A Look Inside Flexo Tech’s Gold Award-Winning Print in the 2018 FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards

The Happy Holidays Card, winner of a gold award in the college student category of the 2018 FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards. Top Left: Xai Thao, Aaron Pitt (the student who printed the card), Andrew Webber, Vang Thao. Top Right: Patrick Sadowski, Xang Vang. Bottom Left: Josh Person, Casey Doeren, Taochia “TC” Lor, James Blocksom. Bottom Right: David Forbes, Ed Lashley, David Bey, Adam Byam.
All photos courtesy of Flexo Tech

In the 2018 FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards Competition, judges described the gold award winner in the college student category as having “good creative usage of gloss and tactile inks.” Printed by Flexographic Tech, the Happy Holidays Card abided by Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST) methodology and was one of only a few student-produced winners.

“Moments like this foster a sense of pride in the students and what they can accomplish with their skills,” said Shawn Oetjen, flexo trainer at Flexo Tech in Minneapolis, MN. “It also assures them that they can have a great career in flexo!”

Here, Shawn explains to FLEXO Magazine the design work that went into the award-winning card, how a plastic hose filled the role of a doctor blade, and the confidence boosting and validation students get from seeing their work win praise.

FLEXO Magazine: What is Flexo Tech? What is its mission?

Shawn Oetjen: Flexographic Tech is a not-for-profit flexographic printing training resource located in Minneapolis, MN. Our mission is to provide hands-on training in a compressed timeframe to produce qualified, productive flexographic press operators for a future in flexographic print.

FLEXO: When was Flexo Tech started and who started it?

Oetjen: We were founded in early 2015 and our first class was October 2015.

Flexo Tech resulted from a collaboration of two Minneapolis-area flexographic printing companies, AWT Labels & Packaging and Computype. AWT Labels & Packaging, Computype and really the industry as whole, had been struggling to find trained press operators to employ. It became even more challenging when local trade schools stopped offering flexographic training. So, AWT Labels & Packaging and Computype partnered to develop a sustainable solution.

Aaron Pitt works on the Happy Holidays Card on press.

FLEXO: Where are the students from?

Oetjen: They come from a variety of flexo industry companies in the Twin Cities area and across the country. It’s been a pretty even split between local and out-of-state companies. Our intensive, three-month press operator trainees are typically from both narrow and wide web printing-specific companies, whereas our three-day Flexo 101 fundamentals course appeals to anyone who wants a crash course on flexography. We see customer service representatives, accountants and sales representatives attend from printing companies, flexible packaging converters, suppliers—You name it.

FLEXO: How many students go through Flexo Tech each year?

Oetjen: Each year, between 12 and 16 press operators graduate and 20 to 30 students complete our three-day Flexo 101 course. Since we opened three years ago, we have trained 55 press operators (28 from Minnesota and 27 from out of state) and had 67 industry professionals complete Flexo 101 (47 of them converters and 20 suppliers).