Digital Magazine

Business and education join forces, and everybody wins

Corporations and associations are offering support - and equipment - to help train future employees and keep the industry competitive.

This country's educational system is continually under fire for turning out students who don't match up when compared to the rest of the world. But when it comes to vocational/technical training, the US is even worse, lagging so far behind it's in danger of permanently damaging its ability to manufacture products competitively. In fact, it's a common lament of CEOs that their biggest problem is the inability to find and retain good people.

In the past the US relied on waves of immigrants coming in with skills sharply honed in well-developed apprentice programs. In Germany, for example, the apprenticeship system dates back to the late 1300s. In the past two decades the immigration of skilled artisans willing to work for relatively low wages has slowed to a trickle. And what this means to American manufacturers is that they must look elsewhere for skilled employees.

Forward-thinking converting companies began to realize more than two decades ago that if they wanted good people they would have to create a partnership with institutions of learning, investing in education and donating equipment and supplies to programs with curriculums designed specifically to turn out tomorrow's printers, designers, and converting machinery operators.

Knowledge and Independence

The Graphic Communications Program at Clemson Univ., Clemson, SC, became a degree-granting program in 1982 after 16 years of evolution from an elective course to a full specialization. It enrolls approximately 250 undergraduates and another 25 full-time graduate students. In addition to seven regular faculty members, the program has four full-time people engaged in industry support activities, including training, testing, and research. Students are taught design, image creation, image processing, assembly, plate production, printing, and finishing. Every student who graduates from the program will have done at least 25 press runs, including work in offset lithography, gravure, screen printing, and flexography.

In addition to educating students on a wide range of topics, Clemson believes in giving its students the independence to make their own decisions, from design through scheduling press time. "We do this because, in order to be successful, students not only have to understand the technology but must develop common sense, organization, communication skills, and, most importantly, a solid work ethic," says Dr. J. Page Crouch, alumni professor, Graphic Communications, at Clemson. "These are difficult to teach in a typical academic setting. The hands-on, independent approach is much more effective. It has been our experience that students who are lazy either get over it or go away. Those who stay develop a good work ethic, because they are working far more independently than in a normal program. If they don't push themselves forward, nobody else will."

According to Crouch, Clemson believes that one of the most significant functions served by the educational system is that of screening and advancing the future employee along the learning curve. "Clemson tries to move its students far enough along that curve to make the transition to work as efficient as possible, with productivity coming at the earliest possible time," says Crouch. Clemson's hands-on program, along with its close, cooperative relationship with industry leaders, makes that goal attainable.

More than a decade ago, when Clemson embarked on a full-fledged, hands-on approach to teaching flexographic education, the university knew it could not be done without the majority of expenditures being borne by the industry itself. Since then, companies throughout the industry have come forward, enabling Clemson to develop a program said to be one of the world's best.

The link between Clemson and the converting industry is the Printing/Converting Research Center (Print/Con). Print/Con houses two large presses. One is a Gemini 1290 DBF six-color, 47-in., central-impression, flexographic press that was donated to the Foundation of the Flexographic Technical Assn. (FFTA) for installation at Clemson by Carint of Italy. The second press is a four-color Bobst flexo unit for corrugated board, donated by Bobst, Roseland, NJ, through the International Corrugated Packaging Foundation. These presses are used not only for student education but also for industry training, testing, and demonstration. Print/Con makes possible some essential activities, such as an emissions test by the Flexible Packaging Assn., that cannot be done in private industry because of lost production time.

"The Clemson facilities are a valuable asset to the entire printing and converting industry," explains Crouch. They are able to use the equipment without having to pay the overhead of keeping it in their own facilities."

Narrow Web Experience

Clemson recently increased its capability with a narrow web corona treating system donated by Enercon Industries Corp., Menomonee Falls, WI. The system is the third that Enercon has donated to Clemson in the past four years. Mounted in Enercon's original full-frame design, the 18-in. treater features a built-in ozone decomposer for environmental protection and an advanced Enercon Compak 2000 Series, 2-kW power supply.

The Enercon treater is installed on a Captain 10-in., six-color ultraviolet flexo press from Comco, Milford, OH, located in the university's Graphic Communications building. The location makes the press readily available for students and is also accessible to industry members. The narrow web press is used primarily by undergraduates for hands-on learning. The students receive full training in the operation of the Comco press before they nm large-scale projects at Print/Con.

The Carint press is equipped with an Enercon wide web bare roll corona treater. The treater was donated in 1991 and treats both conductive and nonconductive webs.

"The support by Enercon allows us to have in-line treating capability and to serve the training and technical needs of the industry in a neutral environment," Crouch reports. In-line treating on the narrow web press allows ink trials on a small scale. The new narrow web capability will make certain industry tests, such as ink testing, much easier. Previously, testing inks required inking the large Carint press, which was neither practical nor cost-efficient.

Typically, Clemson has used water-based inks for safety reasons, and, for that reason, students have used the narrow web press with top-coated materials. "We ran into problems with the printing, especially UV flexo," says Crouch. "We always wished we could turn on a treater, and now we can. This makes educating the students easier, and it gives them a wider variety of substrates to work with. In-line corona treating on the narrow web press is a big step forward in the capability that we can offer to our students."

