Debbie Waldron-Hoines is managing director of EFIA, an association representing the interests of the flexo supply chain. She has worked in the printing and packaging industry for several years, starting in labels at UK converter Harlands of Hull, before moving into reprographics at Gilchrist Brothers and then on to run the DS Smith Pre Print operation at Clay Cross until 2000. In 2001, she established Avant-Tout, a specialist consultancy business within the print and packaging industry. She is also a founder and director of Women in Packaging UK, an initiative to connect, support and recognize the contribution of female employees in the UK packaging industry. She has a degree in French Language and Literature, and an MBA.
Labels & Labeling (L&L): What is EFIA and who does it represent?
Debbie Waldron-Hoines (DWH): EFIA, the European Flexographic Industry Association, represents the interests of companies throughout the UK. For over 40 years, it has been evolving to meet the needs of companies across the flexographic print supply chain, providing forums, initiatives and tools to support this dynamic environment and highlight the best flexo can offer, whether through the awards program, which recognizes print excellence from the UK and abroad; supporting efforts to achieve operational excellence and greater technical knowledge through training; or promoting debate on the future direction of our industry. And it is truly a broad representation, covering suppliers, printers, designers, retailers and brand owners.
L&L: What does the association do in terms of supporting, growing and lobbying on behalf of the flexo industry?
DWH: EFIA prides itself on recognizing and promoting print excellence. The Annual Print Competition and Awards gala dinner attracts over 500 people from across the industry and is now in its 28th year. The competition is intense and each year we have a very experienced panel of judges drawn from all areas of the industry.
Another key focus is on developing skills and knowledge across the UK and European print industry, through the EFIA Learning Academy – helping companies find that added competitive advantage through their investment in people. The Academy is an online e-learning tool, providing the latest flexographic knowledge in an easy, modular training solution available to everyone in the industry.
We also represent our members’ interests on key industry issues by sitting on the board of the Graphic, Print and Media Alliance (GPMA), which lobbies government, especially in critical areas such as training and apprenticeships.
L&L: What is your role in the association?
DWH: I spend time speaking to our existing members and partners, understanding their issues and promoting the ongoing benefits such as the Learning Academy, industry-recognized awards and senior leadership events. I also visit those companies who are interested in joining EFIA and explaining the levels of membership available. And importantly I continue to work with the EFIA board to plan and deliver key events, such as the Awards Dinner, Partners’ Dinner and Annual Golf Day. I also represent EFIA’s interests through the GPMA board and FTA Europe, a pan-European group, focused on defining standards across the broader international industry. This one means I have to use my language skills.
L&L: What are the current challenges in the flexo industry?
DWH: I think there are two key challenges – establishing standards and improving skills.
Firstly, flexo is one of the more complex, yet most versatile, of the print processes used across many substrates and for many products, from corrugated board, pre-printed paper, labels and flexible films, to printed electronics, tissue, bags, wrapping paper and envelopes.
We see tremendous innovation and development throughout the supply chain, whether it is machine manufacturers, ink and plate suppliers, or those producing aniloxes and tapes and more. Everyone is contributing to the increased drive in process improvement and opportunities to grow business. However, there are no universally recognized flexo printing standards, unlike those we see in other sectors. Standards do exist, such as ISO 12647-6, but generally printers work to individual standards – established in-house within their manufacturing units that have been driven by their own demands, whether for example it is to address waste reduction or meet quality targets for their customers.
Secondly, we risk losing skills and knowledge, which are vital to the future of the industry. That is why EFIA places so much emphasis on providing a strong program of training, to enhance the education and development of those coming into companies and those who need to revisit areas as part of a continuous improvement initiative.
L&L: What is the flexo industry doing to respond?
DWH: For standards, the EFIA board believes that a pragmatic approach should be taken to create and adopt standards and is now working to define parameters used in color management within the industry. This will support improvements for the many printers and their customers. Our initial focus is on the flexible film market, where we are working with members to run a pilot program on color management investigation.
For skills, we work to encourage companies to take the opportunities to develop their people. And many are making great strides. It is about defining the plans, looking at the material available and making print education a real part of professional development. It is certainly an area we are passionate about and will work with our members and government to help them achieve their goals and excel.
L&L: How do you see the flexo industry developing in the near future?
DWH: Customers continue to demand better quality and suppliers continue to work to achieve consistency. The industry is developing to meet these demands. We are seeing the introduction of a wide range of new screening technologies to support this and an increase in more rigorous control analysis. These steps will help to ‘digitize flexo’, increase product consistency and define achievable standards. I would also expect to see the growing use of a fixed color palette to help reduce cost and improving productivity.
L&L: What are EFIA’s current headline projects?
DWH: We have a number of headline projects underway to support our members. We are working to launch our 15th module of the EFIA Learning Academy later this year, which will address color management. This new module will add to the existing range of the Learning Academy, and we aim to cover different aspects of the entire process from design to waste.
We are also broadening our existing training offering through selected partners to focus on hands-on skills, leadership and sales.
As a founding member of FTA Europe, we are helping to build the Flexo Best Practice Tool Box. This is a great chance to capture best practices and troubleshooting expertise from across the industry, especially to support the development of a new generation of professionals. It builds on lessons from those who have a real breadth of experience and allows us to ensure a solid platform for future learning.
And we begin the planning for next year’s EFIA Annual Awards Gala, which will take place on the March 15, 2018. It is always an exciting time both working out the venue, logistics, judging and entertainment. We will also be preparing for the second FTA Europe Diamond Awards, which are being held in Milan in May next year.
L&L: How closely does EFIA work with national flexo associations across Europe and worldwide?
DWH: EFIA has made it a key focus to engage more broadly with colleagues in international associations. We are one of the founding members of FTA Europe, an umbrella association which represents the common interests of a number of European flexographic print industry groups. We will continue to exchange ideas, collaborate and ensure alignment on many areas of shared interest. This year, FTA Europe also met with the US FTA for the first time to look at further collaboration. This is a very positive step and EFIA will remain an integral part of any developments.
L&L: How do you see digital printing impacting your members and how are they responding?
DWH: I believe we need to see digital as a complementary process that should be embraced rather than feared. It is here to stay and we can expect it to grow. But we should look at it as an opportunity to extend the versatility of both print processes. Look at how successful the Coca-Cola campaign was, using flexo for the base label print and creating the personalization using digital. I expect we will see more of that in the future.
L&L: What pastimes do you enjoy in your spare time?
DWH: My involvement in EFIA is only one aspect of my connection with the industry so I do balance other work with a very active family life. We live in Yorkshire, UK, so there are a great number of things to keep the mind, body and spirit working well. The Dales are on our doorstep, so a great walk, pub lunch and stunning views are never far away. I continue to develop Women in Packaging, which I co-founded and which was formed to help connect, support and recognize female employees across the diverse packaging industry. It has been a great opportunity to meet and network with some very talented people and we are working through a series of exciting initiatives to grow it. And last year I became a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, which combines a real sense of history with another very diverse group of interesting and talented people.
This Q&A appeared in L&L issue 5, 2017, and is available here