It was easily the largest group of label industry professionals ever to attend a Technical Conference sponsored by the Tag & Label Manufacturers Institute. TLMI Tech 2011, held at the Swissotel in downtown Chicago in early September, attracted 375 people, a sold-out crowd. They came to learn from their peers about the latest in technological innovations and the benefits and challenges that come with industry evolution.
Over the course of two days, more than 60 presenters and panelists led technical discussions and gave presentations addressing the narrow web converting industry's current trends to an audience composed of converters, suppliers and end users.
"One of the goals of the TLMI Technical Committee in approaching how this particular conference would be structured was to ask TLMI members what types of presentations and discussions they would be interested in," said Nick Van Alstine of Macaran Printed Products, and one of the conference's co-chairs.
Mike Buystedt of Flint and Brian Gale of ID Images
Conference presentation topics included New Perspectives on Lean Manufacturing, 100 Percent Video Web Inspection, TLMI's LIFE Certification Program, Solutions for Brand Protection, and Aligning Sales and Operations Through Strategic Planning. Throughout the two-day conference presenting converters also offered a direct glimpse into their own operations, sharing anecdotes about production strategies in addition to new technologies and services their companies have profited from.
"The 2011 Tech Conference had something for everyone," observed Art Yerecic of Yerecic Labels, and chairman of the TLMI board of directors. "Converters and suppliers of all sizes (and budgets) benefited from well conceived sessions that showed us new ways to deliver innovative solutions to our customers. We learned how to become better stewards of the environment and more skillful mentors to our peers and associates. There certainly were many top and bottom line improvement opportunities available to attendees."
The event began with a session that delved into Lean Manufacturing principles and practices. Guy Jones of GS Consulting impressed upon the attendees that "Waste is everywhere in your organization," in the front office and in the finance department, not just in the production areas. The goal of Lean is to "eradicate waste and create flow," he said. "We must change the way we think, the way we approach work. It requires a fundamental change in our company's DNA or culture, together with the momentum to sustain it."
Brian Rhoades of Consolidated Products said fewer than 5 percent of all US companies implement Lean, and that of those only 10 percent succeed in sustaining it. The failure rate in the first year of implementation is 75 percent, he said, attributable to any of four basic reasons: lack of employee involvement (34 percent), lack of management support (19 percent), lack of rapid conversion (16 percent), and operational instability (16 percent). Rhoades promoted a concept called Gain – Sustaining Lean through Accountability. The program calls for stimulus among the work force, coupled with competition, to result in a sustained Lean environment.
Jeff Feltz of Mark Andy elaborated on Standard Work, an aspect of Lean that he called "one of the most powerful but least used Lean tools; the cornerstone of any continuous improvement effort." Standardized work consists of three elements: takt time, which is the rate at which products must be made in a process to meet customer demand; the precise work sequence in which an operator performs tasks within takt time; and the standard inventory, including units in machines, required to keep the process operating smoothly.
Being green has moved beyond saving trees and cleaning up public spaces. It's now a time-tested, cost-saving solution for many corporations, particularly in the label industry, where costs associated with waste can run rampant. At this year's conference, a panel consisting of Brian Gale of I.D. Images, Dan Muenzer of Spear, Wayne Richter of WS Packaging Group, Laura Cummings of UPM Raflatac, and Steve Carter of Sara Lee North America discussed their experiences with the LIFE Initiative and the return on their eco-friendly investments.
According to Gale, his company's interest in the green movement was motivated by economics. "We did it because wanted to save some money," he said. After investing $50,000 to become more sustainable, I.D. Images was able to reduce its trash by 75 tons, reduced the number of pieces of paper used (from 5,000) by sharing documents online, and saw a full return on its $50,000 investment in nine months.
Carter, who gave an entertaining presentation on Sara Lee's green efforts, said that the company's efforts were lead by the five Rs: remove, reduce, reuse, recycle and renew. They've cut their packaging by 765,000 pounds, taken 99 trucks off the road, reduced their CO2 footprint by 387,000 pounds, saved 10 million gallons of water, and seen a 14 percent reduction in energy. According to Carter, Sara Lee's changes have put them into the top third of companies in terms of sustainability.
A company's planning process can take many forms, but a well structured strategic planning format will yield the best results, says Jon Maley, the head of global marketing for Avery Dennison. "Done well, strategic planning can create value," he said. "It focuses your organization on delivering your most critical priorities, it increases collaboration and engagement on a common set of objectives, and it's a great opportunity for talent development. Done poorly, it drives a great deal of organizational effort with limited impact, and poor analysis can lead organizations down the wrong path."
A good strategy, he said, contains a clear problem statement, a well defined value proposition, clearly defined target market/customer segments, business model and relevant competitive advantage, planned financial milestonese and returns, and an execution plan. A strategy can go wrong because of lack of focus, an undefined competitive advantage, and failure to anticipate your competitors' actions.
