Shorter runs, faster delivery times, expanded color gamuts, new materials, a wider array of applications, continuous calls for maximization of efficiencies, minimization of waste and consistent, predictable results—oh, to be a printer as 2018 dawns and a new decade is fast approaching.
The subjects are familiar. Flexographers have been talking about grappling with and identifying solutions to them for years. Talk has translated into action. Flexographic Technical Association members clearly honor their word.
For example, at the start of 2017, 60 percent of printer members participating in a FLEXO Magazine Flash Poll on business drivers and their impact on flexographic printing and converting operations identified technological advances that reduce makereadies, cut waste and speed time to market as the prime influence. That was followed at 31 percent by multiprocess print, and then automation at 28 percent. Consequently, just nine to 10 months later, many of those same printers boast of new and expanded capabilities. Their ranks include label, flexible packaging, folding carton, corrugated, preprinted linerboard, envelope, non-wovens and cards/giftwrap shops.
In recent years, based on FLEXO’s SourceBook 2018 data tabulation, 6 percent of FTA’s printer members has expanded offerings to include shrink sleeves (mostly label specialists), 6 percent shrink wraps (label and flexible packaging converters) and 6 percent pouch making (label and flexible packaging plants). Additionally, 10 percent engage in digital print and another 5 percent in digital finishing. The list of practitioners (again) includes label, flexible packaging, folding carton, corrugated and preprint experts.
FTA Printer Expertise
Multiprocess print capabilities extend across several processes, led among FTA printer members by flexo + screen at 7 percent. Flexo + gravure is embraced at 3 percent of sites, and the identical, 3 percent, is true for flexo + offset.
Driving down deeper, 11 percent of FTA printer members—the ranks of which now number approximately 520—today offer in-house prepress and plate making services. Inline converting, exemplified by laminating capabilities, is in place at 10 percent of plants, with 7 percent now offering slitting. Other services finding a place in FTA member operations are embossing (5 percent), cold stamping and hot foiling (4 percent), extruding (3 percent), UV LED curing (2 percent), gluing (2 percent), and windowing at just over 1 percent—largely envelope shops.
The most common print application among FTA printer members is flexible packaging at 59 percent. It is followed by labels at 41 percent. Folding carton printing/converting activities involve 15 percent of membership, with envelope accounting for 5 percent and corrugated 4 percent. Another 4 percent engage in towel/tissue/napkin and non-woven print, with 3 percent in preprinted linerboard and 3 percent in greeting cards.
Of note, 17.5 percent of FTA printer members produce flexible packaging as well as labels. Also, a full 30 percent of FTA member flexible packaging printers are label converters. Their collective charge and promise is to get better at what they do. At FTA’s Forum 2018, they’ll be looking to gain further insight on press approvals, advanced technologies, troubleshooting strategies, consumer behavior, and of course, color and control. Continuous improvement has become cemented in their culture.