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A clean start

Aug 1, 2006 12:00 AM


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Printing technology manufacturers have achieved advancements that raise print quality to high levels across all press formats — and, consequently, from one commercial print business to another. In a recent edition of his PrintForecast Perspective e-newsletter (http://pfcperspective.blogspot.com), industry commentator Dr. Joe Webb notes, “When we talk to print buyers, they claim that they see all printers as offering about the same quality. Yes, technology has raised mediocrity to a higher, predictable, less variable level. That means the best quality at premium prices is a harder sell than ever.”

Shops just starting up — or those that are reinventing themselves — face a challenge in differentiating themselves from their competitors. In crowded markets, these companies are seeking the optimal press configuration for their business while coming up with creative solutions to the commoditization challenge.

Several printers have shared their start-up stories with us. They faced many of the same hurdles when building their businesses and shopping for pressroom iron, but they came up with wide-ranging solutions. Their choices reflect their diverse backgrounds and savvy business strategies.

Current technology is key
Shabbir Sumar, co-owner of Citiprint (Allentown, PA) with his brother Mustafa Jaffer, came to the United States in 2002. Sumar owns a large printing company in Tanzania, East Africa, and he decided to continue his printing career here. “We bought a copy store called Express Business Center in Trexlertown, PA, and we started off in August 2002,” he says. “We got into copies, and then we adjusted some price structures. We bought that store with one copy machine in it. We now have nine huge copying systems from Canon, and we've maxed out the building.”

“There was demand for [offset] print jobs from our copy customers,” says Sumar. “I said to Mustafa, ‘Let's give it a shot. We'll buy a two-color press or a small press, pay the rent for the new place and payroll for the new guys, and we'll make it.’”

Sumar and Jaffer started their offset operation in a small building, just under 1,500 sq. ft., and talked to Heidelberg about their equipment options. “[My shop in Tanzania] was equipped with several Heidelberg presses,” Sumar explains, “but it was totally film to metal plate to old, unautomated presses. They were all 1980 and older models with manual plate loading, manual registration, nothing fancy. A job took three hours to set.”

When Sumar approached his bankers about this venture, they were in the process of liquidating six printing companies. “They're telling me, ‘Shabbir, why don't you take one? We'll give you a good deal — here we're trying to liquidate six print stores and you're asking us to finance a new one!’ But I needed technology; I didn't want to buy anybody's problems.” He and Jaffer gathered as much money as they could and made a large down payment on new equipment. “We asked Heidelberg to finance the rest,” says Sumar, “and they came up with a good answer.”

Their first equipment purchase was a Quicksetter computer-to-plate (CTP) system, followed by a Printmaster QM 46 two-color press and a Polar cutter. “I have no third party in between my designer and my press guy,” Sumar says. “Everything comes over the computers as electronic files, they go off to the CTP and we make polyester plates, then off they go to the press. There's no film or the associated personnel. That reduced a lot of my costs. And everything on the QM 46 is automated, to load plates, to offload plates, blanket washes, cylinder washes. I do a lot of small, two-color newsletter jobs on it, stationery jobs and business cards. We do as high as 20 jobs a day on the smaller press.”

Stepping up to four-color
August 2006 is Citiprint's two-year anniversary. Since start-up, they've added a QM DI Pro and they have just bought a Speedmaster 74 four-color press with coater and a Prosetter CTP system, prompting the purchase of a larger facility. The new building, which they're in the process of moving to, has 2,000 sq. ft. of office space and a 5,700-sq.-ft. production hall.

“Because of our inexperience with the market, we based everything on what the copiers could do,” Sumar explains. “We ran a 10,000, 11 × 17-inch copy job for customers, so then those types of jobs started going to the press instead of paying for clicks. After a year, when we were outsourcing a lot of color work, I finally got tired of missing out on those jobs.

