28 years ago my father hired me as a sales representative for Pamarco after he had spent 28 years in the industry. This week I hired my 24 year-old nephew as a sales trainee and am trying to help my son obtain an opportunity in the flexographic printing industry. Since my start in 1988, we have seen flexo printing obtain unbelievable improvements in print quality, productivity, and status within the manufacturing sector. This is all due to technology and the people who have driven the technology. In 1988 almost all corrugated metering systems employed rubber roll metering, print was almost exclusively on kraft liners, and printing half-tones was almost unheard of. Wide web printers were just beginning to use doctor blades and ceramic anilox rolls. A 600 lpi engraving and photopolymer printing plates were cutting edge. The improvements have been exponential. There have been more advancements in the last 5 years than there were in the previous 20.
What’s next? Who really knows where technology will lead us, but what has led the technology advancements, and will continue to lead them, are the people who have decided a career in the flexographic printing industry is a worthwhile venture. It is no longer looked at as an entry level industry for the uneducated. Flexography is now full of people trained in business, engineers, graphic artists, technicians, accountants, marketers, and sales people. It may not yet be a glamorous industry, but it has become highly technical. We are using servos, scanners, lasers, etc. In my opinion, the future is in our people, and continuing to attract educated, energetic young people who are interested in a printing/packaging career. We need to continue to try to find the best possible candidates for employment, continuously train them, and reward them for their knowledge. Quality people will insure Flexography has a bright future and insure continued technological advancements.
However, If I were to predict the future for Flexography, I would say it needs to do better faster to hold off the threat of digital printing. I don’t foresee Flexo being able to offer the customization or short run economics that digital printing can, and will, offer, but we can continue to work at increased print quality at faster speeds. This will allow the economics of flexo on mid and long run print jobs to hold off digital and other emerging print technologies. Because of the people, continued improvements in inks, substrates, printing plates, aniloxes and other tooling can, and will, allow this to happen. In my opinion, the future of Flexography is a bright one.
By John Bingham