The Flexographic Industry Association UK (‘FIAUK’) has shared its vision for a stronger, more cohesive and more resilient flexo industry, which centres around greater adoption of automation technology.

The organisation, which represents the interests of the diverse UK flexographic print supply chain, has provided insight from its ‘birds-eye view’ of the sector and its trajectory, which is continuing to gather pace following a challenging year.

Debbie Waldron-Hoines, Consultant CEO at FIAUK, explains: “Through a difficult period for many industries, flexo has proved once again that it has the ingenuity and drive to succeed through ever-changing market conditions. What the supply chain is now asking is, where are our next innovations coming from? Whether we are talking about print, production and logistics, material, substrate and consumables supply, pre-press or beyond – all signs point towards digitisation, connection and automation having an important central role.

“What we have seen is that through uncertainty, digitising our operations has a protective effect – not just boosting capacity under normal market conditions. Speaking with FIAUK members and looking back on the year’s performance, businesses that are able to automate more of their supply chains have found a real advantage. This becomes even more apparent as headcounts reduce from boardroom to factory floor.

“Using hardware and software that makes intelligent decisions without the need for human intervention is known for boosting efficiency, quality and speed – all crucial for packaging printers – but it also enables more consistent volume and capacity when the workforce becomes more limited.

“The flexo industry is particularly solid – full of innovation and operating at top speed throughout the global pandemic. What we are now seeing is more conversation on the long-term future. Along with the circular economy, the focus on automation technology is going to be absolutely central as we move forwards.

“For a lot of businesses in the flexo industry, particularly around the small-mid size category, automation still tends to be seen as a pricey ‘nice to have’, often much further down the priority list than the latest print equipment or handling facilities. However, automation technology today drives real value as a long-term investment, no matter the printer size or specialities. From platemaking and prepress through to eliminating bottlenecks in design and approvals and standardisation across substrates, digitisation is much more accessible today.”

As an organisation focused on representing the exciting flexo industry and advancing its interests, FIAUK takes a keen interest in the technology available to printers in today’s packaging sector – many innovations developed and provided by its own members.

FIAUK will shortly be hosting the 2021 edition of its print awards, which celebrates the best and brightest in UK flexographic print. The FIAUK Print Awards 2021 takes place in November, and the in-person event returns to its position as a highlight of the flexo calendar.

Concluding the organisation’s thoughts on greater automation as the next key step change for flexo, Debbie added:

“The sector has an extremely strong foothold – with packaging still in high demand through the pandemic, printers have been under pressure to deliver and have met the challenge head on. Now, it’s a case of using the momentum to build an even stronger category moving forwards.

“With the support of our members, we are proud to signpost a more advanced sector that is within reach, taking the exceptional talent to be found across the category and affecting real change.”