“The only way to beat a low price and still achieve some decent returns is technology,” Sumar notes. He finds many of the jobs that come into his copy shop can be converted to offset jobs. “I convert a lot of work from the color copiers to the DI. I convert a lot of black-and-white, high-volume copy jobs to the QM 46. With one job we did 45,000 sets of a three-part project. It's black-over-black and stapled at the upper left. We used to run those projects on the copiers, and now I print it offset, then take it to my bookletmaker and collate and side staple it on the bookletmaker. So the copiers keep busy with new customers and we have a printing clientele also.”

In 10 months, Citiprint has clocked five and a half billion impressions on the DI. “We're so busy it's unbelievable,” says Sumar. “We're buying truckloads of paper and we're churning it out. I have six employees now at the print shop. So everything has changed for us.”

“It is my very strong belief that in order to keep up with this industry, you've got to keep on growing,” Sumar adds. One area he plans to pursue is mailing. Currently, Citiprint drops off a lot of jobs at mailing houses. “I see that mailing houses are clogged and they're not responding to my customers' needs,” he says. “And mailing needs are growing ever more.”

Citiprint currently runs 14 to 18 hours a day. The new press is due to be installed in January 2007, and it will bring the shop up to speed with Prinect connectivity and a larger format, enabling Sumar and Jaffer to go after new business. “Now we have contacts to larger jobs and larger contracts, so we're not worried about how we are going to feed the new machine. I think it's going to happen,” says Sumar.

See www.expresslehighvalley.com.

Going all out
“We always have wanted something to differentiate us in the market place,” says J.B. Capuano, president of All Out, Inc. (Woodridge, IL). Capuano founded the company after working with Consolidated Graphics for several years after it bought his father's company, originally called Multiple Images Printing. “I saw which companies made the best margins, and we wanted to get away from the commoditization of our 40-inch market.”

In November 2005, Capuano decided to break away from Consolidated. And in February 2006, his new company bought a KBA Rapida 142 56-inch press. The new press will be installed in All Out's 25,000-sq.-ft. facility in July 2006.

“Buying the 56-inch KBA press differentiates us in the marketplace and gives us much more flexibility to produce a variety of work,” says Capuano. “We plan on competing better in our market and opening the new markets of POP and packaging. We also purchased a Kodak Nexpress for shorter runs and variable-data marketing. The new Rapida will allow us to produce all types of commercial work, as well as packaging and point-of-purchase, while the digital press, being installed in June 2006, will give us the ability to produce short-run personalized, variable work.”

All Out runs the Prinergy workflow and a VLF platesetter, both of which Kodak recently acquired with its purchase of Creo. Says Capuano, “We are a Creo group and always will be.” In postpress, the shop runs a Perfecta cutter and load turner, and MBO folders.

Bob Pawlicki, All Out account representative, says, “We did extensive research and looked at many presses from other manufacturers before we chose the KBA Rapida 142. We believe the KBA is the best. That, coupled with a brand new, state-of-the-art prepress department headed up by Craig Rehr, and we will be set.”

“I never considered used equipment, because we were stuck with used and we experienced being beat up by the new technology every day,” Capuano notes. “There was no way we would start up a new company without state of the art equipment. When we were a privately held company, we were always on the cutting edge of technology. Never the ‘bleeding edge,’ but the cutting edge. Having to justify everything to corporate became a losing battle.”

The Rapida 142 five-color sheetfed press with coater is equipped with Densitronic S closed loop color control, a combined density and color measuring system for quality control both during and after printing. Capuano chose to add an inline slitter at the delivery end of the press to give his firm the flexibility to cut the 56-inch sheets after printing into two-up jobs to fit the client's needs, thereby increasing speed and throughput, and decreasing waste.

Capuano says, “We had the option to equip the press with UV capabilities. We chose not to because we want to focus on one market at a time. In 18 months, we plan to purchase another Rapida 142 and dedicate it 100 percent to plastic substrates. Before that, a KBA Genius for small-run plastic jobs. Within five years, $20 million is our goal.”

See www.alloutprint.com.

