A highly educational conference for top industry leaders took place in September in Chicago's Hyatt Regency Hotel. The biennial TLMI Technical Conference drew a crowd of about 300 – mostly industry suppliers but a strong showing of converters – who spent a day and a half listening to how-to sessions and experiences from those who have mastered the management and production arts in the printing industry.
The conference, titled "Get Smart," featured a strong group of presenters and ran like clockwork. The conference leaders were Terie Syme of Prestige Label, Paul Brauss of Mark Andy, and Tom Spina of Luminer Converting.
One evening was devoted to vendor tabletop presentations, always a welcome opportunity to network with colleagues, customers and competitors.
The first round of sessions began with a focus on pre-press. Chaired by Michelle Garza of RBCOR and Nick Van Alstine of Macaran Printed Products, the panel of both converters and suppliers discussed the challenges converters face, and the tools and technology available to overcome them. The session also featured a discussion of the pros and cons of using analog versus digital pre-press workflows.
Panelist Derek Case of Digiflex said that the advantages of digital flexo plates over analog, when it comes to platemaking, include the eliminating of film and film processing chemicals, greater process latitude, and far greater plate-to-plate consistency. He also said digital flexo plates allow for cleaner printing and less downtime than their analog counterparts. However, Case said, using analog flexo plates avoids the 5 to 15 percent premium for digital and the completely "open system" allows printers to use the same analog plates that their brand owners have signed off on.
John Anderson of Eastman Kodak described what he called a "game changing innovation," referring to a digital laminate plate system. Using a series of graphics and charts for support, Anderson explained the benefits of this five-step process; one that he says enables flexo printers to compete with offset and digital. According to Anderson, the process "allows printers to move to the next level in resolution capabilities, productivity, consistency, and profitability. The digital laminate plate allows greater sustainability through reduced plates and waste, and it allows 'on demand' flexo labels as an alternative to the short, frequent runs by digital print."
Making the best of tough times
"Maximize Profits in Lean Times" featured a range of useful ideas from four presenters. Vincent Genovese of Nireco spoke about ways to generate profits from old equipment. New profits can come from older machinery, he said, by adding capability to produce new and better products for increased revenues, and through efficiency improvements and waste reduction to lower costs. Such improvements require proper tension, appropriate roll diameters, driven infeed and unwind, and the use of automatic control technology.
Craig Thomson of Martin Automatic spoke about identifying waste in print production.
Dave McSherry, of Acpo, spoke about identifying and documenting best practices to ensure consistency and repeatability. He recommended the adoption of "Standardized Work," which he described as "the best combination of man and machine, which uses the least materials, labor, space and inventory." Such a practice will help establish correct sequencing of activities, establish a consensus for methods among operators, and improve the standards, which will improve by consensus.
Tim Daisy of Prism advocated the mass balance approach to process improvement. In theory, he said, mass balance occurs when "Material In = Product Out." Waste, which upsets the balance, comes from printing and finishing, from over- and under-production, from material handling, and from discrepant inventory values.
The material world
The session titled "Getting Smart with Label Material Selection" covered a variety of options including difficult to stick to substrates, down gauging films for cost savings, and issues involving chemical legislation. In addition, an emphasis was placed on the various sustainable materials available to converters.
Philip Emery of FLEXcon said that when working with substrates that are difficult to adhere to, it's important to conduct extensive testing and to record the data. He also noted that the issue is not going to go away, and working with the supplier before the design phase is one way to overcome the challenge.
In discussing films, Kari Virtanen of UPM Raflatac said that down gauging is challenging because of the level of stiffness required for dispensing. "If stiffness is increased too much, conformability is then decreased," he said, adding that new polymer technologies have helped to down gauge films to a certain extent.
Avery Dennison's Kevin Rinehart led the discussion on sustainable materials and the different environmental certification programs. He said sustainability is "not black and white, and incremental progress is better than none at all." He defined and discussed materials that fall under the different categories such as renewable, compostable and biodegradable, and also touched on the push for post consumer waste usage, recycling compatible adhesives, and linerless labels.
