The hope of learning new strategies and technology that would sustain business despite a turbulent economy inspired approximately 1,200 fervent attendees to descend upon the Flexographic Technical Foundation's Flexo Forum 2009 at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort, Lake Buena Vista, FL, on May 3-5. Program chair Colleen Larkin Twomey of MacDermid Printing Solutions and co-chair Jean Engelke of Alcan Packaging executed an aggressive agenda focusing on “Navigating the Future of Flexo” that unequivocally expressed there was no time to waste: The future is now.
This year's attendees were favorably challenged to select among a diversity of intriguing subject matter that previous Flexo Forum attendees had identified as helpful to achieving objectives of efficiency, productivity, technology, and sustainability.
The opening day's program featured keynoter Dr. Jeff Rosensweig of Emory Univ.'s Goizueta Business School. He set the stage for the economic climate the country and converting industry can anticipate for the coming months as attendees warmed up to the idea of meeting challenges head on. His forecast: The US is the biggest economy and is expected to retain first place regardless of economic fluctuations. By 2020, GDP is expected to rise from its present $14 trillion to $20 trillion. Expect the economy to bottom out this year in October/November with a turnaround next year. Don't expect huge growth — maybe only 1% — but there will be growth nevertheless. Even at a 1% growth level for the 2010 GDP, it actually represents 4% or 5% growth from the -4% GDP for the Q1 2009 period.
Our biggest materials price hikes are behind us. Emerging markets will become our biggest competitors but will represent opportunities for partnerships as well.
Housing historically bounces back (and overcorrects) after a plunge, but continued population growth confirms the need for new homes. As inventories are reduced/exhausted, production will resume.
While emerging markets — especially India and Latin/South America — stand to become powerful economies, the US labor force will continue to grow and position itself as the leading, safe-harbor economy with continued investment here. Rosensweig emphasized: Just try to survive for the next year or two.
The 'Round the World session, co-chaired by FTA's Mark Cisternino and Australian FTA/MacDermid Printing Solutions' Tony Dalleore, included an impressive roster of panelists. Procter & Gamble's Mike Ferrari suggested that navigating turbulent times would require the pursuit of leadership, passionate innovations, and partnerships that may hold all or part of the solution to help bring products to market faster. All will contribute to the “moment of truth” resulting in a consumer purchase.
Dalleore shared a video featuring leading flexographers who profiled a “down under” business landscape, supplemented with facts and figures. The value of the flexo market in Australia represents approximately $36.1 billion in annual sales and supports approximately 110,000 employees.
Some Aussie industry observations (many of which were remarkably consistent with trends in other geographic locations) in wide web include a recent contraction in size, shorter lead times and shorter runs, and market consolidation at the top end creating opportunities for smaller printers as print buyers look to expand supplier options.
In narrow web, runs are getting wider and running at faster speeds, and in-mold and shrink film labels are growing in popularity. Preprint has become a mature market.
Dr. Martin Dreher of DFTA (Germany), also a 'Round the World panelist, revealed that most German flex-pack applications are and will continue to be solvent-based with water-based technology replacing only a fraction of applications. He revealed that while enthusiasm for electron beam (EB) technology has cooled down somewhat, higher press speeds are still in demand, although this advantage seems to be negated with shorter press runs.
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He predicted new structures for anilox roller surfaces with new laser engraving technology controlling cell shapes better. He also anticipates the resurrection of self-adhesive plate sleeves to eliminate the need for a double-sided adhesive layer for mounting with the potential for improving quality and cost savings. Lastly, the beneficial environmental aspects of flexo will become ever more important as it uses less energy.
Alfredo Domador of B2B Portales-Conversion magazine & Portal (Latin America) shared results of a State of the Industry & Capital Investment Survey (www.conversion.com) conducted in March '09. The data gauged the recession's impact in Latin America and how flexo converters are responding in terms of technology investments.
Readers are encouraged to visit PFFC's comprehensive annual Critical Trends survey published in last month's June issue. Our survey has gauged industry issues since 2006 across four industry segments, including flexible packaging; label, tapes and tags; paperboard; and unprinted rolls and sheets (visit: http://pffc-online.com/special_reports/paper-critical-trends-0609/).
Final 'Round the World panelist Felice Rossini of Rossini s.p.a. (Italy) shared that flexo is replacing gravure in South America and Asia where converters are making substantial investments. New press technology and auxiliary equipment purchases are mimicking European practices. He encouraged sleeve manufacturers to assist emerging markets, starting at the administrative level.
A full complement of technical and marketing sessions focused on prepress; emerging trends; and a full battery of Flexo 101 presentations addressing a range of printing challenges, such as factors in image quality, analysis of CTP products on the market, proofing and predictable results, press optimization and anilox inventories, and how to succeed under challenging economic conditions.
A Flexo Quality Consortium (FQC) session addressed factors controlling quality of the flexo printing process; a First 4.0 (Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances) session revealed what it can do to improve workflow and process issues. An inks session covered quality control, sustainability, and new technology. Sustainability also was tackled, revealing new ways to reduce environmental footprints.
Conveniently — without competition with the morning conference sessions — the InfoFlex exhibition provided attendees a daily afternoon opportunity to check out suppliers' new offerings while also permitting ample time in a relaxed atmosphere to compare competitive technologies and seek resolutions to technical issues. While there are numerous exhibition venues that address print technology, InfoFlex unfailingly stands out, with a strong tradition, to continue meeting the needs of the worldwide flexo community.
Foundation of FTA's 2010 Annual Forum is set for May 2-5 at Paris Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV.
During the evening Awards Banquet at the conclusion of the first day, the association recognized industry leaders with 160 medals and prestigious honors. In brief, these included:
Hall of Fame | Mark R. Mazure, DuPont Imaging
Technical Innovation | Eastman Kodak's FLEXCEL NX Digital Flexographic System
Phoenix Challenge (college) | California Polytechnic State Univ.
President's Awards | Mark Coffman of Dixie Graphics; Paul Lancelle of Eastman Kodak; and Allan Marquardt of Kimberly-Clark
Environmental Excellence Awards | Allpak Trojan, Coating Excellence Intl., Creative Labels, and Lauterbach Group
An additional 145 Excellence in Flexography Awards yielded nine Best of Shows, including: Exopack for Wide Web (A); Label Technology for Mid Web (B); Paragon Label for Narrow Web (C); Cascades Boxboard for Folding Carton (D); Paper & Design GmbH for Napkins (E); Lewisburg Container Co. for Combined Corrugated (F); Temple-Inland for Preprinted Linerboard (G); Encore Washington Ltd. for Envelope (H); and Coating Excellence Intl. for Graphic Design (I). A full list of winners is available at www.flexography.org.