Technological advances, multiprocess printing, lean manufacturing, sustainable practices, automated workflows and statistical process control—these forces are driving the future of flexible packaging, according to Flexographic Technical Association (FTA) printer members.
This market segment is briefed regularly on industry analysts’ projections that North America accounts for at least 30% of the global market, with annual sales estimates for the region stretching from $35 billion to $44 billion and annual growth forecasts coming in at 3% to 5%. Flexography is said to garner an 88% market share.
In the past 12 months, three internal FTA polls, drew response rates of 15%, 26% and 60%. The focus of these polls was to identify:
- Who are the flexible packaging converters that make up this market segment?
- What are the key business drivers that influence decisions?
- What are the necessary equipment expenditures that are being pursued?
What was learned? Of FTA’s 500+ printer members, 58% engage in some form of flexible packaging production.
When evaluating current challenges and future demands, a clear consensus emerged through comments like, “Flexibility is important. We must offer more options to increase value adds and appreciate higher margins. Greater efficiencies must be pursued. We have to make it harder for competitors to enter our markets.”
Many flexible packaging experts agreed with one peer’s observation: “As speed to market becomes more critical for hitting consumer product companies’ key windows of opportunity, cycle times will be driven down through technologies that offer the most significant time/cost reduction potential.”
Perspectives offered point to critical aspects of the operating environment, “I see a lot of businesses—including my gravure shop—transitioning to flexo.” Other comments support this trend: “We’re expanding into new markets,” and, “Flexible packaging continues to grow and replace secondary packaging and canned goods.”
One 160-year-old converter maintains, “The large volume, wide web press production needs of the past decades have evolved with consumer trends. This has resulted in a vast expansion of SKUs. These changes have required a different capital approach to fulfill customer requirements, while delivering cost-efficient solutions that are very serviceable.”
By the Numbers
Sixty percent of those who listed out critical impact points put “technological advances that reduce makereadies, cut waste and speed time to market” at the top of the list. In second position, at 40%, lean manufacturing. Next, at 39%, statistical process control like FTA’s Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST) and other industry standards. At nearly 31%, sustainable practices, as well as multiprocess printing. At 28%, automated workflow.
Asked to identify flexible packaging converting’s new necessities, 65% of respondents in that poll selected color management software and 63% also specified print inspection systems. Forty-four percent considered testing and measuring devices as essential; the same number picked job management software.
FTA members also counted slitters/rewinders as ranking among press floor necessities, with 46% of the sample awarding them a vote. They were followed by curing/drying equipment/surface treaters/UV LED systems at 25%, extruders/laminators at 21% and pouch making machinery at 17%.
FTA polls identified the need to focus on training and skills development as the No. 1 strategic direction among printer members. Specifically, 71% embraced the concept, followed by automating practices, the intent of 45%. Next came both “going lean,” and “expanding traditional product and service offerings,” which are both on the agenda of 40% of poll participants.
Commentary detailed rationale behind the responses. One printer explained, “It’s all about money and getting it right.” Another offered, “Through standards and specifications, flexo has now become a printing method with a scientific process behind it that allows products to be printed consistently and repeatedly from run to run. Brand management is much more effective, thanks to statistical process control.”
Emphasis was placed on achieving, “innovation without sacrificing speed,” while another respondent summarized, “Automated workflows reduce labor and improve efficiencies. Technologies such as electron beam (EB) printing have the potential to eliminate the lamination process for several food products.” That drew echoes. “Automated processes translate into printing advances,” and, “Efficiency and quality are the forces that will separate the strong from the weak.”
By Mark Cisternino
Mark Cisternino is president of Flexographic Technical Association and its educational Foundation. Prior to his appointment as president in May of 2001, Mark rose through the ranks of the organization holding the positions of Associate Editor of FLEXO Magazine, Marketing Manager, Director of Programs & Marketing and Vice President. In all, he has been with the organization for over 33 years.