FLEXO Magazine Flash Poll Identifies Flexographic Printer Business Trends, Growth Opportunities

Robert Moran

Two-thirds of Flexographic Technical Association printer members choosing to participate in a FLEXO Magazine Flash Poll on business prospects in 2017 are voicing expectations of significant sales growth in the next 12 months. Fifty-seven percent say business will improve somewhere between 5 and 10 percent, while another 9 percent see big boosts in volume—better than 10 percent. Only 6 percent point to stagnation.

The poll, open throughout the two week period of Nov. 7-21, 2016, drew answers from 15 percent of printer/converter firms on FTA’s membership roster. Significantly, not a single respondent forecasts a drop off in business.

Elaborating on the sales picture, one respondent notes, “We continue to gain market share as quality improves.” Another explains, “The general economy is growing.” A third states, “Regulatory changes are forcing brand owners to make label changes. Many of [them] will take the opportunity to also launch new brands and/or revise existing brands. These changes will drive growth in the printing and graphics sectors.” That opinion was not exclusive. A different respondent observes, “The new NLEA (Nutrition Labeling and Education Act) requirements will create a short term market gain as companies revise their graphics on packaging. In general, the print industry will remain strong.”

Perspectives hint at some more unique aspects of the operating environment, as well. “I see a lot of business transitioning to flexo. We are traditionally a gravure shop that just started flexo.”

Other comments: “We’re expanding into new markets” and “Flexible packaging continues to grow and replace secondary packaging and canned goods,” plus, “We are very diversified and provide all types of packaging for our customers” and, “Graphics on corrugated is growing.”

Business Drivers

What’s driving the future of flexographic printing? FTA printer members point to technological advances, lean manufacturing, multiprocess combination printing, sustainable practices, automated workflow, food safety guidelines and other regulatory and compliance issues, statistical process control, and Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST) and other standards and specifications. In fact, 30 percent say all of those factors are positively impacting business.

Leading in opinion at 60 percent, is, “technological advances that reduce makereadies, cut waste and speed time to market.” In second position, at 40 percent is lean manufacturing. Next, at nearly 31 percent each, are multiprocess combination print and sustainable practices. At 28 percent is automated workflow, followed by food safety guidelines at 21.5 percent, statistical process control at 20 percent, and FIRST and other standards at 18.5 percent.

Commentary details rationale behind the response. For example, one printer explains, “It’s all about money and getting it right. Another offers, “Through standards and specifications, flexo has now become a printing method with a scientific process behind it that allows products to be printed consistently and repeatedly from run to run. Brand management is much more effective, thanks to statistical process control.” A third emphasizes, “Innovation without sacrificing speed,” while a fourth says, “Automated workflow reduces labor and improves efficiencies. Technologies, such as electron beam (EB) printing, have the potential to eliminate the lamination process for several food products.” That point drew echoes. “Automated processes translates into printing advances,” and “Efficiency and quality are the forces that will separate the strong from the weak.”

The consensus: “Anything that improves the process, is driving the future. Without these principles and practices, you cannot maintain long term growth. Reinvestment is key.”

Next Moves

Plans to maintain and build on momentum drew heavy explanation. FLEXO’s poll identifies focusing on training and skills development as the No. 1 strategic direction among FTA printer members. Specifically, almost 71 percent embrace the concept. It’s followed by automating practices, the intent of nearly 45 percent of the sample.

Next comes both “going lean,” and “expanding traditional product and service offerings,” which are both on the agenda of 40 percent of poll participants. Twenty-three percent say they will introduce multiprocess print or finishing solutions side by side with flexo. Twenty percent intend to adopt and deploy specifications like FIRST.

Advice and intent is far reaching and expansive. “We are increasing our training commitments and investing in technology that improves efficiency and quality.” One respondent suggests, “Automate all paper and plastic converting processes.” Another urges, “Get more output in the same amount of time with training and accountability.” One more says, “Reduce inventory costs. Buy an enterprise resource management system and improve productivity.”

Still others were more specific when it came to next steps. “We’re purchasing a digital press.” That also drew a second, “I see the plant moving into digital printing.” Someone else hints at migrating increasingly into flexible packaging, shrink sleeves and high end wine and spirit labeling. One respondent voices this pledge: “We will fill the press we have, then get another.” A final piece of cautionary advice from those in the sample is, “Don’t get caught with outdated software and hardware. Stay on top!”

© 2016 Flexographic Technical Association. All Rights Reserved.