Protecting against counterfeiting is as important for companies as it is for consumers, and no one summed it up better than Bob Driggers of TUV when he said: "Folks, people are dying from counterfeit products." According to Driggers, he has, unfortunately, seen it all: baby formula laced with cement powder, car parts made of compressed sawdust. These are just some of the dangerous counterfeit products making their way to the American market.
Lori Campbell of The Label Printers also pointed out that counterfeiting is often seen as a "victimless crime," which couldn't be further from the truth. Counterfeit products have been linked to both widespread prostitution rings and international terrorism. And, as Steven Simske of Hewlett Packard pointed out, it's just as bad for business as it is for people. He described the three-pronged problem counterfeit good present to companies: they lose sales because of bad products, they lose money when they replace counterfeit products with quality products, and they lose future sales because customers are less likely to repurchase.
Ken Pavett, president of Flexografix, opened the prepress session with a discussion of "The Effect of Plate Resolution, Print Resolution & Plate Processing on Highlight Print Contrast." Pavett conducted a test recently of flexo plates at resolutions of 2,400 dpi, 4,000 dpi and 4,000 dpi HD, using both solvent and thermal processes.
Among the results, he found, was that solvent process plates at 2,400 dpi produced "smaller, more gradual increments" in the highlight, whereas the 4,000 dpi thermal HD plate had "larger, uneven increments." He reported that "Solvent is more effective at removing monomer in the highlight area versus thermal, offering more gradual increase, preservation of more gray levels, and enhancing highlight print contrast."
Without even thinking about it, consumers can (probably) point out the difference between Coca-Cola red, Target red and Solo Cup red. But how do label printers ensure consistency and control over the production of those colors? Session chairs Sherry Cunningham of DuPont Packaging & Graphics and Randy Krouse of Electro Optic US invited a panel of presenters to answer those questions and more.
Kurt Hudson of Actega WIT emphasized digitizing color standards as a way to ensure consistency, while also pointing out that digital color data is instrument relative. He emphasized the importance of striving for excellence, not perfection. He encouraged converters to commit only to what they can repeat. That approach was echoed by Brian Ashe, who emphasized the need to manage variables and to draft clear procedures for consistency.
Digital or conventional press?
Session moderator Denny McGee of MPS wore his referee uniform for this session, a panel discussion among representatives of digital and traditional presses. These included Tom Clawson of Nilpeter, Paul Brauss of Mark Andy, Michael Ring of Xeikon, Sean Skelly of EFI Jetrion, Brian Bishop of Gallus, and Gary Bernier of HP Indigo.
Clawson declared that digital printing was not going to overtake flexography, but he acknowledged that "digital has made flexo better," citing improvements in quick-change mechanics and tighter registration with the incorporation of servo driven presses.
In response to a question about press speeds, Ring said that digital speeds are slower, of course, "but there's no setup time." He compared the two print formats to the classic tortoise and the hare, but said that digital "clearly has a need to go faster."
Skelly observed that the Jetrion inkjet digital press runs at 80 to 120 fpm, primarily because of improvements in the print heads. Noting that the HP Indigo WS6000 can print in two colors at 190 fpm and in four colors at 98 fpm, Bernier said that speed is only one factor to consider. Citing the simplicity of prepress, lack of waste and setup time, he asked, "What is the net/net to get out salable labels?"
Moderated by FLEXcon's John Bennett, the session titled The Bottom Line on Substrates featured presentations from Todd Schweigert of Loparex, Christopher Urheim of Dow Chemical, David Rosenthal of NewPage Specialty Papers, and James Casey, also of FLEXcon. The session covered the factors associated with raw material costs, including facestock, adhesive, silicone and liner.
Though there is an undeniable amount of volatility in the raw materials market, Urheim pointed out in his presentation that adhesive and labelstock producers are exploring alternate raw materials (successfully), and that water based and hot melt adhesive formulations are improving in performance, thereby offering a cost effective alternative to solvent based adhesives. He added that renewable feedstocks are currently in development and should reach the marketplace in 2-5 years. In short: There is hope for the future.
Wrapping up the technical conference was a trio of experts who addressed functional labels, those that perform in ways beyond the basic printed product. Citing advances in materials, inks and adhesives, Alex Elezaj of Whitlam Label spoke about extended content labels; coupons; thermo labels, such as those on a popular beer brand; QR codes, and human vital monitoring products.
Thomas Dahbura of Hub Labels recommended that converters ask themselves 10 questions before they venture into a new label niche. Among the questions: Does it make sense? What are the competing technologies? Are my quality systems in place to support this initiative? Is there a market for it? And does it fit into my business plan?
Steven Simske of HP addressed the subject of electronic paper – the digital revolution in products that have had a strong negative impact on such print segments as newspapers and direct marketing. Converters should not overlook RFID, printed batteries and electroluminescence, he said. "If you can fabricate it, eventually you will print it."