Although our media consumption is now largely digital, print still plays an important role in our lives. If you haven’t noticed, we still rely on printed packaging to catch our eyes as we browse through both brick-and-mortar and eCommerce stores. Packaging continues to be king, but, over the past 10 years, the industry has seen a 25% decrease in employment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The problem driving this decline is two-fold: the Silver Tsunami of a generation of craftsman retiring and leaving the workforce and a new generation raised on clean hand disruptive technologies.
An emerging solution to this problem is virtual reality (VR). Although it’s mainly perceived as a gaming technology, VR is finding uses that extend far beyond. Not only has it become a disruptive technology greatly appealing to our new workforce, but it has also positioned our industry as a sophisticated, technology-driven profession.
What is STRIPE VR?
Clemson University’s Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design & Graphics provides research, training, and testing for the new generation of printing and packaging players as well as established flexographic industry leaders. As a renowned institute in this space, it is equipped with a wide range of innovative flexo capabilities, including virtual reality.
Although Sonoco Institute’s VR was originally used for consumer behavior studies – tracking participants’ eyes to gauge which package designs were more eye-catching – the team quickly realized that VR could be extended to training. They knew that today’s flexographic presses presented unique challenges, making job training not as difficult and inconsistent, and video training was no longer as effective as it used to be. “Our transition to bring virtual reality to training was largely driven by the workforce needs of the flexo industry. Many companies are struggling with high turnover rates among press operators and long training times for new hires,” explained Bobby Congdon, Assistant Director of the Sonoco Institute. “So, we see that STRIPE VR is greatly positioned as a tool that could really accelerate learning among new operators and students.”
STRIPE VR offers a safer and engaging alternative to onsite training and videos, creating a virtual world where students can gain hands-on flexographic press training with no risk. In this virtual world, instructors can simulate real-life press scenarios that push students to think outside the box and gain valuable insight into best practices. By undergoing this training, the next generation of printing and packaging designers and operators are better equipped when they enter the real world.
Currently, there are now two versions of their flexo training tool: the STRIPE VR that requires a headset, and STRIPE Online, a web browser-based version that can be accessed anywhere.
Anderson & Vreeland Backs STRIPE VR
Anderson & Vreeland saw the huge potential of STRIPE VR in fostering workforce education and recruitment throughout the flexographic industry. A company dedicated to promoting flexographic education among its employees and customers, A&V announced its decision to become a leading sponsor of STRIPE VR in February of 2020. Paul Teachout, A&V’s Business Development Manager, said, “Press equipment has evolved from a very mechanical-natured, hands-on, crafty operation to a very sophisticated smart technology where now things are run with touchpads and by the numbers. So, Clemson’s VR technology is perfectly timed to train today’s generation on flexo technology that is also evolving.”
As part of their commitment to advancing flexo education by partnering with associations and places of learning, A&V is hoping that their investment in STRIPE VR will help get the word out on the transformational technology. Within the next year, A&V hopes to get educators involved as the technology matures and, eventually, have it become the primary way printing companies train employees in the future.
How is STRIPE VR Helping the Industry?
Besides training, STRIPE VR, and its online counterpart STRIPE Online, has already proven to be a huge asset to the printing and packaging industry in a short amount of time. For the Phoenix Challenge Foundation, one of A&V’s partners, STRIPE Online is set to become a virtual venue for their annual high school flexographic printing competition. The Women of Flexo program is also planning to work with STRIPE VR to onboard more women into the field of flexographic printing to increase diversity.
In addition to these flexo organizations, STRIPE Online is being shared with over 30 high schools, universities, and technical colleges. Sonoco Institute’s Marketing Director, Kayla Rogers, explained, “There has been a lot of interest on the education side. It’s great to see educators understanding the value of a technology like this in transforming the way flexographic leaders will approach workforce training.”
One of the biggest concerns in the industry is the difficulty of recruiting and retaining qualified press operators. A&V hopes that its involvement in the STRIPE VR project will help solve this pain point and empower trade associations and places of learning, like the Phoenix Challenge and Women of Flexo, with the tools they need to succeed.
What’s Next for STRIPE VR?
The Sonoco Institute is focused on expanding this innovative flexographic training tool beyond narrow web flexography. The goal is to create training simulations around the wide web and corrugated markets. In the near future, the STRIPE VR team is preparing to launch a new set of features, so they can give a full overview of the technology at the upcoming Flexographic Technical Association (FTA) Forum. This will allow industry professionals to see firsthand how STRIPE VR can aid in their educational efforts.
As this tech continues to evolve, A&V is excited to see the huge role STRIPE VR will play in the industry moving forward.