The digital experience
Digital printing, always a popular topic at educational events, was addressed by four converters who use digital printing machines, and also by a panel of digital print suppliers. Converter Joel Carmany, of Consolidated Label, said that those who are considering acquiring a digital press should expect that their volume on that machine should take two to three years to build. In addition, they should expect a three- to four-month learning curve for production people, and higher maintenance and downtime. Calling Consolidated's adoption of digital "a great experience," Carmany added that his company has since built a new magnetic die library because of the digital print orders, and has substantially reduced waste. "If you haven't made the move to digital," he said, "you will be making the move."
Cheryl Caudill of Multi-Plastics, Dave McDowell of McDowell Label & Screen Printing, and Gary Smith of RotoMetrics.
Peter Renton of Lightning Labels, a completely digital label shop, said that the greatest challenges with digital equipment are bringing in business, handling press downtime, working with new prepress systems, setting pricing, and creating a fast turnaround workflow. The biggest opportunity, he added, is the ability to produce variable data, meaning complete variation in text and images to enhance a product.
David Blatt of Color Ad Label emphasized the importance of having a strong marketing plan for digital label sales. "Do you have the right sales force to sell a differentiated value proposition?" he asked. "Look for the chaos – price/value is different from commodity markets." He recommended targeting the brand manager rather than the purchaser, and driving "small accounts to self service, focusing direct sales on large account management."
A Q&A panel of digital print equipment suppliers closed the session. The panelists were Jeff O'Reilly of HP Indigo, Filip Weymans of Xeikon, Andy Colletta of Nilpeter, and Ken Stack of EFI Jetrion.
During the "Process Technology Comparisons" session chaired by Mac Rosenbaum of Aquaflex, discussion took place comparing flexible versus solid dies, as well as an analysis of the flexo, offset, and digital processes. The topic of how narrow web converters can profit through flexible packaging opportunities was also discussed.
Steve Lee of RotoMetrics reviewed the evolution of dies, both solid and flexible, and went on to discuss just how far they've come. He talked about the advantages each provide, and paid particular focus on how far flexible dies have progressed, but acknowledged their limitations. He also said the price of magnetic cylinders has decreased over the years but noted that converters "must carefully consider repeat lengths as they begin the justification process." Lee concluded that flexible dies approach the length of a solid die in some applications, but it's important to consider the application and the impact the materials will have.
Chuck Sims of CL&D Graphics presented a comprehensive comparison of the flexo, offset, and digital printing processes, describing the history and evolution each. He also detailed the inks and inking trains of the different processes and reviewed the different types of flexo presses available – inline, stack, and central impression. Sims also talked about what each process offers the label printer when it comes to print quality, short and long runs, and cost.
Northern Label's Don Rees led a discussion on flexible packaging opportunities for the narrow web printer. Markets where opportunities can be found, he said, include test markets where wider style presses can't afford to run, spray can wrap, beverage shrink sleeve, craft market for private brand foods, and other niche areas. "Converters need to have the right equipment to develop these new markets and can find opportunities through their existing customers," said Rees, adding, "Quick turn, samples, and niche are the most immediate opportunities for narrow web converters with smaller runs and more SKUs are most advantageous."
Dueling press makers
Referees Jay Luft of McDowell Label & Screen and Denny McGee (background) of MPS controlled the enthusiasm among press manufacturers. Panelists shown are, from right, Steve Leibin of Omet, Paul Brauss of Mark Andy, and Dick Chesnut of Chesnut Engineering.
The panelists fielded questions about gearmarking, advanced technology, the move to servo driven presses, the future of flexography in an increasingly digital world, plates and dies, sleeves, and video inspection.
Steve Leibin of Matik chaired the session titled "Application Opportunities – Do more with your press equipment!" As its name implies, this session featured discussion on adding applications that converters can do now, with only a minor or medium expense.
