The flexographic printing industry convened down in San Antonio, TX from May 2-5, handing out awards, looking at the present growth of flexo, and studying the potential threats and challenges that the industry faces in the future.
More than 1,600 people attended the gathering, FFTA Forum 99, hosted by the Foundation for the Flexographic Technical Association (FFTA). Throughout the Forum, speakers discussed the technical and market gains being made by flexo, and analyzed what the future holds.
Among other events were the President’s Reception and Banquet/ Awards Presentation on the opening night, and Info Flex 99, featuring many booths for exhibitors, which was held Monday and Tuesday afternoon. The Flexo Fiesta at La Villita, with all sorts of Western music, food and events, was held Tuesday night. Former vice president Dan Quayle gave the keynote speech to close the convention.
Past, Present and Future
The talk, “Are You Prepared for the 21st Century,” first looked at the survey and study done of FTA members by Mr. Feeney 10 years ago, and illustrated his point on how the world has changed during that time.
“Ten years ago, I talked to this same audience about ‘Presses, Pressrooms and Organizations of the 1990’s: What will They Look Like in the Next Decade?’” Mr. Feeney began. “The FTA published the remarks under the title, “What Does the 21st Century Hold for Flexographers?’”
“In 11 pages of material, nowhere did “Y2K OK?” appear. Today, we’re not sure if it’s a bug or a bomb. The simple mistake, years ago, was when someone said how many digits do we need for the year, ‘they’ said two are enough.”
Using an immense array of slides to demonstrate the amazing forces of invention and change on technology, Mr. Feeney then discussed the results of the membership survey conducted by the FFTA.
Among the presentation’s highlights, Mr. Feeney discussed the importance of vision, using predictions of the past regarding computers. For example, Tom Watson, IBM president in 1943, said, “I think there is a world market for about five computers.” Microsoft’s Bill Gates, in 1975, said, “We have a simple but ambitious vision: a computer on every desk and in every home.” In 1977, Ken Olson, president and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., said, “There is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home.”
Mr. Feeney’s conclusion: “Gates was right, and Watson and Olsen were wrong, and Bill Gates is currently the richest man in the world.”
At one point, Mr. Feeney mentioned the names of people who are not well known by the general public, but who are having a major impact on the future of business. These include Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com; Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Computers; Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems, who has been referred to as the “Edison of the Internet;” John Chambers, Cisco Systems CEO; and others.
Mr. Feeney also showed a list of major technological advancements, such as the Internet, Palm Pilots, Star TAC phones, and others which would have been virtually unheard of back in 1989, the time of the last FFTA survey, yet have a huge impact on the way we do business today.
In terms of ink, Mr. Feeney’s findings have much interest. He said that studies show that flexo ink sales are $876 million, or about 20 to 23 percent of the $4.1 billion U.S. ink market. The survey showed that most respondents felt that the inks they use do a good job.
The survey’s respondents said that UV flexo is one area of particular interest.
“UV flexo is making great strides in narrow web,” Mr. Feeney said. “Earlier, I alluded to the issue of the difficulties for wide web flexo folks with CI drum issues, but I neglected to mention that some wide web suppliers provide in-line presses as well. But, if one says that for the most part, mid web and wide web flexible packaging is for food applications, then one of the other issues for UV inks gets to be drying.
“On a practical basis, the issue of ‘Is it dry after it’s printed?’ becomes more than an academic issue,” said Mr. Feeney. “There are some who feel that the only way to really dry UV inks which are going to come into contact or near food products is to use electron beam curing, which adds, of course, complexity and expense to the process, but maybe in the long run gives peace of mind as it concerns drying.”
Comparing the 1989 and 1999 figures, one can find interesting changes in the types of ink used. In 1989, narrow web flexo was predominantly solvent-based; wide web was 51 percent solvent-based; and preprint and newsprint were 100 percent water-based inks.
In 1999, flexo newsprint is still 100 percent water-based inks, but the other categories have changed: preprint is now only 61 percent water-based inks.
The share of water-based inks in wide web is up to 51 percent, with solvent-based inks declining to 47 percent (UV makes up the other 2 percent).
In mid web, a new category, water- and solvent-based inks have virtually the same numbers, at 46 and 45.3 percent, respectively (UV has 8.7 percent of the market). The biggest change is in narrow web, with 76.8 percent of the market now water-based, and 14.2 percent UV ink. Solvent-based inks have declined to 9 percent of the narrow web market.
Ink industry officials figured prominently in these talks. David Setzer of Borden Chemical served as the co-chair of the corrugated session, where Joe Schlinkert, also of Borden Chemical, discussed the “Printability of Liners.” Mr. Schlinkert showed studies on how the quality of recycled corrugated has an effect on ink distribution through cratering.
In the narrow web session, Angelo Capozio of Arcar Inks presented a talk on “6 Color vs. 4 Color Process Printing...Ink Management.” Mr. Capozio noted that Hexachrome printing can reproduce 1.6 million colors, but conventional 4-color printing can only recreate 40 percent of PMS colors. The new 6-color presses can provide more vivid imagery and color.
Stan Field of Flint Ink served as co-chair for the folding carton session. In the wide web session, Steve Tucker of Harper Corporation, a leading anilox roll manufacturer, gave a talk on “New Frontiers in White Ink ...Is it Printing or Coating and What Does It Cost.”
Tuesday’s morning sessions were broken down into sections on measuring the packaging process, celebrating flexo’s competitive advantage, and prepress. Scott Reininger of X-Rite, Inc. gave a talk on “Managing Brand Colors,” in which he showed how the eye can play tricks when judging colors, and how using a spectrophotometer can help provide consistent color. In the prepress section, the future of digital in flexo was a key theme.
In the Tuesday afternoon sessions, there was the FQC segment, with Bob Davison of Color Converting Industries discussing “How Successful is CIELab-Based Press Characterization?”, a talk on the economics of flexo; and “Dance to the Beat of Color and Design, a lively talk on color led by Steven Dalbey of Sun Chemical, with Bob Cantu of Sun Chemical discussing “Maximize Your Ink Transfer.”
“Maintaining the correct pH, viscosity, and volume will optimize your ink transfer and improve your mileage,” Mr. Cantu noted. “Increased productivity at a lower cost will guarantee you better financial benefits and improved bottom-line profits.”