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Wide-format digital leads to unexpected opportunities

In today's competitive environment, graphic imagers are looking for cost-effective ways to add value, diversify their product reach and gain entry into new markets. To achieve these goals, as well as meeting the growing number of client demands, these two SGIA member companies decided to invest in greater production throughput — and that meant going digital.

Premier Press

For more than 35 years, Premier Press, based in Portland, OR, has offered a wide range of printing solutions. Once a traditional offset printer utilizing a variety of small one- to two-color presses and large 40-inch, six-color presses, today they are adopting new technologies that allow them to provide better quality and better service.

Around nine years ago, the company expanded into digital printing with an HP Indigo press. According to Chris Feryn, president of Premier Press, it wasn't long after that when they realized the potential for wide-format production equipment, and that it could start replacing some of their short-run offset printing.

"The print quality did not initially match offset but it was a more cost-effective production process for smaller quantities," Feryn explains. "Discussions with some of our larger customers also revealed that they were already purchasing wide-format graphics from other vendors."

Making the digital wide-format move

In 2005, the company started with a roll-fed inkjet device and followed up with a UV flatbed printer a year later. One of the more recent equipment purchases for the company is the Durst Rho 800, acquired in 2009.

According to Feryn, the company had a fair amount of success in the market at this point because many clients already had wide-format needs. With two production shifts already in place, they were starting to have concerns about being able to meet production demands. Wide-format production often is dominated by run times because the print speeds are so much slower than offset printing.

"In the offset world, the time to print 100 versus 200 pieces is almost identical," says Feryn. "Take the same scenario for wide-format and you basically double your production time. The new Durst printer helped to increase our production capacity and meet our customer demands."

Seamless workflow

As with any new technologies, there are always unknowns. Because wide-format UV print technology allows you to work with a wide variety of materials, Feryn says there was a learning curve to understand the best application for each substrate. This required multiple training sessions for the company's account managers and production planners. Adapting the management information system to support wide-format production took some experimenting. It was critical for the company to manage the production through the same system since many projects now had a mixture of wide-format and conventional production techniques.

One of the primary benefits the company has found with digital capability is that there's potential to cross sell between offset, digital and wide-format printing. This is especially important because customers like to have one vendor that is completely responsible for the project.

"There are definite benefits to the customer with our capability to color match all of their project elements produced using the different production processes," says Feryn. "We are seeing the wide-format investment as a way to help replace the offset printing that is decreasing."

Miller Zell Inc.

For nearly four decades, Atlanta-based Miller Zell, Inc., a retail design firm, has represented all fields of retail, including design, store implementation, shopper marketing, consumer insights and retail research and analysis.

In 2009, Miller Zell invested in the VUTEk GS3200 UV printer from EFI. With digital wide-format capability, they were able to more easily regionalize messages and provide near just-in-time inventory replenishment. According to Ford Bowers, general manager of Miller Zell's print division, the company was able to convert a substantial portion of their screen work to digital in just a few short months after installing the new press. It also allowed the company to bring virtually all of its digital printing for prototyping projects in-house.

"The investment was specifically designed to provide more in-house throughput for flexible and rigid digital work that was previously outsourced," says Bowers. "We needed to convert shorter run screen work to digital output. The return on investment and the hybrid format on the press were critical in making the purchase."

Overcoming challenges

A main concern for the company, prior to installing a new machine, was to create flawless workflows between all screen, litho and digital outputs while tightly managing color across the board. One project, for example, presented a number of corporate color matching challenges.

A multi-store rollout for a national grocery chain consisted of interior POP displays and signage that required a combination of both rigid and flexible substrates. Bowers reports that G7 methodology and the printer's Fiery XF RIP color management solution mitigated what otherwise could have been a more painful process.

"We found that we were able to match the color produced on various substrates and come in at a substantially lower price-point than screen printing," says Bowers. "Our work with EFI as well as Nazdar Consulting Services has helped make the process as smooth as could be expected."

More business means more technology

Flash forward two years and the company now has a second GS3200 printer on its production floor. According to Bowers, they have enough business to run both machines around the clock, five to six days a week. In addition to the two flatbeds, the company installed an Inca S20 last year, which has allowed it to convert even more of its analog printing to digital.

"Two years ago we had no digital printing in-house, and now we have four digital machines," says Bowers. "We quickly went from zero internal revenue dollars to 35% with digital. Investing in more digital capability also has decreased our overtime-manual labor by 50% and temporary help by 30%. All in all, digital means less to operate and less labor."