Clark Brown of Valco discussed how converters can save money, control quality, and increase business when considering adhesive application inline and manufacturing their own labelstock. He went on to detail the different types of adhesives and adhesive applications, and offered that products that can be manufactured inline using adhesive include mailers, forms, inserts and specialty tapes, in addition to PS labels.
Catchpoint's Mike Cooper made the case for linerless labels, pointing out that the label industry is an industry with a 50 percent waste component. He emphasized the environmental impact of release liner and chronicled the evolution of linerless label technology and its capabilities, while acknowledging its limitation in the types of shapes that can be made. "The environmental cost of convenience has to be reduced and the self adhesive industry has to evolve and reduce waste," Cooper said.
An exploratory session on printed electronics attracted the attention of quite a few converters. The meeting began with an explanation of the technology and its evolution by Kevin Manes of Mark Andy, who said that although the hope for a large RFID industry have not materialized, the work in that field "set the stage for printed electronics."
From left: John Bennett of FLEXcon, Thomas Dahbura of Hub Labels, Michelle Garza of RBCOR.
"Today's graphic converters are the right people to take on the role of printed electronics producers," Manes said.
Jeff Parker of Henkel Adhesives Technologies explained the use of conductive and thermo plastic inks, as well as plates and the various drying systems required for production of printed electronics components.
Dan Gamota of Printovate told the audience that the center of the universe for printing competence is the United States, and encouraged converters to explore the printed electronics field.
"Pimp your Press" was the theme of the presentation given by Telstar Engineering's Tom Kirtz. He explained how retrofitting your current equipment is an effective growth strategy, incorporating a wide range of options including hot stamping, inkjet, coating, laminating, and multi-web constructions. He also brought attention to a new technology called Cast and Cure, a sustainable process that produces multiple holographic effects in a single coating.
Pursuit of quality
Alexander James of Harper Corporation and Jay Sperry of Clemson University addressed the subject "Quality and Consistency" in another session. James spoke of press optimization and the creation of a stable press environment, concentrating on the anilox roll. He encouraged listeners to have an anilox analysis performed by the supplier; to qualify which rolls should stay in the active inventory based on volume and printability, and to set up anilox volume standards on job orders.
Sperry spoke about G7 calibration and color management for flexo. G7 is a recently developed calibration method that delivers consistent gray scale appearance on virtually any type of color imaging process.
The experts speak
"Learning from the Champions" featured a panel of label converting all-stars of companies both big and small. The participants were Joel Carmany of Consolidated Label, Craig Moreland of Coast Label Company, Bob Zaccone of GSI Technologies, and Andy Farquharson of Dow Industries. Led by moderator Frank Gerace, the panelists spoke candidly about their strategies and business practices, as well as the challenges they've faced along the way in building a successful label printing business.
Pricing was one topic the panel discussed. "Price is a big factor and you can't let your salesman run your business," Carmany said, adding, "It's all about relationships with your customers – and building those relationships. It's beyond price."
Effectively dealing with the recession was another hot topic. Farquharson said Dow Industries has put an emphasis on selling and adding value. Zaccone talked about his company's strategies that include Lean endeavors, reducing hours and cross-training employees. Carmany said he's recently switched to buying all of his supplies on credit card, which has resulted in cost savings.
Quest for LIFE
The TLMI Technical Conference concluded with a presentation titled "Zest for LIFE," a discussion of TLMI's Project LIFE and its goal of encouraging the establishment ofenvironmentally sound business and production practices in place throughout member companies.
Among the many speakers was Bill Muir, president of Grand Rapids Label, the first company to achieve LIFE certification. "It's good for the environment, it's good for business, anyone can do it, and it's the right thing to do," he told the audience. The LIFE initiative involves the measurement of materials and consumables in the facility that can contribute to waste of various kinds. "If you don't measure it," said Muir, "you're not going to improve it."
Another speaker was Larry Gibson, a manager of two Unilever production plants, who has instituted sustainable practices at his operations. He encouraged TLMI members to pursue LIFE certification because he believes that consumer products companies will increasingly demand proof of environmentally sound practices by all vendors.