UCM Agreement Inks Great Future for
Graphic Arts Tech Students
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By Mike Greife
To understand the value of a partnership between UCM and Fujifilm, it may be worth a trip to a local convenience store. If the colorful printed labels and packages catch your eye, you may be witnessing one of the successful outcomes of an education/business relationship that emphasizes hands-on student preparation and innovations in ink manufacturing.
The strong connection between UCM and Fujifilm North America Corporation has grown out of the company's commitment to helping the university's Graphics Arts Technology Management program to make flexography an important part of its academic offerings. Such support from the company enables UCM to provide industry-relevant laboratory experiences for students preparing for management careers in the printing industry, while also creating opportunities for Fujifilm to research and develop products to be marketed in the United States and abroad.
Fujifilm is a leading ink manufacturer for the screen, flexographic, and wide format ink jet printing processes with its Graphic Systems Division located in Kansas City, Kan. A number of UCM alumni have been recruited by the company, including national sales manager Robert Swearingin, who graduated from UCM in 1990. The partnership grew out of a conversation between Swearingin and Mark Rankin, professor of graphic arts technology management, to help meet an education need at UCM by obtaining printing equipment students will encounter in the industry. In addition, it would provide Fujifilm access to a vital piece of testing equipment close to its technical staff in Kansas City.
"About eight years ago, Rob came down and spoke to a class. We went out to lunch afterwards and we were talking about technology and how we need to upgrade our facility," Rankin said. "Fujifilm agreed to donate the majority of funds needed to purchase a state-of-the art narrow web flexographic printing press (retail value of $300,000) for our flexo lab. In exchange, Fujifilm periodically does ink, substrate, and plate testing in our facility. We're now in our sixth year of an eight-year agreement. In that time our students have designed and printed some beautiful packaging projects on this press. Student teams have earned a first-place award in an international research, design and flexo print competition in each of the three years they have competed, due in part to the quality of work they are able to produce on this press."
With additional support coming from other companies in the printing industry, the university-business partnership has yielded a number of good uses for the press and the lab that Rankin and his colleagues created at UCM.
"We've actually conducted sales training at UCM, both in the lab and in the classroom setting for 'A-Z Flexo' which is a two-to-three-day training course. We've done that with customers and sales people," Swearingin said. "Research and Development continues to run projects on the press on a fairly regular basis. Packaging is one of the big growth markets of the future, so our activities at UCM have really stepped up in the last two years."
Sustainable products have emerged from the partnership. "We developed all of our UV inks on this press, and we started with water-based inks during the fall of 2012," said Fujifilm Chief Chemist Keith Snow. "All of the inks that we put on the market today are essentially proven down here."
Fujifilm donates many of those inks back to the UCM Graphic Arts Technology program. This benefits both partners.
"We hope the exposure at the university will bring more awareness about Fujifilm. When students graduate and go into the field they will hopefully remember who we are and use our products," Swearingin said.