Another piece of equipment that increases opportunities for students and industry is the Bobst flexo press, says Crouch. "I believe that Clemson is the first university in the US, and possibly far beyond, where hands-on corrugated graphics instruction is integrated into a printing and packaging science program." The Bobst press was donated through the International Corrugated Packaging Foundation (ICPF).

"ICPF believes in putting something back into the industry and helping to create a qualified workforce for the future," says Michel Defenbau, director of sales and marketing of corrugated equipment for Bobst. "We have done some training at Clemson with our personnel, and we are working to develop training for our customers, but our main purpose in placing this press at Clemson is to support the future of the corrugated industry."

Clemson plans on increasing its capabilities and bringing more converting in-house. "We are anxious to have die-cutting capabilities for paperboard packaging in-house and to expand our testing facilities in packaging science," says Crouch. Clemson also wants to utilize the narrow web, in-line corona treating capability to produce pressure-sensitive products, including labels. In-house converting will be part of the Graphic Communications program's plan to work more closely with Clemson's School of Packaging. The plan is to have students take more courses in both disciplines and to eventually have the programs share facilities, providing students and industry with a full package printing and converting facility in the future.

There are many examples of industry pitching in with sponsorships. DuPont Cyrel, Wilmington, DE, and the FFTA have donated a Cyrel SHD (Single Head Drill) System to the Industrial Education Dept. at Clemson. The drill is an example of the latest in mounting technology.

"With a unit at Clemson, the students have an opportunity to gain experience with pin registration," says Robert Wyatt, DuPont's director for North America. "Since the Cyrel SHD drill has the flexibility and precision to drill registration holes at any coordinate on a Cyrel plate and can drill carrier sheets for corrugated, it will support a wide range of flexo applications at Clemson."

Recently Heidelberg, Kennesaw, GA, presented the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) with a new six-color Speedmaster 72 with in-line coating. The press will be used as a hands-on instructional tool by the university's School of Printing Management and Sciences and for seminars in its Technical and Educational Center. Wolfgang Hager, senior VP of sales and marketing at Heidelberg, says, "The availability of the Speedmaster 72 ensures that RIT graduates will be fully up to speed with the latest in printing productivity advancements, as they learn by doing."

Support and More Support

Harper Corp. of America, Charlotte, NC, takes education seriously, having committed more than $300,000 to high schools and colleges in the past three years. In addition, Harper, a manufacturer of anilox rolls, has donated $70,000 of its product to 16 high schools and colleges. The company also contributes $100,000 annually to the five-year-old Walkingseminar[TM] program at its Advanced Surface Technology Center. The seminars, conducted by Harper's director of education, Tom Cassano, have trained more than 2,000 participants, including converters, suppliers, educators, graphic arts teachers, and government personnel from more than 35 countries.

A number of industry organizations are active in educational efforts. Founded in 1974, the FFTA exists to advance the art and science of flexographic printing. FFTA recommends and assists in developments that help flexography flourish through education, training, research, scholarships, the dissemination of technical information, meetings, and institutional development. The FFTA actively encourages members to participate in technical and educational programs that enrich the entire industry. The Flexo in High School program instituted by the FFTA is an educational project that has ignited financial participation and active involvement from members. Organizations interested in donating equipment or sponsoring an educational program should contact the FFTA at 516/737-6026.

The Education Council of the Graphic Arts Industry is an industry-wide coalition of more than 70 associations, corporations, educational institutions, and publications serving the industry as a clearinghouse, resource center, and coordinator of programs promoting career awareness, training, and a positive industry image. At the recent Graph Expo '95 at McCormick Place in Chicago, the Education Council and Printing Industry of Illinois/Indiana, in cooperation with the Graphic Arts Show Co., sponsored another free Career Awareness Day for more than 1,000 high school and college students and teachers. These programs were started by the Assn. for Suppliers of Printing and Publishing Technologies in 1984. The Education Council took over responsibilities in 1991 and since then has provided similar programs at the Gutenberg Festival with Printing Industries of Southern California and at Graphic Arts/The Charlotte Show with Printing Industries of the Carolina, as well as Graph Expo exhibitions in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia. For more information about the Career Awareness Day program or the Council contact the administrator at 703/648-1768.

There are many other stories we could tell of our industry working together with education toward a mutually beneficial goal, from Comoo's donation of a five-color Cadet press to Central Piedmont Community College's impressive National Center for the Study of Flexography to the more than 20 corporate sponsors of Oklahoma State Univ.'s state-of-the-art Web Handling Research Center. These activities are vital to the health of the converting industry, because it's up to the industry to guarantee its own future; nobody else will do it. The competition for educated people able to operate increasingly sophisticated equipment will only get more intense, and if our industry does not lay down a solid framework for training, the best and the brightest will be snapped up by industries that are willing to invest in the future.

Subscribe to PFFC's EClips Newsletter