According to TLMI, printTHINK has been developed by the industry and for the industry, to promote collective innovation and knowledge sharing. The Summit provides suppliers and converters alike with information on operational, technical and business topics to help advance their organization.
“We had an unbelievable agenda for this year’s printTHINK, and we were very excited about it,” said Dan Muenzer, president of TLMI. “We’re here to support you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a supplier or a converter, we’re here to make your life easier and more profitable. If there is an issue that impacts our industry, we want to be part of the discussion. We want to say TLMI stands for something.”
Workforce challenges, digital printing, sustainability, enhanced marketing techniques, and LED curing were among the topics discussed at the event. The LED curing panel, moderated by Enercon’s Todd Krupa, detailed everything LED–which accounts for new press technology, retrofitting, and costs.
“Curing whites and blacks are the biggest challenges,” said Tom Hammer, head of technical marketing at Siegwerk. “LED is going to be able to cure better, with higher opacity and better adhesion.”
Meanwhile, John Pogatschnik, product manager at Flint Group, differentiated between UV LED and UV mercury. He noted that most of the changes to get to LED are minimal, while ink handling and dispensing are the same. With the investment comes performance advantages.
“This is a very dynamic process, a technology in our industry that’s ready to take over,” said Jeff Cowan, director of business development at Mark Andy. “Are there risks? Sure. But UV and LED, for all intents and purposes, perform the same. And there are 11 companies up here advocating for the technology.”
“In the next 5-10 years, we believe LED will become a significant player in the tag and label market,” added Fujifilm’s Jon Fultz.
In addition, Brian Van de Water, CEO at SPL Consulting, hosted a panel on automation and Lean Manufacturing. The discussion supplemented several key presentations on tackling the workforce challenges currently facing the industry.
According to Van de Water, automation involves using technology to automatically control the operation of an apparatus, process, or system by mechanical or electronic devices in the place of human labor. He noted that a common misconception is that automation costs people jobs–noting that there are opportunities for new and different jobs, all designed to make people more valuable to the organization. Meanwhile, Lean Manufacturing is a philosophy that removes steps from processes, and it is designed to complement automation.
“I’m living proof that this can be done,” said Tim McDonough, president of Flexo-Graphics. “It’ll cost some money along the away, and you need to buy the right equipment, but the biggest part of our business has been investing in automation. I’ve tripled my business and we’ve added just four employees.”
Dwane Wall, president of Creative Labels of Vermont, explained how he automated between prepress and MIS, specifically changing the way artwork comes into the facility. Adam Gray, president and CEO of SheetLabels.com, advised focusing on a culture change within your business. He said it’s critical to identify opportunities that will handle more transactions and customers, while also prioritizing feedback.
In regards to the workforce challenge, Affinity HR’s Claudia St. John said that, despite a 3.6% unemployment rate, manufacturing jobs are declining by 14%. The challenge is to make this industry attractive to prospective job candidates, many of whom are already gainfully employed. It’s important to market the job effectively while also taking advantage of headhunting services–a flip from days’ past. Career fairs, social media, and getting into the local news can all help target candidates.
“The one place people go is your website to see who you are and what you are,” explained Kathy Alaimo, president of Syracuse Label. “Make sure you have things on your website to show it’s not the down and dirty print shop of the old days.”
“We’ve had to reinvent ourselves because we want to be a more attractive employer and supplier to our customers, as well,” added Paul Teachout, vice president of sales and marketing, North America, Nilpeter. “We’re not dealing with the same workforce we were 20 years ago. We’ve been on a journey of automation the last couple of years. In modern times, the new Lean is automation. And automation comes in a lot of different formats, and that’s only going to improve your efficiencies and production–and it streamlines your workforce. Culture and leadership are also a big part of attracting and retaining good people.”
Don’t discount trade schools, either. Shawn Oetjen, flexo trainer at Flexographic Tech, said that find the right workforce candidates starts with educating the prospective employee. By training students, with an emphasis on several core competencies, teachers can cultivate the next wave of workers. Instructors need to impart skills or attributes the student needs to learn for proficiency, such as plate mounting.
At Flexographic Tech, Oetjen said students will not run live work, as the focus is on the training. In addition to operating presses, students will have to navigate paperwork, spot errors in job tickets, and track waste and time.
“We’re not in business to make money, we’re in business to strengthen the entire industry,” said Oetjen.
Several converters participated in a panel discussion on sustainability, with an emphasis on reducing landfill waste. Grand Rapids Label’s John Crosby, Hub Labels’ Thomas Dahbura, Yerecic Label’s Brian Hurst, and Syracuse Label’s Mark Howard all touted the passion, vision, and strategy necessary to reduce waste within a label printing company.
“It’s been a long, hard road for us. A lot of our volunteers did a lot of the work on their own time, and that’s been very big for us,” said Hurst, whose company has a 99.5% landfill avoidance rate. “We’ve avoided sending over 4,700 tons of waste to the landfill.”
According to Dahbura, employees really make the difference. “I’m willing to spend a little extra to do the right thing,” he said, noting that teamwork and leadership within Hub Labels were a driving force.
These topics will continue to be discussed at TLMI, which will next host the Annual Meeting from October 27-30 in Carlsbad, CA. The event is designed to establish new partnerships and strengthen existing relationships.