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Minors Printing -- Staying Ahead of the Game

September 2004
Few people could have foreseen the myriad of changes that would overtake the commercial printing industry during the three decades that followed the time Minors Printing, of Boone, NC, opened for business in 1972. Job turnarounds that had been gauged in terms of weeks are now measured in days and, in the most extreme cases, even hours. Then there's the constantly escalating pressure to control costs and increase productivity in order to remain competitive. And, finally, there's the impact new technology continues to have on everything from prepress through finishing.

Phil Minor greets Luis Campos, Vijuk bindery consultant, who stopped in to see how his commercial printing business and the 321-T saddlestitcher are doing.
Considering that the company is currently making the jump to digital printing, and recently invested in one of the most technically sophisticated collating/stitching/ trimming systems available, Phillip Minor, president of Minors Printing, would most assuredly agree that the commercial printing business is a whole new ball game.

Humble Beginnings

"We were the only commercial print shop in the area when my father Joe started the business in '72 with one employee and a single duplicating machine," says Minor, who joined the family business in 1990 after a career in the U.S. Navy. Today, the 22 people employed at Minors deliver up to $3 million worth of general commercial printing services to a variety of customers throughout a breathtakingly scenic northwest North Carolina market region that touches on parts of South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

The company's production capabilities include a two-color Heidelberg and a four-color half-size Shinohara supported by full computer-to-plate capabilities, a well-equipped bindery and a bulk mail center for fulfillment.

Jan Moretz, Minor's sister and the company's vice president and co-owner, points to a reputation for exceptional customer service as the prime reason for the organization's steady growth over the past 30 years. However, while a highly personalized approach to customers' needs continues to be critical, she can't help but acknowledge the role technology and the ability to respond to changing markets will play in the company's future.

"It's definitely a digital world, and we see definite advantages to putting this technology to work for us," states Moretz. "Excellent service helps us keep the customers we've had for years, but it's new technology that will open doors to new business and new markets."

Minors Printing has clearly committed itself to new technology, as evidenced by the recent acquisition of a four-color, 20.5x29˝ KBA 74 Karat digital press. Soon to be the only 29˝ digital waterless offset printing system in the Carolinas or Tennessee, it provides direct imaging on-press, making it especially well suited for the short-run, quick-turnaround jobs that Minor says is a trend that shows no signs of letting up.

"We're also looking at packaging as a potential growth area," says Minor. "Digital printing will enable us to respond to packaging customers that demand high levels of quality, but who also insist on the flexibility necessary to handle small quantities with faster turnaround."

Essential to its growth plans, particularly in terms of increasing trade business, Minors Printing also installed a Vijuk 321-T saddlestitcher in December 2003. According to Minor, the need to enhance this aspect of their finishing operations came to light the previous summer. "I can recall one job of about 60,000 books where finished quality surfaced as a real issue," says Minor. "That's when we started thinking seriously about a saddlestitching system. After looking at what was available, we came to the conclusion that—in terms of cost and performance—the Vijuk machine was the best value for us."

Jon Shelton, production manager, credits the 321-T for substantially streamlining Minors' overall postpress operations. "In the past we were making books at speeds in the neighborhood of 1,200 an hour, which raised quality concerns and often caused bottlenecks in production, especially on longer run jobs." Shelton reports that the new stitcher allows them to run at cycle speeds approaching 8,000 books an hour, while maintaining quality levels he defines as "right on the money."

Productive Features

The stitcher's many advanced features contribute to the high-quality, high-volume production. The flying stitching mechanism eliminates stop-and-go motion in the stitching process for steady, high-speed production.

Paul Cooper, another Minors operator, notes the host of electronic sensing technology that ensures quality production step-by-step. The pockets each have photocell and caliper-type devices to detect missing and double signatures, ejecting any incomplete product. When the booklet is completely collated, an oblique monitor checks for proper alignment, followed by a caliper that confirms a complete booklet before stitching. "If a signature is missing or misaligned, the machine won't stitch the book. Instead, it kicks it out, and production goes on uninterrupted," says Cooper. The new missing-stitch sensor will eject a booklet before it goes into the trimmer, reducing product waste.

Operator Beth Fields was also immediately impressed with the machine's versatility. "Usually we run the machine for collating, stitching and trimming signatures either one- or two-up. But the machine is also easy to set up to do collating, stitching or trimming as separate functions, or in any combination."

Work Keeps Increasing

Chris Earp, bindery manager, foresees a substantial increase in the amount of trade work coming into his department with the addition of the integrated collating/stitching/ trimming system. "Just recently we took in a job of 350,000 printed 9x4˝ booklets...and we had just a few days to turnaround the first 100,000 books for delivery in New York. Frankly, we could never have taken on a job like this before the new machine."

Minor agrees that recent machinery acquisitions like the Vijuk collator/stitcher are playing a significant role in the company's growth. "The new stitcher is already helping us get additional trade bindery work from some larger printers." The company's geographical location figures in his confidence that this expansion of postpress capabilities will ultimately result in more commercial printing business.

"Northwest North Carolina is a beautiful area, but it is a little off the beaten path. So contracting out bindery work to places as far away as Winston-Salem or Charlotte isn't always feasible. First, there's the additional transportation costs involved. Secondly, extra time must be allotted for communicating and delivering the job. In terms of meeting customers' deadlines and budgets, being able to perform finishing work on this scale puts us on a much better footing to compete on all kinds of work."

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