Miraclon Commercializes US Manufacturing Line in Weatherford, OK

Chris Payne, CEO of Miraclon Corp, stands beside the Gemini plate production line in Weatherford, OK.
Photo courtesy of Miraclon

WEATHERFORD, OK—“Gemini” is up and operational! That announcement came Thursday, Oct. 18, as Miraclon, home of Kodak FLEXCEL Solutions, officially opened its new $15 million flexo plate manufacturing line.

Why Gemini? The line, now the heart of the firm’s largest manufacturing facility, is essentially a twin to the first and only other line in Yamanashi, Japan.

On-location to commemorate the official opening were local dignitaries, a contingent of international trade journalists, the plant’s full staff, a good part of Miraclon’s management team, and a host of printer/converter and trade shop customers.

Full commercialization came two-and-a-half years after breaking ground on the project in April 2017. Today, it is manufacturing flexographic plates for all customers in the United States, Canada and Latin America and keeping up with heavy demand, as the company reports it has been experiencing year-on-year, double-digit FLEXCEL NX plate volume growth for the past five years.

CEO Chris Payne commented: “This is a momentous occasion for Miraclon. Just six months after our spin-out from Kodak, we mark one of our first major milestones with the completion of this project, on time and on target.”

Plant Manager Tony Valencia noted, “It took 18 months to prepare the site and build the line. Existing buildings were repurposed and upgraded. Our first commercial plate came through Sept. 17.” Test plates preceded it by a year. “Today, we are fully commercialized with more than 80 employees at the plant. We’re the only manufacturing site for Miraclon’s Thermal Imaging Layer (TIL) and supply to 70 countries. Our new plate line is currently running two shifts, four days a week—round the clock.”

Local dignitaries, an international contingent of trade journalists, trade shops and printer customers joined Miraclon’s management team in commemorating the October 2019 official opening of the US-based flexo plate manufacturing line.
Photo courtesy of Miraclon

Needs Assessment

Official opening day coincided with a Miraclon industry event, staged that very morning in Oklahoma City. There, at the 21c Museum Hotel, all guests, sans the elected officials and plant personnel, engaged in a formal introduction to Miraclon and a two-stage examination on the topic of the hour—“Meeting Brand Needs.” All conversation came under the heading and theme for the event, “Transforming Flexo Together.”

Emma Schlotthauer, director marketing and communications, opened the proceedings and said, “Today’s focus is on needs of brands and what we can do as the flexo industry. It’s a conversation—an open and interactive dialogue to get the most out of the day. People in this room are transforming flexo together with hundreds of years of collective experience to be leveraged.”

Guests—some printers, some journalists, some trade shops—examine plate material moving through the Gemini production line.
Photo courtesy of Miraclon

She later stated, “It’s not about the size of the dot; it’s about what you put on top of the dot—the pursuit of higher and higher linescreens that create the greatest impact.” Schlotthauer also asked, “What is technology helping to do?” she then reported out findings on her in-booth informal survey at Labelexpo Europe 2019.

“Respondents indicated a strong belief that flexo has come a long way in the last 10-15 years, as we took the pulse of the industry. Findings further indicated that 50 percent believe brands are not aware of its capabilities.” Mega-trends cited to Schlotthauer as requiring attention included: just-in-time production, expanded gamut (EG) printing, short runs, flexo vs. digital and the ever-important productivity and profitability for the printer.

New Identity

For his part, Payne introduced Miraclon, home of Kodak FLEXCEL Solutions. He explained, “Miraclon means miraculous and cloning, or miraculous reproduction. Its logo implies printing. The ‘L’ represents a cylinder, while the orange ‘O’ is indicative of a flexo plate.” We’ve brought all intellectual property rights and patents for FLEXCEL to the new organization, essentially a licensee of the Kodak name. To this day, Kodak supplies the imaging devices utilized and offers all maintenance and support services.”

Attendees listen to an interactive panel discussion on brand demands, what they mean and where they are taking the packaging industry.

At its inception, Payne reported that Miraclon has 350+ employees and is building toward 400. Revenues top $150 million annually. It embraces, “flexibility, investment and ambition in shaping the future of flexo and possesses the lead and drive to make it possible to move the industry forward.” That said, he described the firm as having, “a sector-leading legacy, fresh perspective, focus on flexo and a commitment to pushing the boundaries of what flexo can achieve.”

Specifically, he decreed, “As an agile, young company, Miraclon is perfectly placed to help our customers excel, and in turn, shape the future of flexo. We’re close enough to all of them to understand their needs and how to support them, but outward-looking enough to see the opportunities on the horizon and how to innovate to meet them. That’s really good for flexo as a printing process in packaging. It means that flexo will no doubt become the premium production method for printed packaging. That’s frankly really exciting.”

Payne pledged to stress four critical factors in guiding Miraclon and its customers in transforming flexo from a craft to a modern manufacturing process. Listed out, they were: “Best-in-class efficiency, cost-effective production, sustainable practices, design freedom.” He envisions Miraclon as being, “an enabler—a catalyst for change—that can bring small companies to the flexo table.”