Digital workflow streamlines hybrid work
Owners Steve Stone and Page Hereford launched Reproxdigital (St. Louis) in March 2005 with their acquisition of a company called Reprox. They moved the business into a new 25,000-sq.-ft. facility and kept a six-color Akiyama Bestech and Heidelberg GTO, then added a six-color MAN Roland 500 29-inch press with coater, a Xerox iGen3 and postpress equipment. The 24-employee shop's services include digital and high-end print production, variable-data printing (VDP), Web-to-print, versioning, e-mail and Web services, and direct mail and fulfillment.

Reproxdigital acquired the Roland 500 press in July 2005. “At the time, we were not ready to enter the 40-inch market,” says Stone. “But with the format, quick makereadies and speed of the 500, we felt we could compete with 40-inch [printers] on the small to midsize runs without moving into the 40-inch format.” Stone says he and Hereford considered used equipment, but when Stone told his MAN Roland rep their budget, the vendor was willing to work with him to get them the new press.

Stone and Hereford chose a digital workflow before deciding on the press format and platesetter. “The ability of the printnet PressManager system to remotely makeready the press is very important to us,” says Stone. “And the press' scanning densitometer lets us manage color more precisely. So with the Roland 500, we have the flexibility and responsiveness of a digital front-end with a press that delivers high-quality offset.” The PECOM system remotely sets up the press. “We also have developed workflows for reoccurring orders, for both conventional offset and digital,” he adds. “When orders come in off the Web, they fall into folders and are automatically released into the workflow based on set processes.”

The shop runs Kodak equipment on the front end. Says Stone, “Before I bought the company, the previous owner had been in discussions for almost a year about a new CTP device from Kodak. I did some additional due diligence, and felt the equipment, quality and service did meet our standards.”

VDP and versioning
Reproxdigital's iGen3 is its VDP mainstay, capable of producing a unique combination of graphics and text on each individual piece. While this level of personalization is desirable for some applications, the toner-based print production can be cost-prohibitive, in some cases.

“We often print the color graphics with the MAN Roland press, then use the iGen3 to print the variable data text,” Stone says. “Or we print variable-data text and images on one side of the piece with the iGen3 and use the Roland 500 to complete the piece. Thanks to the Roland 500's color management capabilities, all of the elements work well together.”

The shop also uses the new Roland 500 for versioning projects — printing small batches of different versions of a piece, with each lot targeting the interests of a specific audience segment. “You can be sure the prices [on a national chain restaurant's menu] in Arkansas are going to be different from those in New York City,” says Stone. “It's all fully versioned by each location, from the pricing to the food items offered.”

“Each project goes from the Internet portal, through our workflow, directly to a set of plates,” Stone explains. “They go right on the ROLAND 500, where printnet PressManager takes care of the settings. So we just have to plate and print. And when you're producing upwards of 350 versions, the resulting savings in time and costs can be considerable.”

Since launch, the company has doubled its sales. “We will more than likely triple the sales in the second year,” says Stone. “We have developed a lot of Web-to-print, which is a major push for us this year.

“Our marketing pitch is how we can aid our customers through digitally driven tactics,” he adds. “Our challenge now is reengineering their understanding of the different technologies available to them and how they can make a big difference in how they do business.” That requires providing a variety of flexible solutions. “We're finding that one size doesn't fit all, that you can't build it and they'll come,” he says. “You need to have the flexibility to wrap around the unique challenges of every job, not just offer an off-the-shelf solution.”

In March 2006, Reproxdigital captured 40 percent of the first place prizes in the St. Louis chapter AIGA 11 Show Awards. “Of the 50 first place winners, 20 came off our ROLAND 500,” Stone says.

Looking ahead, Stone says the shop will be looking for a 40-inch press in the near future, as well as additional digital devices. “Technology is our major push,” he says, “and we are developing some exciting programs and products that will benefit our customers and provide them tools, processes, and applications to enhance their services.”

See www.reproxdigital.com.

Attaining the ultimate
Janak Patel, owner of Ultimate Paper Box Co. (City of Industry, CA), built his print shop from a garage operation to a 40,000-sq.-ft. plant with 45 employees in only nine years. The company now operates around the clock Monday through Friday, with one shift on Saturday and Sunday.