Expanding into new markets

In addition to producing cutting-edge wide-format POP and other in-store signage, Miller Zell prides itself in offering digital signage solutions to customers. Digital signage has become a strong complementary component in retail settings, where dynamic and static signage can work together to create a unique, interactive customer experience.

The company's digital signage efforts started about five years ago with one person: Today, Rick Barrick, vice president of new media, leads the company's digital signage department by developing and maintaining a complete suite of new media tools that are supportive of their clients' goals. The team is made up of content strategy and creation personnel, technology managers, as well as network design and maintenance operators.

When asked about why the company decided to offer these services, Barrick explains it was the customers who got the ball rolling. Requests for digital signage came in waves from clients, and on top of static signage, this was something that they wanted to incorporate into their entire store layout.

"Our team's overriding sentiment about offering digital signage was that we can no longer just be involved with store design; our focus has to be on overall store communications," Barrick says. "Digital media is all about delivering the right message at the right time, and if we were going to get more involved in this business, we needed to start concentrating on impacting in-store solutions."

From idea to implementation

One of Miller Zell's longtime digital signage accounts is with MetroPCS, a nationwide cell phone provider that offers wireless service on a pay-as-you-go basis. Without the year-long contracts, the company frequently has a lot of foot traffic in their stores. Instead of going online, about two-thirds of MetroPCS customer base comes to its stores when signing up for a phone plan or to pay a bill.

The challenge for Miller Zell was to develop a way the company could better communicate with customers while they wait in line at their 150-plus store locations. According to Barrick, Miller Zell designed a network called MetroVISION that was geared toward entertaining customers.

"Because customers aren't always in the best mood while they wait in line, we decided to implement digital displays that feature music artists thanking the customer for coming out to MetroPCS. It created a halo effect with the pop industry," says Barrick. "We also created clips that documented customers. These were kind of a 'day in the life of a Metro customer' commercial, which really gave a human face to the brand."

According to Barrick, digital signage also leverages the power of media to describe services. So not only were customers being entertained, they were also learning how to use a phone device before they even bought it. Some of these commercials had a humorous element, which always resonates well with people, but most importantly, they showed customers how to use the company's product.

Taking color to the next level with G7

Miller Zell Inc. and Premier Press are both G7 qualified printers. G7 methodology uses the latest color management practices and tools to produce visually accurate color across all output devices. SGIA backs G7 as the preferred color management method in the specialty imaging industry and provides members with a 25 percent discount on Nazdar Consulting services. For more details, visit SGIA.org, Keyword: G7.

Succeeding with emerging technologies

The latest digital technologies and applications have played a major role in helping imaging businesses deliver new and exciting value to their customers. Equipment manufacturers have continued to push the limits of digital technology and have broken through the production barrier. In a short time they’ve advanced the technology so that it not only meets short-run imaging needs, but it also meets the needs of high-production graphic producers.

Digital signage also continues to be an exciting opportunity in the specialty imaging industry. By establishing the right partnerships, graphic imagers are in a great position to offer a full suite of signage to their customers.

"It’s incredible when you stop and think about how far the technology has come in just a few years — and the timing couldn’t be better," says Michael Robertson, SGIA president and CEO. "Emerging technologies are helping graphic producers improve their competitive position when they need it the most."

SGIA Expo

The 2011 SGIA Expo (New Orleans, October 19–21) offers the hottest markets, innovative technology and best opportunities to be profitable. Meet up with industry experts on the trade show floor or in educational sessions to see how specialty imaging can add revenue to your company’s bottom line.

Expo Highlights

Pre-Expo Business Development Conference: This exciting half-day event — the day before the Expo opens — will show you how to position your business to sell beyond the print.

Expo floor: Witness the broadest range of digital imaging equipment from today's leading suppliers and manufacturers.

Narrow-Format Zone: See how imagers are adding narrow-format capabilities to offer labels, small POP components, nameplates and much more.

Digital Signage Zone: Learn how to diversify your business with dynamic digital signage workflow and establish contacts for future partnerships.

PDAA Graphics Application Zone: Connect with Professional Decal Application Alliance (PDDA) Master Certified Installers in this sales-free demonstration area and learn how graphics application can help you offer customers total imaging solutions.

Educational Sessions: Get on the Graphic & Sign educational track and learn about the latest industry issues.

Expo Hours

Wednesday, October 19 9:30 am–5:00 pm

Thursday, October 20 9:30 am–5:00 pm

Friday, October 21 9:30 am–4:30 pm

SGIA.org, Keyword: 2011Expo

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