Printing to the numbers, process control, color management—these are data-heavy concepts at the heart of Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST). But the numbers, equations and measurements are means to an end, and in getting to that end, it’s important to keep sight of basic questions, like “Why are we doing this” and “How does doing this improve things?”
Autumn Graphics, a 15-year FTA member, has employees pursuing both FIRST Prepress Operator Certification and FIRST Implementation Specialist Certification. The motivators behind those training initiatives are not only numerical but also stem from “the desire to have all employees throughout all departments in the company have a better and more consistent understanding of how and why we do things the way we do, to make them more effective in their roles,” explains President Ben Abray.
Here, FLEXO Magazine discusses Autumn Graphics’ history and view of the industry with Abray, how FIRST Prepress Operator Certification affects day-to-day activities with Production Manager Steve Blass, and benefits seen from FIRST Implementation Specialist Certification with Technical Customer Service Manager Ian Dobie.
FLEXO Magazine: How was Autumn Graphics started?
Ben Abray, President: Autumn Graphics was incorporated in 1982, with three employees initially, sharing space in the Talbot Communications building on Ann Street in the city of London in Ontario, Canada.
FLEXO: What are some important milestones in the company’s history?
Abray: Autumn Graphics has achieved manageable, planned growth over the last 36 years. In 1985, we purchased a building on Elm Street in London, Ontario, which served our needs and growth until 2001, when we designed, built and moved into our current corporate facility, also in London, Ontario, on Sovereign Road. In 2013, Autumn Graphics expanded its physical presence into the U.S., with the establishment of our U.S. Operations location in Fayetteville, AR.
FLEXO: In what market segment(s) does the company do business?
Abray: Autumn Graphics provides premedia production, flexographic plate production, brand management, 3D packaging development and e-commerce imagery, print production technical services, and packaging lifecycle workflow tools to CPCs, converters, printers and advertising agencies.
FLEXO: In a time when mergers and acquisitions are increasingly commonplace, what does it mean to be independently owned and operated?
Abray: Being privately owned, independent and owner managed allows Autumn Graphics to stay 100 percent focused on our customers, our employees, and the technology and processes we use to deliver our services. We do not have the challenges of outside investment or public ownership, which have the potential to take focus away from those elements of our business.
FLEXO: What does Autumn Graphics look like in 2018? How many employees do you have? What are some recent developments at the company?
Abray: Currently, Autumn Graphics has 74 team members, spread across our manufacturing facilities, business development and customer on-site technical representatives.
FLEXO: What does Autumn Graphics see as new or exciting in flexography? New capabilities enabled by modern technologies? A specific consumer trend? Growth in an unexpected segment?
Abray: With ongoing technical advancements in flexo production, with inks, presses, anilox rolls, plate technology, there is a heavy focus on competing favorably with other print processes (specifically gravure), to continue to pull more work into the flexo process. With that, we are seeing a heightened awareness around process control and color management at press side. Also, increases in the complexity of graphics and brand requirements place an ongoing focus on reproduction capabilities and consistency of output.
FLEXO: Autumn Graphics has clients in both Canada and the U.S. Are there any regional trends or notable differences you observe between the two countries?
Abray: With the work we are doing in both the Canadian and U.S. packaging markets, we are currently observing a higher than normal pace of investment in technology and production assets at printer locations, and we are also seeing a rapid increase in the knowledge base of our brand owner customers, around technical capabilities, workflow ownership and color management.
FLEXO: What made Autumn Graphics join FTA 15 years ago?
Abray: Autumn Graphics joined FTA, and continues to be a member, because we recognize the educational side of what the organization is doing, and we are strong believers in the process control and production standardization aspects of the FIRST methodology. It is unique to see suppliers, customers and industry competitors come together to continue to make efforts to advance the capabilities of the process, so we can all benefit.
FLEXO: How has FTA helped the company excel at what it does?
Abray: Autumn Graphics has benefited from FTA membership through our exposure to what others in the industry are doing to continue to advance, through the networking aspects of the Association and Forum, and through the FIRST Certification program.
FLEXO: Ben, you played a critical role in the 2010 FLEXO Magazine Cover Project. Do you have any specific memories of working on it?
Abray: When we worked with SUN Inks, Brand Image and (at the time) Cenveo MM&T on that project, the aspect I recall the most was how smooth the production run went, because of all the upfront collaboration. Everyone needed to be educated on the capabilities of the unique inks that were used, and the capabilities/optimization of the press equipment and plate/screening technology involved, and the workflow tools used to manage the project all the way through. It really highlights what is still one of the most important aspects of any production job—the upfront teamwork and collaboration—to make sure the production run is uneventful and without unforeseen surprises or challenges.