Patel recently installed a Mitsubishi Diamond 3000LX 40-inch sheetfed press with aqueous coater — a move he hopes will take his company a new height. “We installed the Mitsubishi press to achieve more production, and that is what it has done,” he says. The press has only been in operation for a few months, but already Ultimate Paper Box is projecting 2006 revenues of about $12 million.

“Our presses were very effective, competitive tools for a long time,” Patel says. “But we reached a point where we were doing more 40-inch packaging work. It proved more efficient to add a 40-inch press. We now have the best configuration for our market.”

The company runs three additional six-color presses in 40-, 50- and 56-inch formats. Inline aqueous and UV coaters help shorten turnaround times and add distinction to printed packaging. Patel's customers are in the cosmetics, consumer electronics and retail food industries.

“We are seeing a lot of Mitsubishi presses in the marketplace that are performing very well for other printers,” Patel notes. “The Diamond 3000LX offered the most advanced technology for the price.”

The automated Diamond 3000LX is designed to print on a wide range of substrates. It accommodates substrate from 0.002-inch paper to 0.040-inch packaging board. Fast changeover capabilities allow press operators to switch from thin paper to heavy board quickly. Skeleton transfer cylinders with air management prevent smearing and marking problems. “We run paper all the way up to 36-point board,” Patel says. “The press gives us the flexibility to complete jobs faster without sacrificing quality or efficiency.”

Crazy about printing
Joy Gendusa founded a postcard design and print brokerage firm in 1998, and after four years in business, she says, “I swore I would never buy equipment — I would never manufacture. But we were growing in leaps and bounds, and I started to feel the effect of paper costs and rising prices.” She tried several printers in the area, but found that when her quality needs were met, other factors impacted her costs. “As a business owner, I wanted to determine my printing,” she says.

In late 2002, Gendusa attended a press vendor's open house. She says, “Just on a whim, I went with my vice president of operations, and we started to get excited about the potential of printing.” She took about a year to think it over, then called Chris Miller, who had handled her account in the past as plant manager for a local printer.

“I caught Chris just at the beginning of this process, in January 2004,” says Gendusa. “He consulted me on every piece of equipment. And he came to work for me in early 2005, right before we got our press.”

Miller is vice president of manufacturing for Postcardmania, Gendusa's 130-employee print business in Clearwater, FL. The 21,000-sq.-ft. plant produces about 3.5 million pieces a week.

A back-to-front approach
Gendusa stayed in tight communication with her printer while she transitioned her business to printing. “I gave him well over a year's notice,” she says. “I started buying the paper on my own, and doing the cutting, which took $150 off every run I was doing with him. We only have one UV laminator in the area, and he's in Tampa. So it would add two days to my turnaround time and a huge expense, about $9,000 a week, to farm out the UV. I wanted that piece of equipment right away.”

Gendusa adds, “Because I got an industrial development bond, I could spend that money at whatever speed I wanted to.”

The first piece of equipment she bought was a Wohlenberg cutting station. Miller says, “After the cutter, we got a UV varnishing unit, which is a Steinemann (Charlotte, NC) Colibri, a Swiss-made machine. We started with the finishing, and after that was up and running for seven months, we purchased a used Komori 28 five-color press with an aqueous coating unit, which we used from April 2005 on, while Komori was designing our new press in Japan. And we kept it — the aqueous coating seals the four-color printing on the top of the sheet, and once it's sealed we can take it right back to the UV coating machine without waiting half a day for it to dry. Thereby we increased our production by 75 percent — we're printing, UV coating and cutting all in the same day.”

Miller has worked in the industry since 1976, and says that whenever he had a tough job to run on stock that was thicker than 12 pt., he and the other press operators would wish for a Komori press. “Because of their oversized transfer cylinders, the paper would go through a lot easier,” he explains. “That was way back when. Now, Heidelberg has come out with its CD press, which is similar to the Komori. But to get the CD press, you're looking at a lot more money.”

