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FLEXO Magazine : January 2013
Technologies & Techniques A Brighter, More Colorful Future How to identify solutions and Breed new opportunities By eric Ferguson Recently, my wife and I watched a TED Talk online about an artist named Neil Harbisson, who is so severely color blind that he can only see the world in shades of gray. Rather than just coping with it, Harbisson worked with prosthetic researchers to develop a camera/ biofeedback system to help him “hear ” colors as sound frequencies. The result is something unique—color, dissected and digitized, communicated in a completely new way. It was a fantastic demonstration of how art and science can blend together, both to solve a lingering problem and create some- thing beautiful that’s entirely new. “If we extend our senses, we will consequently extend our knowledge.” -Neil Harbisson This got me thinking about two challenges we often face in the flexo community: our ability to solve problems quickly and efficiently, and the need to effectively communicate color. Both of these represent key opportunities for flexo—a mature technology—to maintain competitive advantage over rival technologies, and grow market share. We need to develop a system like Neil Harbisson’s; one that will both solve problems and create new opportunity for the industry. COLOR COMMUNICATION Evidence of the increasing importance of color communica- tion is apparent, as we watch consumer products companies (CPCs) leverage their buying position to specify global print standards. In fact, many of these standards were developed in conjunction with CPC efforts to improve brand consistency across processes and regions, with the expectation that the supply chain would readily adopt them. Ultimately, global print standards are central to their business goals; to main- tain and grow the high value of brands. So, how does the flexo industry support the strategic goals of brand owners, and continue to maintain its competitive edge in the world of package printing? How can we respond faster than we do today? As with any strategic initiative, it all starts with setting “speed of communication” as a top priority. If we don’t recognize it as a problem, we certainly can’t expect to find creative solutions. This isn’t just focusing on call response time, or making sure that all points of communication—e.g ., marketing, sales, and customer service—express a high level of urgency in responding to email requests. Instead, we must recognize systematic problems with color communication where they exist. You can boil it down to three areas: 1. Language we use to describe color 2. Process controls 3. Systems we have in place to report color information back to the client The first two, our language of color and the process con- trols we have in place, are well documented throughout FIRST 4.0 . FIRST has become so important, by establishing a base- line for communication and processes not only internally in your organization, but throughout the supply chain. In fact, the terminology used in FIRST has become a defacto-standard for communication used throughout the world. If you haven’t adopted FIRST principles by now, you’re already a big step behind. The third area of improvement—our systems for reporting back to the client—is usually a “make or buy ” decision, as market solutions vary greatly in how they can be tailored to suit your needs. It’s important to consider how you want to report color information—what the customer wants to see, vs. what you want to disclose—ease of use, how data are protected, and whether you can, or want to, tie the system into other productivity solutions—e .g. email, schedules, or billing. SOLVING PROBLEMS, FASTER At the risk of sounding like a Sunday sermon, problem solv- ing requires commitment. Not just from those who are on the CRITICAL COMMUNICATIONS • CPCs specify global print standards and expect the supply chain to adopt them • Speed of communication is a top priority • FIRST establishes a baseline for communication and processes throughout the supply chain • Terminology used in FIRST has become a defacto- standard for communication worldwide • Maintain strong communications with your suppliers when problems aren’t happening. That way, you can address the next issue as it develops • Engage problems head-on, admitting faults along the way and resulting in the development of more relevant products, faster • Focus on the customer’s perspective when drawing a clear path to the solution 44 FLeXO january 2013 www.flexography.org