When FORUM 2022 kicks off on March 13, inside the Omni Fort Worth Hotel in Fort Worth, TX, it will have been 1,040 days since the last in-person installment of the annual technical conference.
Needless to say, the flexographic industry has endured extraordinary circumstances. As the dust settled, it became clear what the focus of the first live FORUM in three years should be.
“From the very first brainstorming meetings, we asked the question, ‘What do printers want to know and need to know, and what can they immediately take back and use?’” explains FORUM 2022 Chair Bart Wright of Pacificolor. “FORUM 2022 is really based on that one question.”
“Every session is about resolving some type of issue whether it be in production, business development or meeting the needs of a brand owner,” adds the conference’s co-chair, Laura Wright of CSW Inc. “Attendees will leave with an arsenal of techniques for making their print operations more efficient and effective at meeting customer needs.”
Here, the pair talk to FLEXO Magazine and walk through each of the nine technical sessions, the content being covered throughout all four days, the value of complimentary industry events like INFOFLEX 2022, and why being live and in-person is such an important return to normal.
FLEXO Magazine: “Corralling Solutions, Creating Results” is FORUM 2022’s theme. What do you hope flexographers take from it when they see it?
Bart Wright: Solutions and results are what we hope attendees get from this year’s FORUM. When people look at the topics and what they can bring back, we hope they see the value in attending. From the beginning, the take-aways were always at the forefront in designing this conference.
Laura Wright: Well, here we are post-COVID, trying to establish new norms, utilizing the best of what we’ve learned over the past couple of years. Everyone is looking for better, more efficient ways to work that take into account a new business environment. Corralling ideas and assimilating them is what it’s all about. The more new ideas the better, but it’s also about acting on these new ideas. Many flexographers have been busy just getting work out, but it’s important to continue to take time to improve processes. We’ll be presenting lots of new and accessible ways to help achieve this.
FLEXO: FORUM 2022 is the first in-person FORUM since 2019. Coming off an extremely successful Fall Conference 2021 in October, what’s been missing from the virtual conference experience that FORUM 2022 will bring back?
Bart: The virtual experience is very convenient, but nothing beats the in-person learning and networking. Zoom fatigue is real and the investment in attending a live FORUM always pays back.
Laura: Networking, connecting, friends, co-conspirators! One thing I love about this business is that everyone—even competitors—work together and share knowledge. There is a ton of mutual respect for the talent and information that every organization and individual lends to the event, and there is no better way to take advantage of this free-flowing information than by getting wrapped up in a conversation in a hallway, near the lobby or at a bar. There is a great sense of community at these events that I believe will be even greater considering the length of time that we’ve been apart.
FLEXO: You were both present at Fall Conference 2021. How did it feel to be back among industry peers and colleagues?
Laura: Energizing and inspiring. A lot of great ideas have surfaced and been developed since the last time we got together. Maybe we used the time that we would normally spend travelling to work, customers and conferences really thinking about how to be better, and with that new perspective, developed solutions. Whatever happened, the results were brought to light at Fall Conference. Some years, it seems like there is little change in the industry and few really new, meaty technological developments. This is not one of those years, and seeing innovative ways to improve efficiency and print quality will inspire more of the same.
Bart: It was awesome to be back. It was great to see old friends again and have real conversations.
FLEXO: What are some of the solutions that attendees can expect to hear about during the conference? And what kinds of results can they look forward to?
Bart: Solutions range from press-side, to prepress, to consumables. One of our main focus points is the ROI for a leader attending. So, learning about problem solving issues in plants is always a question we ask ourselves while planning FORUM.
Laura: A wide range of solutions will be addressed in this year’s presentations. We’ll hear from print production employees what their most common problems are, and solutions will be discussed. Solutions to issues related to ink will be presented and attendees will gain an understanding of how various anilox engraving techniques and cell structures can affect print quality. Every session is about resolving some type of issue whether it be in production, business development or meeting the needs of a brand owner. Attendees will leave with an arsenal of techniques for making their print operations more efficient and effective at meeting customer needs.
FLEXO: Why do printers and converters need to find the time in their busy production schedules to come to FORUM?
Bart: From the very first brainstorming meetings, we asked the question, “What do printers want to know and need to know, and what can they immediately take back and use?” FORUM 2022 is really based on that one question.
Laura: Every business owner knows that you need to work on the business as well as in it. That means investing your time and that of your team to constantly improve. This is particularly important now in this era of change. It is also important to develop your employees. Good employees are hard to come by and career development and advancement are key to retaining your most talented people. FORUM is the perfect opportunity to provide training and allow your people the opportunity to develop supportive partnerships within the industry.
FLEXO: How does an in-person conference enhance the attendee experience—the ability to learn, to ask questions and to grow?
Bart: Let’s be honest: When attending a FORUM virtually, you’re still “at work.” Things are still happening and the possibility of getting pulled away is greater than being at the conference, physically, away from the plant. It’s a whole lot more immersive.
Laura: A single person can come up with good ideas and solutions, but several people collaborating can come up with extraordinary solutions. Don’t we all love that moment when we’re discussing a problem with an associate and they come up with an idea that we would never have thought of alone? It’s like the proverbial lightbulb turning on. I wonder how many of these moments occur at a FORUM, where knowledgeable people with different perspectives, who may have never met are able to catapult off each other’s ideas. And there is no doubt that being in person increases the impact of these conversations.