When It Comes to Flexo Quality the Sky's the Limit

The FFTA Forum, featuring an emphasis on technology and a host of awards, proudly shows off just how far flexography has come.

The Opryland Hotel in Nashville, TN, may seem light years away from HAL the robot and a space station docking to the strains of the “Blue Danube Waltz,” but when the Foundation of the Flexographic Technical Assn. (FFTA) gathered for “2001: A Flex-Odyssey,” you could glimpse the future of printing.

That's because the FFTA's Annual Forum, held May 6-9, was celebrating an odyssey of its own — that of flexo's evolution from an upstart, lower-end method of printing to a high quality process that can hold its own against offset and gravure, and keeps getting better.

Clearing the Fog
In that spirit, the Forum began with a report on Project FOG (flexo, offset, gravure). The project was the brainchild of Dave Horsman, of Canflexographics (who also served as Forum chairman and was inducted into the FTA Hall of Fame); Mark Mazur of DuPont; and Mark Samworth of Artwork Systems.

With a setup that mimicked a wrestling match, complete with costumes and sound effects, “Team Flexo” battled “Little Joe Litho” and “Gravurasaurus.” Attendees, PFFC included, had fun but also had a serious job to do when we were each given a kit featuring two samples each of six different jobs. One sample of each job was printed flexo and the other was printed either offset or gravure. Attendees were asked to mark each sample 1-10 based on visual appearance of print quality. Jobs included two film packaging, two folding carton, one label, and one paper place mat application.

The samples previously had been judged by 201 consumers and package buyers. After the attendees voted, we were given the results of the earlier vote: four wins, one loss, and one tie (statistically insignificant difference) for flexo; one win and three losses for offset; no wins, one loss, and one tie for gravure.

The results of the attendee voting were announced at the final session on Wednesday. They were (with more than 500 ballots counted): three wins, one loss, and two ties for flexo; one win, two losses, and one tie for offset; no wins, one loss, and one tie for gravure.

The conclusion, according to project sponsors: Flexo definitely can compete with both offset and gravure today. “Quality is no longer a limitation of flexographic printing.”

The Forum's technical sessions covered an extremely broad range of topics, including prepress; the methodology of FIRST (Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications and Tolerances); environmental progress; Flexo Quality Consortium; tag and label technologies; flexible packaging; corrugated; and folding cartons.

The FTA's strong emphasis on education was evident, with award presentations to the college teacher of the year and the high school teacher of the year. In addition, there were presentations from students who are currently in FTA-sponsored programs and one from an industry employee who went through such a program.

Complementing the Forum was the Info*Flex exhibition, featuring more than 200 exhibitors showing their wares.

A Roaring Success Story
The opening session began with a “wrestling match” and the final session began with special guest speaker Ken Schmidt riding into the hall on a motorcycle. It was showmanship, but it was also appropriate: Schmidt is the former director of communications for Harley-Davidson Motor Co.

Now a semi-retired marketing consultant and popular corporate speaker, Schmidt's topic was “The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Harley-Davidson.” He told of the company's phenomenal success before the entrance of Japanese models into the market in the 1960s. Harley-Davidson eventually was acquired and by the mid-80s, it was near bankruptcy.

After an employee buyout, the new owners faced a daunting challenge — how to get back their customers who had lost faith in the reliability of their product.

They literally went out on the road, talked to cyclists, and offered test rides for the first time in industry history. They went back to their employees and actively involved them in the fight to regain customers. Today Harley-Davidson is back on top.

Obviously Schmidt had a lot more to say about manufacturing a quality product, listening to customers, involving employees, etc., but one statement served as a summary: “The noise of a Harley-Davidson is different than the noise of other motorcycles. We each make our own noise. Each business must make its own noise, or it will blend in with that of its competitors.”

The Winners Were…
Among the highlights of the Forum was a banquet that featured the presentation of the FTA's 2001 Excellence in Flexography Awards. Honors were presented to 141 entries in line, screen, and process classifications for each of six major categories: wide web, mid-web, narrow web, combined corrugated, preprinted linerboard, and design.

Best of Show recognition went to six specific print samples, each of which captured a gold award in its respective category. Those winners included:

  • Pacific International Rice and Smurfit Stone Container Corp. for Pacific Medium Grain Rice — Design (1)

  • Great Lakes Packaging Corp. for Baqua Spa Maintenance Kit — Combined Corrugated (Line) (2)

  • Sommerville Packaging for Fruit & Fibre Peaches, Raisins & Almonds — Mid Web (Process Paperboard) (3)

  • Inland Paperboard and Packaging for Yeungling & Son Inc. Variety Pack — Preprinted Linerboard (Process) (4)

  • Pliant Corp. for Private Selection Dark Sweet Cherries — Wide Web (Process Film) (5)

  • Wallace Computer Services for First USA Vodka — Narrow Web (Process Film) (6)

The judging panel, comprising 30 industry experts, had to consider 637 entries, which broke down as follows: 170 narrow web; 129 wide web; 111 mid-web; 41 corrugated container; 34 preprinted linerboard; 28 envelope; 13 newspapers and publications; 10 special achievement; 14 self-promotion; 28 college students; and 59 high school students.

FTA presented 36 narrow web awards, as well as 29 wide web, 21 mid web, 7 newspaper and publication, 8 combined corrugated, 9 preprinted linerboard, 17 envelope, 3 self-promotion, 4 college student, and 6 high school student.


FFTA Forum 2002 will be held May 5-8 at the Marriot Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC. For more information contact FTA at 631/737-6020; e-mail: membership@flexography.org.


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