The event also featured the President’s Reception and FTA Awards Banquet on May 6, and the Monday Evening Social on May 7. At the Banquet, flexo industry veteran Lon Robinson, director of research and development at Tension Envelope Corporation, was inducted into the FTA Hall of Fame.
According to FTA president Mark Cisternino, the sold-out INFOFLEX attracted 235 exhibitors at 307 booths in the Indiana Convention Center. Over 2,000 people attended, and Forum drew more than 40 expert speakers.
“We look at the FTA Forum and INFOFLEX as the most important event for flexography in North America, and quite possibly the world,” said Rory Marsoun, VP of business development–Flexo, Americas, at Esko, a diamond sponsor of the event. “This is where ideas are presented, discussed and nurtured into the next major industry trend. We’re all part of one team, and we’re here because we’re striving to push flexography forward.”
Bob Coomes and Ann Michaud served as the Forum 2018 co-chairs. Coomes emphasized that preparation for the event began on the final day of last year’s event, which took place in Phoenix, AZ.
Michaud stated that networking plays a big role in the spirit of Forum and INFOFLEX. “That interaction is really the spirit of what the FTA is all about,” she said. “That’s where a lot of the inspiration comes from for all the new ideas that drive us forward.”
Forum included multiple presentations on the state of the industry, including a deep dive into modern flexography. Kodak’s Doug Weiss and Nilpeter’s Keith Nagle moderated a discussion on, “New Capabilities: Look at Flexo Now!” MPS Systems North America’s Michael Weyermann and Michael Reinhardt of Windmoeller & Hoelscher explained that advancements in flexo have led a shift toward hybrid printing.
Flexo has come a long way, said Weyermann, noting that high line screens and high valued features, such as microtext, have led to improved quality without a compromise in efficiency. Plates and anilox technologies have advanced drastically, leading to greater output. In addition, lasers have impacted the shift toward hybrid presses.
There is also better tonal range and contrast, and Flexo HD provides enhanced images with cleaner, crisper edges. “Dots are starting to disappear in flexo because of our technologies,” Weyermann added.
Flexo is commonly being combined with digital inkjet printing with companies like Domino and Durst. Digital printing manufacturers also boasted a strong presence at the flexo show in order to show how their technologies can complement flexo and enhance a label converter’s business. Companies like Domino, Epson, and HP all exhibited at INFOFLEX, alongside flexo suppliers like Bobst, Gallus, Mark Andy, MPS, Nilpeter, Omet, and more.
“Everything is possible when it comes to hybrid presses,” said Weyermann. “Automation is key, and we believe that having quick change capability is key to having success with a hybrid press.”
In exploring expanded gamut, Kevin Bourquin of Cyber Graphics said that the flexo industry needed to improve upon poor solid ink letdown, ink drying on the shoulders, dot gain and printing inconsistencies. Flat-top plates have eliminated the bomb curve, and better densities are available without changing ink or anilox. There are more ink options on the market than ever before, Bourquin emphasized, with greater transparency, metallic colors, and a wide variety of single pigment colors.
Attendees were also encouraged to examine how their packaging affects the consumer. Brand imagery is often associated with a label or package, and it helps distinguish the product from one of its competitors.
“The life of the package after it leaves the store has a lot to do with how you might optimize the design and the information on the package,” said analyst Jerry Thomas.
Creative briefs are required for a successful packaging change, whether it be to rebrand or align with changing regulations on the label. Jason Troutman, a designer at 3M, said the creative process mimics a movie’s plot, where the parameters of a project are laid out and goals are set.
Thomas added that the goal of new packaging, ultimately, is "trying to find the package that’s going to give us the highest share of the market that will sell the most of the product.”
Other presentations looked at how the Phoenix Challenge Foundation is cultivating the next wave of the flexo workforce, and how establishing a culture at your company can position it for success in the years to come.
Tara Halpin, the fourth-generation president and owner of Steinhauser, said, “Happy people deliver results, and every impression matters.” With an improved culture and aligned goals, Steinhauser has tripled its profits from the first quarter of 2017.
The next edition of FTA Forum and INFOFLEX will take place in New Orleans, LA, from May 5-8 at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside and New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. The 2019 event will mark the fourth time New Orleans has hosted an FTA, and it breaks a 22-year absence from the city.