The future of flexo: recruitment and proper training are paramount to the health and future of flexography.

Author:Katz, Steve
Position:Cover story
 
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The global printing industry is forecast to reach $980 billion by 2018, according to market research firm Smithers Pira, and it will be driven by growth in packaging and labels, rather than graphic applications, the firm says.

Digital press innovation and installations have been dominating the headlines, and with good cause. Currently, label and packaging converters worldwide invoice over $2 billion annually from the output of their digital presses. This is according to Harvey Levenson, Professor Emeritus and former Department Head of Graphic Communication at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, CA, USA, who also notes that while about 95% percent of that value is for consumer goods labels, folding carton and flexible packaging applications are also growing rapidly by way of digital printing.

However, Smithers Pira research shows that it's not only digital printing that's growing. Due to the impressive growth numbers for the greater packaging industry--which labels are a huge part of--printing companies that have not been involved are wanting in. Recent M&As over the last couple years support this, with two examples being Heidelberg acquiring Gallus, and Bobst acquiring Gidue. I specify these two because they are examples of printing industry giants entering the label industry by adding companies that have been historically successful via advancment of their flexographic label printing technology.

For decades, flexography has been the dominant force in advancing the pressure sensitive label market. And while all of the prominent forecasters are predicting massive growth for digital in the coming years, analog printing for packaging will also continue to grow--by about 28%--according to Smithers Pira. And this growth is expected to continue through 2018. Meanwhile, all digitally produced packaging is expected to increase by 375% by 2018. This anticipated growth rate explains why many OEMs are developing digital printing equipment for labels and packaging.

THE CAUSE FOR CONCERN

Yes, the ever-increasing digital presence is a factor, but the challenge in keeping tlexo relevant and the label industry's premier printing method lies in finding qualified operators to run the presses. Label press OEMs, such as Mark Andy, Gallus, Nilpeter, Omet and MPS, continue to do their part, as today's new flexo presses are faster and more efficient than ever before. Great strides have been made in automating the process from prepress all the way through to finishing.

Cliff Crosfield of Print Future Consultancy has extensive experience in flexo printing, having worked for major print and packaging groups throughout the world. He says,"Flexo has made significant strides in recent years in terms of quality, consistency and cost-effective, high-quality print, especially for labels and packaging. While digital is progressively challenging the short run end of the market and increasingly competing in terms of both quality and progressively increased press speeds, it still leaves many opportunities...

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