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FLEXO Magazine : January 2014
The USPS finished 2013 with a loss of $5 billion. In order for it to become financially healthy it is critical that Congress pass postal reform, which will change the way prepayment of retiree health care benefits must be administered. Looking simply at revenue and expenses, the USPS was slightly prof- itable this year, but the $5.1 billion dollar payment for health care put it in the red. Congressional postal reform will help allow the USPS to operate profitably and allow the envelope industry to recover and grow. PART & PARCEL The viability of the mailing industry is critical to the overall GDP of the United States. According to the 2012 jobs study conducted by the Enve- lope Manufacturers Association Foundation for Paper-Based Communications, the mailing industry supports 8.4 million jobs, which is 6 percent of all U.S. jobs, and $1.3 trillion in sales revenue, which is 8.6 percent of GDP. This puts the mailing industry in line with the airline and oil and natural gas industries. The mailing industry is more than just the USPS and the envelope industry. It also includes portions of the paper and printing industries as well as mail fulfillment businesses, which fill the envelopes and prepare the mail for delivery. EVOLVING PRINT PROCESS Envelope printing has historically been an afterthought in the manufacturing process. Envelope folding machines are complicated systems that cut, patch, gum and fold. The people that run the machines usually focus more on the other processes than on the printing systems. The highest quali- ty printing was usually done offline and most often utilized lithographic printing. Thankfully in the last few years more central impression and tight register stack systems have been installed on envelope machines. While print technology has always lagged behind other industries, the envelope industry has caught up quickly with the addition of the newer systems. There are hundreds of en- velope machines currently using two roll printing systems, but chambered doctor blades, quality anilox rolls, efficient drying and plate screen counts up to 133 lpi are the standard in the envelope industry today. Substrate is often a limiting factor due to the fact that it must perform well in the envelope converting side of the busi- ness. Good folding properties and print characteristics are often counterintuitive. Most envelopes are produced using an uncoated free sheet (think copy machine paper); higher qual- ity sheets are being used for process printing and continue to evolve to allow higher printing quality. EMBRACING FIRST Having the appropriate printing systems is important, but it will only get you so far. Quality is still driven by the process and the best process out there is Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST). Embracing FIRST has allowed the print quality on envelopes to improve exponentially. Many in the envelope industry are embracing the concepts of FIRST and combining them with lean production principles to improve quality and consis- tency. Having been a judge in FTA’s Excellence in Flexog- raphy Awards envelope category for a few years, I knew the industry had turned an important corner when I heard the comment “That’s an envelope? I had no idea they could print at that level!” n About the Author: Lon Robinson III is the director of research and development at Tension Corp., based in Kansas City, MO. He has been with the company for more than 33 years, holding positions in printing, folding, ink, prepress and product development. Lon also serves as chairman of the Board of Directors for FTA and serves on the FFTA Board of Trustees, as well as participates on the FTA committee for FIRST. He was presented with FTA’s President’s Award in 2012. Lon is one of the EMA representatives to the USPS Postmaster General’s Mailer ’s Technical Advisory Committee, leads the EMA inserter taskforce, participates on the EMA print committee and was awarded the Malcolm Litman EMA Member of The Year Award in 2012. 26 FLEXO JANUARY 2014 www.flexography.org Courtesy of EMA Foundation