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FLEXO Magazine : January 2014
the corrugated board made in the U.S . Those companies are controlling the price of paper and currently—for the most part—doing very well on the profit front. Advancements in technology in both corrugators and con- verting equipment will lead to quantum leaps in production capability going forward. The companies I talked with said their printing ability is a huge part of their business and they need to utilize that to be competitive in the marketplace. One converter I spoke with has a multitude of printing and converting choices when helping its customers. It has flexo, digital and a variety of litho options at its disposal and the choice usually comes down to the volume involved with each job and the cost of producing that item. Another spoke about how it has had customer projects move back and forth between corrugat- ed and folding carton. Printing is sometimes an issue but more often than not it comes down to the strength that is necessary with the final box. Corru- gated offers more strength in most cases and the printing can be very close in quality to satisfy custom- er needs. One thing that was echoed was the fact that independent corrugated manufacturers have been able to obtain new busi- ness over the last couple of years from customers who have not been enamored with the consolidation in the corrugated market. They are not willing to put all of their eggs in one basket and that has helped the independents gain profitable market share. DIGITAL REVOLUTION? The second question involved their thoughts on digital print- ing. Were they embracing the technology? How did they feel it would affect the flexo corrugated market in the future? The reaction here was very mixed. Some said it was more trouble than it was worth and, in turn, use their suppliers for digital jobs when necessary. Others had opposite opinions. All agreed that it had its place and right now that was a very small percentage of the market. One gentleman explained it very well. There are several ways to print an order, he said. Direct print flexo, preprint flexo and offset lithography all have start up costs of vary- ing degrees. Because of that, the first box costs more than the subsequent boxes and the cost generally goes down as volume increases. In contrast, with digital printing all the boxes from first to last basically cost the same—and currently that cost is high. Right now digital printing is used in the corrugated market for short run and specialty items. Some use it for marketing efforts where volume is small. If a product performs well in the marketing tests it will be converted to one of the other printing methods, preferably flexo. Digital is considered a comple- mentary printing method to flexo. As the cost of digital printing comes down it will become a disruptive technology and will have an impact on the flexo market. When that will happen cannot be predicted to any certain degree right now but everyone agrees that with tech- nology improving, it will happen in the future. Over the past few years the number of new flexo printing equipment purchases in the corrugated market has been astounding. Most of this printing technology has been tied to productivity rather than just printability. The technology is being used to upgrade the efficiencies in box plants so jobs can be printed and converted in a single pass operation. In many cases the next job can be set up while the current job is running, which means machines are sitting idle less often. Big box stores are still driving graphics on packaging, however, the better quality of the current uncoated paper being used has reduced the need for coated paper in many jobs. That opinion was shared but not necessarily embraced by everyone. THE YEAR AHEAD When I asked about 2014 I wasn’t surprised to hear profit- able growth as the No. 1 priority for everyone! Everybody is fo- cused on improving manufacturing efficiencies with improved equipment and training. The corrugated converters and the liner manufacturer I talked with are all market leaders who are successful due to their superior customer service and manufacturing abilities. I asked what these businesses are doing to keep up with what’s going on around them. They all made certain I under- stood that they are the ones that others are trying to keep up with! After my conversations, I had no doubt they were correct. n About the Author: Jack Fulton is vice president of sales at Printron. He has been involved in the corrugated printing in- dustry for 36 years. Beyond his overall responsibility for sales and marketing, he is very ac- tive in the high graphics are- na, both in the prepress area and the development of plate and mounting systems for the corrugated market. Jack is ac- tive in several trade organiza- tions and is currently serving on the FTA Board of Directors and FFTA Board of Trustees. He has made presentations at many national meetings as well as regional workshops. www.flexography.org JANUARY 2014 FLEXO 21