Monday, June 30, 2014

Money On The Table


      by Greg Kishbaugh

     Last week, DiTrolio Flexographic Institute in Broadview, Illinois, held an open house focusing on the myriad ways in which converters and machinery manufacturers in the flexo industry can take advantage of government funding for the training and education of their employees.
     The scope of the programs that are available are unimaginable and there’s no question that a vast majority of converters have no idea of the depth of assistance that is available to them.
The Open House featured speakers from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity; Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership; the Alliance for Illinois Manufacturing; the Chicago Federation of Labor; and SERCO.

     Because DiTrolio is based in the Chicago area, the agencies represented at the open house were all based in Illinois but the presenters were quick to point out that every state in the union has similar programs in place.
     A representative from the Federation of Labor summed up the agency’s philosophy as follows: “We have money and we really want to give it to you.”
     As surprising as it was to hear such a bold statement it was no less surprising to find out just how closely the various state agencies work together to try to assist small businesses. Every participant stressed just how hard they try to work with each individual company to meet their needs.
     One has to wonder just how many converters are fully aware of the sheer volume of assistance programs that currently exist.
The truth is, there is money on the table to help converters better train their workforce but it is being left untouched in many cases because converters simply do not know it exists.
     Vince DiTrolio, the Owner of DiTrolio Flexographic Institute has a wealth of experience and knowledge in this area. Converters looking to improve the efficiency of their workforce (and save thousands of dollars) would do well to ask his advice by calling the school at (708) 343-4334.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Environmental Stewardship


      by Greg Kishbaugh

     The Label Printers, Aurora, Illinois, has long been a champion of sustainability. The company has won back-to-back Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Awards and TLMI Environmental Leadership Awards, as well as an honorable mention from the FTA for its Environmental Excellence Awards.     
     In keeping with its commitment to this increasingly important topic, the company’s Director of Human Resources George Tommasi was a presenter at the recent Sustainable Waste Management Conference, hosted by the Lake Michigan States Section of the Air & Waste Management Association. He discussed the success of The Label Printers’ sustainability program, providing a ‘small business” perspective.      
     Presenters included municipal and state governments; the Environmental Protection Agency; large corporations; and “green” technology innovators.      
     Tommasi discussed The Label Printers’ “Go Green, Save Green and Earn Green!” program, which revolves around the premise that being a sound environmental steward is not only a moral imperative but that it is also good for business, lowering costs and generating new revenue streams.      
     Tommasi, who is a team leader for TLMI’s L.I.F.E. sustainability program, discussed the company’s “Take Stock for Education” program and its employee electronic recycling day. “I wanted to show how you can combine company initiatives with ways to help the community and employees, and I also wanted conference attendees to see that even a small company can make a big difference,”  Tommasi said.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Success In Increments


      by Greg Kishbaugh

     It’s part of our human nature that we like big, bold moves. And it’s no different for businesses. Every business executive has their eye out for the monster acquisition or the game-changing tech innovation. But it’s important for those very same businesses to be open to the realization that sometimes, good things come in small packages. Sometime small, incremental change can be just as impactful as much larger changes.     When candy giant Hershey recently relaunched its line of Miniatures Assortment bars, the company decided it would tweak the packages by reducing their metallized paper wrappers by an infinitesimal 0.05 grams.


     “It might seem small, but in just one year that equated to more than 271,800 pounds of wrappers saved — that’s enough to fill 11 tractor trailers,” said Laura Renaud, Hershey’s Associate Manager of Corporate Communications. “Cutting our paper use saves 1,957 trees while cutting our aluminum, use and energy to produce it, equates to turning off the electricity for one year in 56 homes.” 
     This is a move that will be invisible to consumers but will have lasting impact on Hershey’s environmental initiatives. And the company understands that when huge volumes are involved, these small changes can add up quickly to something quite substantial. 
     “We knew we could make a bigger impact if we looked at the brands and items with large volumes,” Renaud said.
Hershey has also been wise in not focusing on one or two products but on analyzing every single item in its production process. The simple truth is that in terms of sustainability, its often more beneficial to focus on small, incremental changes in a host of products rather than focus on huge changes to one or two.
     The Miniatures wrapper lightweighting is just one of nearly 200 separate sustainability initiatives and projects Hershey has launched. In 2009, the company saved 425,000 ounds of rigid plastic by reducing the weight of its syrup bottles and the following year, it saved 528,000 pounds of rigid plastic by paring down one of its product lines in Mexico.      
     Every CPG and flexo printer could certainly benefit from this type of introspection. Maybe your company doesn’t need a huge, earth-shattering move. Perhaps it would be better served by hundreds of smaller initiatives that prove the old adage: from small things, big things one day come.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Rewards Of Change