The new press Komori built for Postcardmania is a 1/4 Komori Lithrone 28 perfector, which was operational in October 2005. Miller describes the setup: “The first unit is UV black ink only for the back side of the postcards, followed by UV drying, perfecting, four-color printing on the front side, then aqueous coating. We use a UV varnishing machine offline and cut product on the Wohlenberg.

“Komori wanted us to buy a different type of press,” Miller adds. “They said we didn't really need the UV black. And I told them why we needed the UV black: so we can do so many millions of cards, quickly. They said, ‘OK, we'll design it for you.’ I understand there are only two others like it, and they're over in Europe somewhere.”

Prepress manager Mike Custer helped upgrade the company's front end, minimizing the cost of getting up to the speed and quality levels needed for the transition from design agency to prepress. They bought an Agfa :Apogee workflow and a Palladio violet-laser platesetter.

Postcardmania recently started producing brochures, adding a folder to its equipment lineup and expanding its mailing services to envelope insertion. The shop also sells mailing lists. “We're looking at putting campaign packages together with printing, mailing and opt-in e-mail to go along with the postcards, to help people get a better response,” says Gendusa.

Gendusa and Miller expect Postcardmania to grow into a 40-inch eight-color perfector with UV, before too long. “I watch what's happening with our statistics and our growth before I make any decisions,” says Gendusa. “If I'm not growing, I'm shrinking.”

See www.postcardmania.com.


Denise Kapel is managing editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at dkapel@americanprinter.com.



All in the family
Running a family business comes with a special set of challenges and benefits. Each person involved brings certain skills to the table; the rest are recruited from outside. Often, family businesses are handed off from generation to generation, evolving with the times as each new owner takes the helm. Steve Woods took a different tack.

Woods worked in his parents' business full-time for 15 years, then his father — two-time Sappi North American Printer of the Year Frank Woods — sold the company to a consolidator. Father and son stayed on to run the division it became for the new owners, then Frank retired and Steve became division president.

In October 2003, Steve left to found Steve Woods Printing Co. (SWPC) with his wife, Teresa, bringing the Woods family business full circle. The new shop, a 28,000-sq.-ft. facility in Phoenix with 35 employees, was up and running in May 2004. “Early on, it was myself, my dad and my wife,” says Woods. “And the lead pressman in our company, Jeff Schroder, came on board fairly early. He and I started at my dad's company in 1983.”

Woods says it was advantageous to start his shop with a blank slate: “We had an opportunity to shape the facility, the environment and the equipment to reflect some of the advancements in information handling and in production. Because — and this is true across our industry — when you purchase equipment and technology, you position yourself in time. Things continue to evolve, and it becomes much more difficult to retool down the road than it is to start from scratch. I knew the kind of print I had sold for nearly 20 years and what the company was going to look like, for the most part. Among the differences at SWPC, we chose to add a small press format and direct mail capabilities to the 40-inch environment.”

Woods uses Heidelberg's Prinance information system to manage his business — a product used in his father's old shop. “It would have been very difficult to transition to a new system and move all of the information over,” he says. “There was never a doubt that Heidelberg was going to be that information-handling end. Then, Komori really stepped up on the equipment side.” The company runs two Komori 40-inch presses with coaters — one six-color and one eight-color — with CIP4 integration to a Heidelberg Polar cutter. He also purchased a seven-color HP Indigo 3050 digital press, which runs the shop's small-format and variable-data jobs. (For more on SWPC's variable-data printing, see “Expert advice,” July 2005.)

SWPC's prepress department runs CTP platesetters from Enovation, and proofers from Fuji/Enovation and HP. The company uses Printable for Web-to-print.

“Because we took off the way we did, we're flying at 30,000 feet and find now it's time to work on the engines,” Woods quips. “If I were going to tune up my plant, it probably would be postpress equipment. I've already revamped the equipment in our prepress area, because in the computer world, it's like dog years — it moves a lot faster. I think we'll have to retool our pressroom within the next five years. We feel very fortunate. I think the equipment that we have and the opportunity that we had to get it is very good. But it's a very dynamic time in the industry, and we must continue to evolve.”

See www.stevewoodsprinting.com.