Short run lengths, fast turnaround times, lack of customer loyalty, competitive price pressures, and increased demand for high-quality graphics that rival results of offset and gravure — these are the demands that continue to challenge plant personnel in the flexographic business. According to a new survey of narrow web printers by the Flexographic Technical Association (FTA), these are the issues that matter most in the industry.
The non-scientific survey of 14 percent of the FTA’s label printer members concluded that the typical printer operates five to 10 presses, produces 15 jobs daily, employs 50 or more people and stages press runs that require fewer than 200,000 impressions. Average yearly business volume in the typical plant is just under $4 million.
Finding new customers is a constant concern. Participants said that maintaining margins in an overcapacity market is an intricate process. Market demand for heavy ink coating, attainable only with UV, was cited. Balancing cost and profits was seen as a permanent requirement.
“Designs are becoming more difficult,” according to the survey. A major goal is to “convince design and purchasing people that flexo can do the job now being done by offset, and that customers can save money and still get very high quality results.”
Thirteen percent of those polled said label printing accounted for 100 percent of their business. Similarly, 70 percent of the printers pointed to labels as controlling 90 percent of all revenues. Seventy-eight percent placed the ratio of label printing to dollars brought in at 70 percent or better. Eighty-three percent were confident that it was the focal point of at least half of sales volumes, and 91 percent said label printing was responsible for at least a 30 percent share of their business.
In the tag segment, 39 percent of those surveyed placed business volume at exactly 5 percent. Furthermore, 17.5 percent of the sample audience estimated tag printing at less than 3 percent of revenues. Conversely, 8.7 percent of FTA’s label and tag printers, who participated in the poll, indicated that tag production controlled more than 70 percent of the cash flow.
Of the plants surveyed, 100 percent employed more than 10 people and 91.3 percent had staffs of more than 20. The work force at 82.6 percent of the facilities exceeded 30 and personnel numbered between 40 and 50 at 69.6 percent. More than half of the plants sampled (52.2 percent) employed between 50 and 60, while 43.5 percent of those polled employed more than 60. Only 21.7 percent of the survey audience reported having more than 90 employees, with just 17.4 percent having 100 or more workers.
Print runs averaged 75,000 labels or fewer at 57 percent of the plants contacted. Similarly, 74 percent of the print establishments cited press runs of 100,000 labels or fewer, and 66 percent placed typical runs at less than 200,000. Only 4.3 percent of the sample audience was accustomed to print runs that topped 500,000, and a similar number handled large flexo print runs of 2 million or more impressions.
On the tag side, 4.3 percent of printers said that they generally deal with press runs of 500,000 or more impressions. More typically, 17.4 percent engaged in runs that never topped 100,000 impressions, and 13 percent rarely exceeded 200,000. Twenty-six percent said they deal with orders of 25,000 impressions or fewer, and 17.4 percent specialized in very short runs of less than 5,000.
Total number of presses in operation at all facilities surveyed came to 174. Forty-eight percent contained between five and 10 presses, with 26 percent having 10 or more. Twenty-six percent of the establishments operated somewhere between two and five presses, while 26 percent ran 10 or more machines and 4.3 percent housed 20 or more units.
Research revealed that 34 percent of the tag and label printers surveyed said their largest print run exceeded 10 million labels; 26 percent said their largest order topped 15 million. Twenty-two percent had the top order exceeding 20 million labels, and 8.7 percent said it exceeded 30 million. Tag and label printers who participated in the survey revealed that a typical day’s work constitutes 15 separate jobs, meaning 450 orders are filled monthly and 5,400 annually.
Standards & controls
More plants insist on applying some form of print standards than those that do not, with the ratio being 87 percent to 13 percent, according to survey findings. The most common standard program mentioned — FTA’s Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications and Tolerances (FIRST) program — was cited as being in use at 57 percent of facilities polled.
Some printers admitted to having modified FIRST guidelines to customize the program to their own operation, while others said they adopted partial elements of the entire platform. International Standards Organization guidelines were also embraced by members of the sample audience.
Seventy percent of those surveyed planned to make capital equipment purchases within the next 12 months. Of that number, 44 percent said that they will spend in excess of $500,000. The largest single buy was earmarked at $1.5 million, with the smallest amounting to some