The mission of the Phoenix Challenge Foundation is to “promote the growth of the Flexographic printing process in the educational system throughout North America.” If you’re thinking you don’t know what flexographic printing is, you will be surprised to learn that you encounter it every day.
Often called “flexo” this is a printing process that uses a flexible relief plate. It can be used on nearly any sort of material including paper, plastic, and corrugated boxes.
The Phoenix Challenge Foundation (PCF) is an organization dedicated to encouraging high school and college students to consider flexo as a career path. Bettylyn Owens Krafft (’86) is the founder of PCF and she says that while some people want to say the printing business is on the way out, this is not true for flexographic printing.
“This is a printing process that is particularly useful in continuous web printing – for items like potato chip bags, folding cartons, labels, just about anything you find in packaging," said Kraft.
A limited number of high schools offer this instruction, but the ones who do are eager to be part of the Phoenix Challenge competition. Each member of the winning team gets a $1000 scholarship, plus an award cup to be on display at their high school. The program started 16 years ago, and Bettylyn says some of those early competitors are now working in the industry and offering assistance and job experience for young people who are coming along now in the craft. “It’s really rewarding to see that happen…it’s exactly what we had hoped for!”
An Economics and Business major at Emory & Henry, Kraft got involved in this industry when she answered a job ad looking for people with mechanical aptitude. She was a great fan of tinkering with car engines and thought this might be fun. She ended up in a job doing customer service for a company that sold anilox rollers – the rollers used in flexo printing to transfer ink from the roller to the printing plate. She quickly went from customer service/sales to technical service, and was known nationwide for selling the first “800 anilox roller” that was purchased in the flexo industry. At the time it was the most technologically advanced anilox roller made.
While she no longer works with that company, Kraft never got the printing business out of her system, and the Phoenix Challenge was formed to encourage other people to consider this growing and meaningful business. She speaks proudly of the growing number of women in the industry, and is excited about what this career path can offer young people who may be looking for a slightly different option than previously considered. Not only is she the founder of the Phoenix Challenge, she is also the chief fundraiser, marketing maven, and the most passionate spokesperson for the competition and the flexo industry. “We want people to learn the process and learn it well – then you can do anything you want within the industry – make ink, make plates, run the press, and much more. This is an industry with a future because as long as we’re eating, we’re printing!”