Paul Sharkey

     The world around us is constantly changing. And while time advances in a linear way, nothing else does. The circumstances in which we find ourselves have an ebb and flow. The only constant is constant change. Sometimes change is moving us forward and sometimes it’s not. As I see it, our individual and collective challenge is to master both positive and negative change.
     By master I mean to understand nothing remains the same and to be prepared to deal with change. For me, preparation means having a plan to move forward toward clear goals and then to execute the action plan that will achieve those goals. I find the forward movement of executing a well thought out plan—one with defined activities according to a time table–can insulate against being negatively impacted by circumstances outside our control. Simply said, having a process and controlling its execution will get us to where we want to be, most of the time.

     However, there are circumstances outside our control that we can’t protect ourselves against. In such cases, I find being mentally prepared to rise to each such occasion will best allow us to modify or change as required to navigate successfully through what has changed. This means rather than allowing change to knock us off course, that we assess what changes we must make to get back on track or to modify or change our goal.
     So how exactly does this all make sense in the context of the flexographic printing industry? Let me ask how your personal and company outlook was 10 years ago? A CNN/MONEY Magazine article in October 2003 said Q3 GDP growth was 7.2 percent annualized, and was the fastest in 20 years. An economist at the firm, Lehman Brothers, stated this boom was driven by consumer confidence and spending. At the same time, toward the end of the article, it was noted that the U.S. economy had lost more than 3 million jobs in the prior 12 months. Still, for most, business was very good!
     Fast forward five years to 1:45 am on Monday, September 15, 2008 when Lehman Brothers, one of the largest financial services firms in the world, having been founded in 1850, filed for bankruptcy representing a loss of $639B. It is still by far the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. By comparison, the market crash of 1929 in today’s dollars amounted to $319B.  Even though we didn’t know it officially at the time, our economy had been in recession since December 2007. The stock market lost 34 percent of its value that year. What was your personal and company outlook at that point? I think it’s safe to say we were all very frightened and unsure of what was going to happen next.
     Clearly, in 2008 circumstances outside our control were at play. No matter how good we were at executing our business plans and executing our process, we were all knocked off course as we found ourselves in the Great Recession. 
     Over the course of two years, four of our top ten customers closed their doors. Sales declined to levels we had passed five years earlier. While it took a while to figure out what was happening and more time to decide what changes were needed, we did. We entirely reset our business plan based on a different strategy.
     Today, FLXON has no ambition to become the biggest supplier of doctor blades. As a matter of fact our business is not focused on doctor blades. We are engaged with fewer printers than five years ago. We work with flexographic printers assisting them to add value to their enterprise. Our focus is on driving waste out of their process at multiple levels and to do so in a sustained way. Our relationships with customers are deeper. Today, each of us at FLXON finds our business more rewarding than in the past. Our top and bottom lines are better than ever.
     Today, FLXON’S success is based upon our ability to react and change in the face of the difficult times imposed upon us in 2008. We are just one example of how many companies in the flexo printing industry have made changes to their businesses to become stronger and better prepared to deal with future uncertainty. And in many ways its more rewarding than ever. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Sustainable Trend


      by Greg Kishbaugh

     The incredible creativity currently driving innovation in sustainable packaging will undoubtedly lead to many new advancements in the coming years. Tom Szaky, author of “Revolution in a Bottle,” recently blogged about some of the trends he foresees in 2014.
     Szaky sees plant-based plastic production increasing, pointing toward a recent partnership between brands like Coco-Cola, Nestle and Nike and the World Wildlife Fund establishing the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance, which is aimed at setting standards for the development of plant-based plastics derived from feedstocks like corn and sugar cane.

     Another huge area that needs to be addressed is that of single-serve coffee pods. The Wall Street Journal estimates that nearly 9 billion of the pods are sold annually, an enormous waste stream as, at the moment, the pods are cannot be easily recycled.     Just more than a year ago, MIT researchers and engineers unveiled LiquiGlide, which could revolutionize the elimination of some forms of food waste. LiquiGlide is a food-safe, slippery coating that can be applied to the inside of any liquid-containing bottle that allows consumers to get every single drop of food from the bottle, leaving absolutely no residue. LiquiGlide has been approved by the FDA and Szaky sees its use growing dramatically.     Finally, he sees two already established trends gaining increased momentum. The need for companies to adopt the “less is more” credo when it comes to packaging will continue to be a focus for CPGs as will the general sense of corporate responsibility. More than 80 percent of consumers are aware of the sustainability of the products they purchase. Szaky points to the How2Recycle Label  program started by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, operated by nonprofit GreenBlue, as an example of how corporations can address this consumer interest in sustainability.

