But when we are working on these improvements, we often overlook the first steps moving forward with the same materials and processes we have always used. We will work to identify and establish the right foundations to ensure we have a stable platform that will achieve our desired goals each and every time, with minimal “tinkering” between runs. As we identify and establish our variables, we set this foundation and give our teams the best chance of success in meeting our customers’ needs and expectations.
FLEXO: Using technology—and the data derived from it—to meet brand owners’ color expectations is the focus of “Color Consistency: Achieving the Target.” What are some examples of these hardware- and software-based solutions?
Welter: I remember when I had my own set of Pantone books at my desk. I was careful to keep them out of the light and replaced them yearly, as they were the standard. Then I would visit a plant or customer and find they were using an older book, or had a book that was a little dirty from being used press-side, or used a different standard. Fortunately, today we have technologies that allow us to pull our standards from the cloud or share numerical data from a known or developed standard. We are able to account for substrate, measure to our phones from handheld devices, measure live on press and tally the data across differing platforms. Each of these steps allows us to speak the same language across processes, improve our tolerances and identify where our shortfalls are along the way, so we can work to improve them and improve our package.
Farrell: We are fortunate in that we have great hardware tools to measure data, be they handheld, inline or automated. The amount and type of data that can be collected is massive, and that is where software comes into play to define the information you want to assess. Attendees will learn more about the tools, how to collect data and, most importantly, how to interpret that data and use it to improve performance and consistency.
FLEXO: FORUM 2020’s final day opens with “Inside the Minds of Brand Owners: Why We Care,” where brand owners will talk color’s importance, global standards, quality expectations, why they care about a printer’s internal processes, and much more. This sounds like a printer’s fantasy—the chance to ask any and every color-related question to brand owners, and get candid and honest responses.
Welter: The importance of color to our brand owners was truly clear during the discussions at FORUM 2019, so much so that we knew we needed to have them back to answer the question, “Why?” The why helps us understand the need to give extra effort and attention to detail that ensure a successful match the first time—and every time—we print a package. Knowing the why and taking that back to our workplace will benefit both the printer and the brand owner, and help our package communicate the intended message to our end customers.
FLEXO: If “Inside the Minds of Brand Owners: Why We Care” is filled with questions, then “Innovation & Technology Born from Frustration” will contain answers, specifically how new press and consumables technologies are answering printers’ and prepress providers’ calls for doing more with less, quicker and cheaper. What kinds of emerging technologies and trends will the panel discuss?
Welter: There’s a wide range we’ll be looking at. On the press side, we will be discussing what is driving new equipment technology and automation to improve performance. On the consumable side, we will be looking at how various suppliers are working together on improvements to address common problems like pinholing, opacity and plate wear. In addition, we will take a look at anilox maintenance programs and keeping them environmentally sustainable. Our hope is these topics will be applicable to attendees’ needs and will also help kick off their own “what are my frustrations?” discussions, and help each of us seek out technology to address our opportunities.
FLEXO: If we focus on one of the three keywords in FORUM 2020’s theme to apply to INFOFLEX 2020, it has to be “technology.” The word is all but spoken in that event’s theme—“Pushing the Limits of Innovation”—and technology is exactly what attendees walking the show floor will see. After hearing about technology in FORUM’s technical sessions, why is it essential to see it in person at INFOFLEX?
Welter: As printers, we all live by the Missouri state motto “Show Me.” There is no better pairing than hearing about technology at FORUM and then seeing it at INFOFLEX. We hear great ideas and get our minds pondering the possibilities during the sessions and then can address our specific needs, live, with vendors. New ideas lead us to new vendors and new opportunities.
Farrell: INFOFLEX allows attendees to take what they’ve learned in the sessions to a deeper level by speaking directly to companies and individuals. Having the opportunity to have a one-on-one discussion or ask a question specific to your company’s needs is extremely valuable. Maybe you are trying to solve a problem or research a new technology—Connecting face-to-face helps to bring out what you’ve learned in the sessions and apply it.
