The diverse agenda ranged from logistics and press operation to the latest inks and prepress software. According to the FTA, the event provided over 2,100 guests with the ability to learn how to drive their business forward into the future.
“We had a great crowd in town representing a cross-section of the marketplace, and we had a vibrant event over the course of a few days,” said Mark Cisternino, FTA president. “This is an event for you.”
In addition, the INFO*FLEX exhibition, now in its 35th year, ran concurrently with the Forum. More than 300 of the industry’s top suppliers showcased their solutions from May 1-2. INFO*FLEX enabled side-by-side comparisons of the newest technologies and networking activity.
Paul Teachout, vice president of sales and marketing for Nilpeter USA, and Bob Coomes, a graphics, prepress, and print quality leader at Plastic Packaging Technologies, served as the Forum chairs. They kicked off the Annual Forum on Sunday afternoon and emphasized the need for everyone in the industry to collaborate in its growth.
“When I go to Forum, I always look for new technologies and new ideas,” said Coomes. “When we put together Forum this year, we were looking for practical ideas for printers, suppliers and consumers. We’re looking for everything that will benefit everyone here. I think there’s some great key takeaways that everyone will leave here with.
“We’re not going to move forward without more people getting involved,” added Coomes.
While there has been a lot of growth in digital printing, flexo still dominates the marketplace. According to Dan Muenzer, vice president of marketing at Constantia Flexibles, conventional printing technology still represents 90% of the market. By 2020, conventional printing is still expected to make up 86% of the market.
“Speed is really what’s driving the market place moving forward,” said Muenzer. “Again, optimize efficiencies and minimize waste. In my opinion, the key here is expanding our capabilities. It’s about how fast can you move and how fast can you change. Flexo is uniquely positioned to do that moving forward.”
In keeping with its theme, Forum detailed emerging trends and technologies. Printed electronics and smart labels were highlighted in a presentation entitled “Disruptive Technologies: Embrace the Possibilities,” Dr. Malcolm Keif, professor at Cal Poly, explained that sensors, conductive traces, electrodes, antennae and optical codes can all be printed with flexo.
Smart technology has the ability to provide a value function or benefit such as security/anti-counterfeiting properties and data. A trend analysis can help predict consumer behavior and interact with customers.
“We use the feedback from the previous year’s event to build our program,” said Teachout. “We go out and find volunteers who are experts in the topics that attendees want to hear about. This year, we’ve put together an all-star cast.”
As part of the event’s networking opportunities, the FTA held a President’s Reception and Annual Banquet and Awards program on the evening of April 30. In addition, guests were invited to witness the Excellence in Flexography Awards display starting on the second day of the show. The FTA also hosted a Monday evening social.
Benefits of Forum
Rory Marsoun, Esko’s vice president of flexo business development, explained why Forum and INFO*FLEX are such a valuable resource for those in the industry.
“It’s critical that Esko is present here,” said Marsoun. “There’s no other place where we can see so many partners and suppliers in our industry, so it’s really important that we’re visible here. We come here to push the industry forward, and I think that’s what the FTA is all about.”
According to Marsoun, nine out of every 10 retail packages have been touched by Esko at some point in the product’s lifecycle. This event allows for networking and education.
“This is also kind of an extension of family. I look forward to this event all year round,” added Marsoun. “It’s also nice to come here and see students. I think it’s great we have students involved, and it’s another opportunity to grow the industry.”
Forum also explored the FDA’s proposed changes in nutrition labeling. The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 was designed by Burkey Belser, and Borquin said it is the most frequently produced design in the world, with 6.5 billion food packages.
The new format will include Increased serving size larger calories, new fiber definition, added sugars, new nutrients and a new footnote. The changes are intended to reflect new scientific information that establishes a link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease.
"There is scientific evidence that says reducing caloric intake from added sugars is important,” said Borquin. “Vitamin D and potassium our critical in our diets, so it’s now required that they’re on the package.
“If a package contains up to 200% of a RACC, it’s considered a single serve container.
Bigger containers (200-300%) must be labeled as a serving per container and per serving,” added Borquin. “This is a significant change in real estate on the label.”
As part of Forum, an expert lineup touched on a wide range of topics, including the state of the flexo industry and where it stacks up with the growth of digital. According to Muenzer, there were 129 digital presses sold in 2016 compared to 93 conventional. By 2020, it is estimated that 202 digital presses will be sold while 76 will be conventional.
However, Muenzer said the “lion’s share” of printing is still conventional, despite the interest in digital printing technology. He also added that hybrid printing will be a trend to watch.
“Digital is a popular trend, but’s important to remember that flexo printing continues to grow,” explained Muenzer. “Digital is not winning, it’s just a technology that’s pushing flexo to do something different.”
Labels will ultimately rely on quality, speed, cost and control, regardless of the printing method. Muenzer cited a recent initiative from Indio, where it received 15,000 label submission designs from the public and decided to print it’s favorite 130. However, the labels were printed with gravure as opposed to digital.
“At the end of the day, customization is a driving key for the label industry,” concluded Muenzer. “The company didn’t care about how it was printed; they cared about the final product.”
The panel agreed that there were several trends helping to drive flexo into the future, including substrate improvements, solutions for migration issues, new equipment, and an emphasis on zero errors and traceability.
Market share is expected to increase as the quality of flexo improves, and the industry will continue to target gravure business while keeping an eye on digital printing trends.