A Roundup of Flexography Forecasts, FTA Printer Member Thoughts & Poll Data
Both flexography forecasts and overall market forecasts agree: Packaging is a powerhouse! It now accounts for 43 percent of the print market. As we enter 2017, its place in the spotlight is being fortified by its ability to create shelf appeal, maximize visibility, connect with customers, build brand awareness and, as a result, accommodate growth and expansion. Analysts stand confident in forecasting that sales volume will soon approach $1 trillion annually, based on having pinpointed 2015 revenues at approximately $840 billion globally.
Market watchers all agree: This industry’s trajectory is charting on a highly positive curve. Expectations point to it experiencing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of between 5 percent and 6 percent through 2020. Flexography is universally listed as the dominant force, with nobody seeing it relinquishing that position any time soon.
Quality, speed, cost and control—those are the concerns driving packaging production. The focus is on efficiency. Software and hardware alike embrace the concept. The idea is to manage all critical content—from concept to shelf, through premedia, onto trade shops, then printers and converters. It’s all about asset management—every step of the way. Every flexographer is intent on improving service, managing short runs and just in time delivery, complying with new packaging content regulations, and expanding finishing options.
Priorities list out:
- Maximize efficiencies
- Optimize processes
- Dispel waste
- Expand capabilities
- Escalate productivity
- Boost profitability
Constituting long term goals are enhanced speed to market, faster makeready, quicker setup, repeatable color, and automated and efficient workflows.
Ever changing customer demands are encouraging Flexographic Technical Association’s printer members to turn to intelligent machinery, integrated processes and intuitive handling. The intent is to position the flexographic printing and packaging industry as a model of efficiency. By all accounts, that goal is definitely within reach and will certainly be achieved.
Flexography’s Defining Characteristics
Economical, versatile, budget friendly, scientifically proven to be reliable and predictable—that’s the image and perception that flexographic printers want out there. They seek to have CPC partners identify them as delivering measurable value.
Specifically, production team members mention that:
- Today’s presses are complex, fast, ergonomic and operator friendly. Servo driven, direct drive rotary (DDR) motors allow flexo presses to run at faster line speeds
- Use of sleeve technology in place of cylinders or anilox rolls has resulted in shorter changeover times
- New innovations in ink help brand owners provide an emotional connection to the consumer
- Flexible packaging is establishing a greater foothold in food packaging and appeals to consumers’ preferences for convenience and portioning
- Corrugated makes more sense for bulk displays and direct print pays dividends
- Use of technology—automation software, color management, plating advancements and cutting edge hardware—plus some innovative thinking, permit execution of graphics at a competitive rate
- Prepress and high quality graphics have changed and shaped the industry in the last decade
Flexo must continue to innovate with an end goal of higher print quality and lower fixed costs, they maintain. Why? Shorter runs, better quality graphics, faster run speeds and more ecofriendly operations will define the flexographic industry of the future. Given the most competitive environment ever, reduced changeover times, automation of the process, leaner operations and more cost effective technologies will be the changes necessary to deal with these pressures.
Essential Tools, According to Flexographers
When FTA members speak out on specific pieces of equipment that they define as converting’s new necessities, 65 percent select color management software and 63 percent list print inspection systems, giving further credence to a focus on control. Forty-four percent say they consider testing and measuring devices necessities and 44 percent specify job management software.
Multiprocess print technologies capture the votes of 56 percent of printers participating in the poll. One printer put it this way: “Process control is the new Holy Grail.” Others advise, “Print by the numbers. See what you are running live time.” Some note, “As speed to market becomes more critical for hitting CPCs’ key windows of opportunity, cycle times will be driven down through technologies that offer the most significant time/cost reduction potential.”
Better than 70 percent of FTA members in the sample express interest in automation and efficiency. Nearly the same number find digitalization of packaging attractive. Forty-three percent embrace complementary technologies across print processes and 42 percent insist on boosting production and productivity as a top priority.
“Flexibility is important!” FTA members argue. “We must offer more options to increase value adds and appreciate higher margins. Greater efficiencies must be pursued. We must make it harder for competitors to enter our markets.”