Fascinating flexo: the view from FlexoGlobal
In the run-up to this year’s Global Flexo Innovation Awards, Laura Wayland-Smith Hatch, awards administrator and publisher of FlexoGlobal, reflects on what makes the program so special – and reveals why she’s still in love with our innovative industry…
When I became involved with the Global Flexo Innovation Awards in 2019, I was struck by its uniqueness. I’d helped manage awards programs for print trade associations in the past, and they were always focused on print quality. Period. So you’d end up with a lot of people looking at print samples with loupes, having debates over which was better.
This was immediately different. The print quality was a given. This was about innovation in the process, whether that was creativity, sustainability, workflow efficiencies – or a combination of all that.
But there was another key difference that made the awards unique. Aside from facilitating the process and providing the guiding principles of the program, Miraclon didn’t get involved. I was the sole interface between the panel and the entrants. So the judges were comfortable being honest in their opinions. There were no politics, no commercial agenda, no worrying about who might be listening or who they may offend. They felt very free to speak. And they did so.
The judges came from different countries, and represented all facets of the print industry. There were printers, pre-press people, associations, and consumer product companies. And each had their unique way of looking at the entries. Listening to their far-reaching discussions – their disagreements and opinions – was fascinating.
“I’d never have expected a corrugated printer to be the one that stood out for innovation.”
After 8 years in the gravure industry, I moved into the flexo industry 16 years ago; it’s been really interesting to see the huge leap forward in quality despite the lower capital investment needed compared to gravure.
For example, one of last year’s high-honor winners was Italy’s Z-Due, with its corrugated flexo print. I’d never have expected a corrugated printer to be the one that stood out for innovation. But Z-Due had taken the flexo process and worked with it to produce an outstanding corrugated product that has influenced the Italian corrugated print industry’s movement from pre-print offset to post-print flexo.
Another high-honor winner, Reproflex3 from the UK, engaged with the value chain and stayed close to brands to create a mass-production model for gravure to flexo conversion in wide-web flexible printing.
In fact, all the companies that received recognition had that in common – they all stood out within their own area because they’d used the renewed and advanced capabilities of the flexo process to do something people hadn’t been able to do before.
This year I’m looking forward to seeing more new faces and learning about the latest trends and techniques. Of course, we have to be sensitive to the urgent business that needs to be addressed, given how the global shutdown has affected the industry. But we also want to be able to shine a light on the new challenges that these companies are now dealing with.
“Printing for packaging, especially flexo, is incredibly well placed to help in the current crisis with the flexibility and production efficiencies it provides.”
There may be a lot of things going on right now that we’re not aware of. What innovations have print shops turned to in the crisis? How have they made it happen for customers even with a lack of materials? Who’s been printing the packaging for the Covid-19 testing equipment? How did they manage that process?
Printing for packaging, especially flexo, is incredibly well placed to help in the current crisis with the flexibility and production efficiencies it provides.
The Global Flexo Innovation Awards can do a lot to help people understand the importance of print around them and the role technologies like flexographic printing can play in difficult times like these. And these are the stories I hope to see coming out this year.
Laura Wayland-Smith Hatch is the owner and publisher at FlexoGlobal. As administrator for the Global Flexo Innovation Awards, FlexoGlobal process award entries and work with the independent panel for the judging process.