     The labels detail the components of the product’s packaging, and also if each of the materials can be recycled. The Kellogg Company, Minute Maid and Ziploc are among the many companies currently partnering in the program and the list is sure to expand in 2014. As consumers demand more sustainable products, CPGs would be wise to follow the example of the How2Recycle program and find ways to demonstrate to their customers the level of their commitment to sustainability.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Changing Labels


      by Greg Kishbaugh

     In news that could have a far-reaching impact on the U.S. packaging industry, the Food and Drug Administration yesterday proposed changes to the nutrition labels on food packaging. The changes, which were announced by first lady Michelle Obama as a tie-in to the fourth anniversary of her Let’s Move Campaign, reflect concerns about obesity and food quality that were not nearly as prevalent when the labels last were updated in the early 1990s.
     The FDA plans to get input from a host of sources in the next 90 days, including manufacturers and dieticians. When the final requirements are announced, manufacturers will have two years to comply.they come from corn syrup, honey, sucrose or any other source, will be shown in one number.

     The proposed changes include (but are not limited to):
• Calorie counts that are larger and easier for consumers to find.
• Grams of sugar, whether they come from corn syrup, honey, sucrose or any other source, will be shown in one number.
• Serving sizes will be changed to reflect the portions that people typically eat.
     Food companies will naturally raise concerns about the cost of implementing all these changes, but they seem inevitable at this point.
     “Everyone in the industry is going to be affected,” said Regina Hildwine of the Grocery Manufacturers. “Everyone in the industry is going to have to change their labels.”
     Converters that can anticipate the needs of their food customers in dealing with these changes will position themselves as invaluable partners as these new guidelines go into effect.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Finding opportunity alongside other print methods
     It’s no surprise to any designer or converter that brand owners have become very savvy about packaging, and grasp its value in the marketing mix. Quality and consistency in packaging is imperative, along with pressure to reduce packaging costs, while working with shorter print runs. 
     Flexo converters have come a long way improving efficiency, consistency, cost and quality and over the past few years have reached a standard level that allows them to compete against other print methods—gravure and offset. According to PIRA, flexo is the only analog print method that is growing globally. Flexographic printing and converting can often be performed entirely inline, on many materials and substrates, resulting in little waste.      
     This is confirmed by our customers, of whom some report to have made substantial inroads in gravure or offset markets and experienced significant growth.       
     Gravure has been the logical alternative to flexography because of its legacy of print quality and cost effectiveness for large runs—but not shorter ones. And, gravure is not an environmentally friendly print method. For example, printing flexible packaging on a flexo press instead of gravure reduces energy use and CO2 emissions by as much as 50 percent, according to DuPont research. Flexo is also significantly less expensive when considering total cost of ownership against offset. Flexo presses and inks are cheaper, and the costs of operating a flexo press are less expensive than that of an offset press.       
     The reason for all of the recent interest in flexo is exceptional platemaking that can take advantage of developments in new flexo press technology and high line-screen anilox rolls. Great advancements in flexo offer print quality that rivals any other method, cost-effectively.      
     Esko has played a significant part in this trend. Since 2009, hundreds of companies have adopted HD Flexo technology. With HD Flexo, the screen rulings in flexo printing can be increased, while at the same time reducing the size of the smallest printable dot. This is achieved using a special screening technology and 4,000 dpi imaging resolution, resulting in sharper images, smoother tints and a greater color gamut. It also delivers exceptional print quality in highlights, midtones, shadows and solids. High-resolution imaging also creates a textured surface on the plate, improving ink lay-down and increasing ink density on the final print. It raises flexo print quality to a level comparable to gravure, digital print and even offset.        
     Now, with new and further advanced Full HD Flexo technology, enabling the formation of different dot structures in one single plate, the combination of smooth highlight printing and gravure-like solid ink laydown can be achieved.     
     Lurking ahead, one of the challenges to flexo is digital print, where technical and cost advances allow it to compete on longer runs than in the past. We see it happening with labels. However, even here Esko can be helpful. Our front-end system is the preferred ‘driver’ for many digital presses for labels and packaging. Along with matching print quality with HD Flexo, it gives a printer a tactical advantage. The converter can postpone its decision to print a job digitally or conventionally very late in the process depending upon available presses and economics, without any degradation in quality or running the job through prepress again.     
     The best news for flexo is that by working with companies like Esko, quality and economics make it a very viable print technology. And, we intend to keep it that way.