FTA Forum Takes on What’s Trending
With all of the constantly evolving variables impacting the package printing industry, condensing the most important topics affecting flexographic printers into a three-day event can be a tall challenge. But with a theme of “Trending Now,” the Flexographic Technical Association’s (FTA) annual Forum placed a focus on the most important issues facing flexography today, and what printers should be focused on as they work to keep their businesses at the forefront of the industry.
The Forum, which was held from April 30 to May 3 in Phoenix, offered several sessions that included technical pressroom topics, legal and logistical issues facing the industry, and how to attract and retain a skilled workforce. The event also featured the FTA’s annual awards for Excellence in Flexography, technical innovation, and the latest inductee into the FTA Hall of Fame. Additionally, the 35th annual Info*Flex exhibition provided attendees an opportunity to meet a full spectrum of suppliers for the flexographic industry.
The Forum opened with a session titled, “Flexo Legals, Markets & Logistics,” which provided an overview of important legal issues facing the industry and flexo market trends. One of the most pressing issues that will impact both printers and brand owners are the upcoming changes to the Nutrition Facts label found on food and beverage products.
Kevin Bourquin, prepress and color manager for Cyber Graphics, outlined what the changes are and how package printers can prepare for their implementation.
From a visual perspective, Bourquin explained that the serving size font will increase, along with the calories. Additionally, an “Added Sugars” category will be implemented into the label and the required footnote will be changed, among other changes. Though the changes are currently slated to take effect by July of 2018, Bourquin recommended that printers begin having conversations with their customers and partners as soon as possible to maximize preparation time.
Following Bourquin’s presentation, a panel featuring Rick Rosenberger, operations manager for Hart Industries; Troy Johnson, VP of client engagement for SGK; and Dan Muenzer, VP of marketing for the labels division of Constantia Flexibles; discussed the directions in which flexography is moving and projections for the future.
All three panelists described a growing packaging industry, in which flexography has a bright future as the dominant printing technology. But as consumer behaviors and brand owner demands change, flexographic printers will need to evolve with the times.
Rosenberger described how, in the food packaging space, safety and cleanliness are paramount. He discussed the importance of the Safe Quality Foods certification program, and explained that producing consistent, clean packaging is key to maintaining strong relationships with customers in the food industry.
Johnson discussed the challenge flexographic printers are facing to provide higher quality printing at lower fixed costs. To succeed at this challenge, he explained that package printers should address their color management software, print inspection systems and job management software. All three of these elements are key to improving efficiency, as they are essential to print consistency, maintaining high quality and organization.
Muenzer explained that label and packaging customers are focused on end results and, because of this, it’s imperative that converters find ways to “wow” their customers. As brand owners continue to battle on retail shelves, Muenzer described how label printers can offer new packaging experiences through initiatives including customization, functionality and other alternative formats.
While rapidly evolving technology and significant growth opportunities portray a positive future for the flexographic industry, the Forum addressed one trend impacting the print world that has begun to cause some alarm throughout the industry.
In a session titled “The ‘Press Crew’ Crisis: Now Who’s Going to Run My Press?” four presenters discussed how, in general, flexographic press operators are aging out of the industry and nearing retirement. The alarming element of this trend is a lack of skilled labor entering the workforce from younger generations.
Two of the presenters were Brendan Kinzie and James Stone of VinEquities, a full-service packaging company serving the wine industry, who are also co-founders of GoGetter, a job search mobile app that focuses on the Millennial generation and skilled trades.
Kinzie explained that prior to his current employment, he ran a wine label company in California. He said that finding skilled operators was among the top concerns that kept him up at night, as younger people entering the workforce had a negative perception of printing as being an antiquated industry with little opportunity to work with high-tech equipment. However, he said that when new employees who were unfamiliar with printing came into the shop, their attitudes quickly changed.
“We would get kids out of high school and they would sign up with a temp agency and would come in to start an assignment with us and their eyes would pop open,” Kinzie said. “They’d think of printing as an old man in a basement on an old piece of equipment that’s all beat up, covered in ink, printing newspapers, which are a dying business. They would walk into our facility, see a spotless clean room, a floor that’s painted white, brand new equipment, the latest and greatest technology, and they didn’t even know this world existed.”
To help cure printing’s image problem, Kinzie recommended that those in the industry improve their marketing to help “make printing cool again.” He also suggested they seek out alternative methods in reaching potential younger employees, invest in long-term training and apprenticeships, stop seeking out low-cost labor, and present printing jobs as career opportunities with growth potential. And because there are many jobs in the industry that do not require four-year college degrees, these opportunities come without college debt.
Poly Print, a flexible packaging printer based in Tucson, Ariz., was highlighted as a company that preemptively addressed the “press crew crisis,” before it took a major toll on the business. Elsie Genova, the company’s co-owner, CFO and administrative manager, provided a glimpse at Poly Print’s in-house training program, and how it has led to a well-trained and engaged staff.
To help attract new operators to the company and retain its current operators, Genova explained how Poly Print worked to standardize its processes to create new methods of educating new hires about the industry. To ensure new hires were trained to meet the precise needs of Poly Print, Genova explained that the company created a series of internal training videos for new operators to study. They were then quizzed on the content before stepping out onto the pressroom floor.
By documenting each process and creating training materials specific to that process, Genova explained that new Poly Print staff members can hit the ground running with the knowledge of precisely how the company operates.
In addition to the educational elements provided at the FTA Forum, the event also serves as an opportunity to recognize those in the industry who have made a substantial impact on flexography.
The FTA’s highest honor, induction into the FTA Hall of Fame, was presented to Steve Smiley, one of the flexographic industry’s leading experts on color. According to a press release from the FTA, Smiley has taken on many roles in the industry, and is currently the FTA’s representative on the Committee for Graphic Arts Technology Standards’ Color Reproduction and Process Control Packaging Subcommittee.
“Steve has long been a speaker on various color-related topics and has an amazing skill of masterfully communicating some fairly involved, complicated concepts in a manner that is appropriate and comprehensible by whatever audience he is speaking to,” Mark Cisternino, president of the FTA, said in the release.
Constantly evolving technology was among the themes of the Forum, and the FTA’s Technical Innovation Awards recognized three products that have gone above and beyond in terms of technological ingenuity. Esko received the award in the prepress graphics category for its XPS Crystal 5080, a digitally controlled UV LED exposure unit. Flint Group earned the award in the prepress – pressroom category for EkoCure ANCORA Ink, a UV LED, low-migration ink. Mark Andy won the heavy equipment category for the Digital Series press, a hybrid solution combining flexo and inkjet technologies.
Of the 121 awards presented in the association’s Excellence in Flexography awards, six companies were presented with Best of Show awards. These top honors went to Advance Packaging Corp., Industrias de Plasticos S.A., MackayMitchell, Packaging Technologies, Inc., Smyth Companies and Transcontinental Robbie.
The FTA will reconvene for its Fall Conference, scheduled for October 9-11 in St. Louis.