Flexography continues to gain market share and challenge other printing technologies for customers as technological improvements are made to a process once referred to as “the red-headed step child.” Illustrating flexo’s promising future was the level of excitement at the 43rd Annual Foundation for Flexographic Technical Association (FFTA) Forum: A Flex-Odyssey, held May 6-9 at The Opryland Hotel in Nashville, TN.
Printers, ink manufacturers, suppliers and equipment makers spent four days discussing growing markets and key issues related to flexography. Between the FFTA Forum – which consisted of four days of presentations on a variety of topics – and InfoFlex – a two-day trade show where attendees could learn about the newest products available to the market, the Flexographic Technical Association (FTA) reported that more than 1,500 people attended the event.
What better way to illustrate flexo’s progress than putting it head-to-head with two other processes it competes with for market share – offset and gravure. Thus the concept of Project FOG (Flexo, Offset and Gravure) was born.
FFTA Forum 2001 opened with Project FOG: the World Heavyweight Tag Team Championship of Printing. The presentation not only encouraged audience participation but also strengthened flexo’s case as a dominant printing process. Each attendee was handed a Project FOG print comparison kit on entering the opening session. After meeting the three sides – flexo, offset and gravure – attendees were asked to judge the quality of six print jobs.
Mark Mazur of DuPont and Mark Samworth of Artwork Systems developed Project FOG and took attendees through the six printing comparisons. Other participants were FFTA Forum chairman Dave Horsman, Canflexographics, Inc.; Jim Wegemer, Sun Chemical Ink (GPI); Dave Haradon, CreoScitex America; and Hassan Shareef, Imaging International.
After collecting the responses of each attendee –which would be tabulated and revealed at the end of the forum–Mr. Mazur and Mr. Samworth shared the results of judging done by printers and consumers that were tabulated before the forum. Flexo faced off against offset four times and gravure twice. The final standings were flexo, 4-1-1; gravure, 0-1-1; and offset, 1-3-0. To assure a fair competition, the organizers picked top flexo printers and high-quality offset and gravure printers.
“One conclusion from Project FOG is that there is a very significant change in the dynamics of the printing industry,” said Mr. Samworth. “The end to which everything has to point is advancing the flexo process.”
Mr. Mazur added, “Quality is no longer a limitation of the flexo printing process.”
Attendees had four sessions to choose from on Monday, May 7 – prepress, FIRST, FQC and environmental.
The prepress session discussed how profiling, not fingerprinting, a press along with properly color managed electronic workflow will guarantee consistent press results.
The FIRST session covered recent developments in the consumer and commercial issues of paper napkin, towel and bath tissue. Andy Kuhn of Premier Ink Systems and Willis Reese of Sun Chemical participated in the second roundtable discussion, “Getting it Done – Using the Principles of FIRST.”
Covered in the environmental session were technology selection, what are appropriate technologies, regulations in major world markets and environmental concerns for pressroom personnel.
Stan Field of Flint Ink, along with Don Armel of Georgia Southern, chaired the FQC (Flexo Quality Consortium) session. Presentations delivered during this session covered six-color printing, plates, doctor blades and plate mounting.
Flexography continues to make in-roads in a number of different end-use segments. A closer look at four of these segments – tag and label, flexible packaging, corrugated/preprint and folding carton – highlighted the proceedings on Tuesday, May 8. One common theme heard throughout many of the presentations, regardless of the topic, was an emphasis on the relationship between ink manufacturers and printers.
“Working together we can move forward to high-end graphics and offset and gravure can remain the dinosaurs as we move forward in 2001,” said Bob Cantu of Sun Chemical during his presentation on “Printing Challenging Substrates” in the corrugated/preprint session. Mr. Wegemer co-chaired the corrugated/preprint session with Michael Schliesmann of Kell Specialty Products.
During the past few years, Mr. Cantu said demands within the corrugated market have included more demanding graphics, print images that jump out at you, faster speeds and lower prices. To illustrate a solution to the challenges facing corrugated printers, Mr. Cantu then discussed the results of a lab project designed “to determine how we can better predict results, to prepare you and the peripheral suppliers for the changes, and to develop more confidence with your existing suppliers.”
Mike Buystedt of Akzo Nobel Inks opened the tag and label session with his presentation on “UV Inks and Coatings.” Mr. Buystedt began his presentation with an overview of the UV ink market, which he estimated to be valued at $25 million. He said UV technology is currently being used by tag and label, packaging and carton printers to print on paper, board and film substrates.
Some of the converter requirements for UV inks that Mr. Buystedt discussed were printability, Pantone color balance, inter-coat adhesion, balanced CMYK colors, acceptable color strength, foil stampability and compatibility with other printing processes.
Mr. Buystedt also discussed UV and EB cationic curing, and compared free radical to cationic curing. Formula considerations that must be addressed include adhesion, flexibility, trappable, cost, heat resistance and color strength.
To conclude, Mr. Buystedt provided attendees with some end-use applications for the different UV/EB chemistries. Free radical UV systems can be used to print on folding cartons, food labeling, nutraceuticals, household chemicals and health and body products. Free radical EB inks can be printed on FDA approved coatings and food packaging, while applications for cationic systems include food packaging, difficult film substrates, thermoforming and printing on decorative foiling.
In addition to end-use application, Mr. Buystedt said it’s important for printers to consider the customer’s needs, the printer’s needs – can the job be printed UV, the substrate and the UV ink chemistry required.
Rick Gloeckler, vice president, Environmental Inks & Coatings, speaks with an InfoFlex attendee.
Sun Chemical’s Chris Morrissey, left, and Jim Wegemer, second from left, speak with a few InfoFlex attendees during FFTA Forum 2001.
Stan Field of Flint Ink, left,speaks to an attendee during InfoFlex. He served as a moderator for the FQC session during the FFTA Forum.
Deanna Whelan and Mike Buystedt represented Akzo Nobel Inks at InfloFlex. Mr. Buystedt discussed “UV Inks and Coatings” during the tag and label session.
Scenes from InfoFlex
Held during the first two days of the FFTA Forum 2001, InfoFlex offers ink manufacturers the opportunity to promote their flexographic ink lines, speak with customers and make new contacts. Exhibiting at InfoFlex were: Monarch Color, Sericol, Premier Ink Systems, Color Resolutions and Water Ink Technologies.
More than 200 suppliers exhibited their products for the flexographic market at InfoFlex. Among the many ink companies on hand were: INX, Arcar Graphics, Sun Chemical, Frontier Printing Inks and Graphic Sciences.