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FLEXO Magazine : January 2013
Industry Indicators Alive ‘N Kickin’ the state-of-the-industry in 2013 By tom Jacques Flexible packaging converters today face a myriad of challenges: eco-friendly designs, raw materials price swings, new flexographic printing and process tech- nologies, labor shortages, demanding customers, ferocious competitors, both domestic and foreign...enough to make the squeamish sit on the sidelines. I always tell people that, if they are still in business in 2013: “ Congratulations!” Many companies did not make it, either due to buyouts, mergers, losing major customers or succession issues. Now, the challenge is designing the company to be more nimble and agile, running at a lower cost, being more responsive and more competitive in its chosen market segments. Fortunately, in flexographic printing press technology alone, numerous new developments have allowed flexo to continue its growth into markets traditionally served by offset or rotogravure printing, albeit at a price. Because of these improvements, the focus on continuous improvement in the flexo plant has become critically important to survival, and prosperity, in this challenging market space. CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT It is no longer a nice thing to have an active continuous improvement process in place; it is a must for survival and the ability to continue to compete. Every day, new business is won and lost on the thinnest of margins, and converters have to take advantage of every opportunity to produce consistent, repeatable and reliable results for their customers. Continuous improvement, including 5S and Six Sigma programs, is all about never being satisfied with the status quo, which is fleeting anyway. Rather, it focuses on honing the sharp competitive edge that any company needs to stay on top of its game. PROCESS SPECIFICATIONS – FIRST Some converters struggle with where to start on these programs. FTA’s Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifica- tions and Tolerances (FIRST) program is a good start. It has targets and guidelines for flexo’s key metrics. For any activity that your company does, you have to ask: “How does that add value to my customers?” Then, you need to focus on improving and tightening those specifications which drive your business to be more consistent. Sometimes, this will require consistent monitoring and occasional replenishment of items like plates, doctor blades, end seals, sleeves, and aniloxes, as well as ink pumps, bear- ings, etc. However, it has been proven time and again that proactive periodic maintenance programs cost a fraction of the downtime that “emergency ” repairs take. Statistical Process Control (or SPC) focuses on metrics for continuous processes, with the aim of making them more consistent and repeatable. In a job shop environment, where a job can be a mere 5,000 lineal feet or less—what used to be considered start-up waste – SPC can be more challeng- ing to implement. However, the variables going into a specific job can be memorized on press, so at least the metrics are captured for future runs of the same job. NIMBLE, AGILE, RESPONSIVE • The focus on continuous improvement in the flexo plant has become critically important to survival, and prosperity • Converters have to take advantage of every oppor- tunity to produce consistent, repeatable and reliable results for their customers • Proactive periodic maintenance programs cost a fraction of the downtime that “emergency” repairs take • Flexography can now print high quality graphics efficiently at speeds up to 2000 FPM with the proper deck design and electronic accuracy provided by the world’s top-class printing presses • The challenge is designing the company to be more nimble and agile, running at a lower cost, being more responsive and more competitive in its chosen market segments 10-color high speed press (2000 FPM) 20 FLEXO January 2013 www.flexography.org