FLEXO: Knowing that INFOFLEX attendees are in search of innovative products and services, and have just learned at FORUM why they are important and how to integrate them into their existing workflows, how valuable is it to exhibit on the show floor?
Welter: Being there when your customers are in an inquisitive mood and have the opportunity to devote time, without the daily distractions of the shop floor or production, is priceless. You can deliver your message to your existing customers, building on the topics discussed at FORUM, and show how you can address their specific needs. At the same time, new potential customers are thinking about what they have heard and looking for the services or products you have to offer. It is a great event for all involved.
Farrell: Having been an exhibitor and worked at my company’s booth for many years, it is an invaluable opportunity to connect with customers, industry professionals and partners. It’s an exciting environment where just coming from the sessions, people are excited to ask more questions, engage your help in solving a problem, or brainstorm a solution. Your booth is a place to meet new people and build new opportunities.
FLEXO: INFOFLEX’s nearly four-decade history as the event to be at could be intimidating to first-time attendees. What should they know to make the most of their trip to Columbus?
Welter: I would begin, as we always should, by making a plan to address your specific needs and then review the companies that you need to visit to address them. Next, I would set aside time to build on the knowledge you pick up during FORUM and visit vendors you feel can further that learning. Last but not least, I would include some open time to talk to vendors you have never met or spoken with. I am amazed at what I learn each time I simply stop and talk with a new vendor. I always learn something new and it all starts with simply having that first conversation.
FLEXO: All FORUM & INFOFLEX attendees receive complimentary access to Innovation Central, home to 14 technology-focused presentations over the event’s two days. What are the benefits of sitting in on those presentations?
Welter: Innovation Central allows you to dive into the details of a product or topic in a smaller setting with passionate and dedicated presenters. So much of FORUM and INFOFLEX is about taking full advantage of your opportunities—This is one of them. This is the chance to dig a little deeper into the topics that interest you and will provide for a quick impact on your return to work.
Other Event Highlights
FLEXO: The Emerging Leaders Golf Outing is a chance to talk color, brands and technology—and everything else flexography—with industry veterans and newcomers alike. Why should FORUM 2020 attendees get to Columbus a day early to play?
Welter: Whether you’re new to flexography or been around the block, the Emerging Leaders Golf Outing is the perfect informal setting to catch up with industry colleagues and bridge the generational gap. Late April temperatures outside Columbus are in the mid 60s, which make for great links weather. Across a full 18 holes, golfers can talk shop and network, and at the post-tournament reception they can unwind and compare scorecards (and tally their lost balls). The afternoon serves as a great segue into the four days of technical sessions that follow.
FLEXO: The Awards Banquet celebrates many of FORUM 2020’s thematic focuses, too. It’s where the FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards, Technical Innovation Award, and several other honors are announced. In a sense, they are a way to realize the ideas being discussed and the topics being taught on stage.
Welter: Absolutely. The Awards Banquet gives us an opportunity to recognize the efforts and accomplishments of the past year in printing, technical innovation and sustainability achievements; and of a lifetime with the Hall of Fame induction. This unique time allows us to cheer on our colleagues—and even our competitors—for a job well done, and to see and appreciate just how far our industry has come in the past year.
FLEXO: Following day two of FORUM and day one of INFOFLEX, the Monday Evening Social is a relaxed atmosphere complete with hors d’oeuvres, drinks, live music and other entertainment. Why should attendees cap off the technical conference’s midpoint with a visit to the Social?
Welter: Networking is a critical part of the FORUM experience, and this is a great opportunity to do just that: Catch up with old friends, meet new ones and continue the conversation from the past two days. We have each been impacted by so many in the industry. It is great to be able to build on these relationships, and what better way than with great food and music, with no pressure or expectations of the time together other than to enjoy each other’s company.
Farrell: The social is a great place to unwind, connect, and enjoy great food and live music. I enjoy meeting new people and catching up with those I know. The atmosphere is fun and relaxed. I hope to see you there!