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Fenton Press--Web Wonders

September 1999
A second-generation printing company, Addison, IL-based Fenton Press has always adopted a progressive philosophy when it comes to making decisions about the company's growth. That philosophy still holds true today.

With a strong belief in the management principles of gurus like Stephen Covey and William Deming, Fenton Press President Alan Tobiason believes that human resources are his company's greatest asset, followed by its use of quality equipment and the most up-to-date technology on the market.

An active force in Fenton's ISO 9000 certification, Tobiason backs up his beliefs with a commitment to training that involves leadership, as well as technical seminars. Employing a team philosophy throughout the organization, he says Fenton decisions are made via the input of six goal-directed teams that meet regularly.

In 1998, Tobiason and his partner, Daniel Blagaich, Fenton's vice president of sales and marketing, made sweeping changes in an effort to streamline the company's operations. Traditionally a trade printer and a printer for high quality direct marketers, Fenton's business depended on a multitude of brokers. This was causing the business to be price-driven and was not the philosophy that originally built the Fenton operation, nor was it the one that Tobiason and Blagaich wanted to take into the new millennium.

Boldy Changing Face
Together, they made a bold decision to change the face of the company by eliminating the broker business and focusing on the direct marketing and agency work. This would allow them to produce the quality work for which they were most proud. The decision, while ultimately a good one for Fenton, initially caused the firm to lose 25 percent of its business.

With the imperative need to replace this lost business and stand behind its mission to be a premium printer for high-end agency and corporate communications work, two things had to happen at Fenton: First, a sales force had to be trained to go after the targeted business and, second, a printing press that would deliver a top quality product would have to be purchased.

Before securing this high quality press, specifically an eight-page web offset unit capable of providing a high fidelity product comparable to sheetfed, Fenton needed to look at the bigger production picture. At that time, 15 percent of total production was already obtained on an eight-page web, while 85 percent was obtained in sheetfed printing. Fenton execs were very close to making a decision in favor of a competing press manufacturer; however, at the last minute, they agreed to visit two operations—one at Straus Printing in Wisconsin and a second at American Spirit in Iowa—both sites of recent Hantish/Zirkon installations.

After witnessing firsthand the high performance in both quality and productivity, Tobiason and Blagaich changed their minds. Tobiason says he and Blagaich had no doubt that the Hantish/Zirkon from Hantish International was the way to go.

Blagaich noted three primary reasons for selecting the Model 6611:

  • Print quality—due to good cylinder stack design; ease of setting up the dampening system; ease of form roller setup that did not require subsequent adjustment; and the use of helical gears in the unit drive, which helps to minimize print disturbance.

  • Durability—the unit is well built and solid, weighing in at 11,000 lbs.

  • Dependability—the 6611 already has around 60 million impressions in about seven months, which helps with scheduling work.

Blagaich, a former pressman who serves on Fenton's safety team, says the OSHA-compliant guarding that is fitted on the 6611 was also an important feature of the press, as was the unit's high speed capability of 50,000 impressions per hour.

Other significant features/capabilities of the 6611 that were considered in the decision were: the unit's segmented ink fountain blade, which allows accurate color setting for customer approvals (from complete standstill through plate change, Blagaich claims color and registration match-to-saved copies normally takes about 25 minutes); good operator accessibility; decreased make-ready time due to the machine's ability to preset the next job while running the current job; and reduced makeready due to the ability to split the press and makeready the units at the same time as preparing the perforator and sheeter.

In operation for only 10 months, the 6611 permitted Fenton Press to completely offset its previous production ratio—that of 15 percent web offset and 85 percent sheetfed—to its current ratio of 45 percent web and 55 percent sheetfed work.

During these initial months of operation, Fenton execs conferred with staffers, namely the press operators, what they thought of the new press.

Bill Bauer, Fenton's day shift pressman, has been involved with the 6611 from the beginning of the press startup. Bauer, who also works with the other web and sheetfed presses at Fenton, believes the machine "compares very well to the quality of the sheetfed presses. It holds color, including the ink and water balance, very well through the entire press speed range. The same applies to the registration. The machine runs good solids that hold well over all screens," he says.

"Mid-tone reproduction on some jobs is better than can be achieved on some of the sheetfed presses. With this kind of quality, it's easy to get color approvals from customers. Very small adjustments can be made to satisfy customer requests for color balance.

"The machine is user-friendly, providing the operator with good access for plate and blanket installation, as well as roller adjustments. Plus, the makeready process has been reduced. Makeready waste is around 3,000 to 3,500 impressions. This represents about 45 percent less waste than before," concludes Bauer, who notes that the press is quiet when running and that the support from Hantish International "has been good."

Mark Fickenscher, another day shift pressman and a 24-year industry veteran, claims the 6611's ability to "split the press and makeready on the printing units—at the same time as preparing the perforator and sheeter—results in a faster make-ready process."

The 6611 operates with a three-man crew, and Fickenscher says each crew can make the plates and be up and running quickly. Also, he says form roller setup is easy and, once set, the rollers require very little attention.

"The press holds all its settings, even when running at 50,000 impressions—the press' top speed. If a plate needs to be changed during a run, when the press is restarted, the color is right there," says Ficken-scher, who makes special note that the sheetfed jobs can be switched onto webs, since the printing quality of the 6611 is "superior to other webs in the market and absolutely comparable to sheetfed."

To satisfy the growing demand of customers such as Rand McNally, USA Bank and Draft Worldwide, as well as the high-end agency business, Fenton Press must provide a top quality product, backed with exceptional service. To meet these requirements, Fenton decided to buy a second Zirkon 6611.

"Consistent speed at 50,000 has allowed the Zirkon to deliver 75,000 impressions by operating three shifts, 24 hours a day," explains Tobiason. "Besides the quality of the press and its performance, the type of support we get from Hantish is superb. More than a supplier, Hantish is a partner...attentive to our needs and expectations."

Fenton ranks in the top 300 printers and has pushed its business to $25 million, with plans to reach $30 million by the year 2000. Tobiason says, that with a partner like Hantish International and the Zirkon 6611, Fenton is already on its way.

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