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SUPERIOR PRINTING -- A Waterless Wonder

April 2002
Jeff Hill will be the first to admit he knows very little about the printing industry. After all, the 46-year-old Youngstown, OH, native cut his teeth in the communications field.

But Hill is a successful businessman. And despite a limited printing background, he knew that Superior Printing was on the verge of something special when he looked into purchasing the company.

"I wanted to stay in this area because I'm from here," explains Hill when describing his February 2000 acquisition of the Warren, OH, business. "I saw this company and the technology it invested in, and it was a great opportunity.

"We bought a lot of printing at the company I worked for previously, and I was responsible for the operations and the marketing," he adds. "I understood what an important role the printing process played in marketing communications with other companies. I recognized what quality printing was and how important it was to a company."

The technology Hill speaks highly of is waterless printing, a process Superior began to focus on eight years ago. In 1998, the company took another step forward by adding computer-to-plate (CTP) equipment. According to Vice President of Sales Bill Frey, Superior is one of only a few printers nationally that has the capability of printing every job waterless and CTP.

"We're in the position right now to be one of the few in the country to speak specifically to those that are looking for computer-to-plate, waterless printing," Frey notes.

What Is Waterless?

For the uninitiated, waterless printing eliminates the water, or dampening system, used in conventional offset printing. As a result, print quality is improved, productivity is enhanced and waste is reduced.

Waterless printing also has added benefits to the environment. It eliminates fountain solution, including etch and alcohol. By eliminating the fountain solution, the consumption of water and the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere stops.

Faster makereadies are achieved, reducing paper waste and saving energy through the reduction of press running time. And a computer-to-plate workflow eliminates chemicals and materials necessary to output film for proofing and reproofing, as well as for the final film output.

The process of going waterless first began in 1996 when Superior purchased two eight-color Heidelberg Speedmaster CD presses with in-line coaters and a four-color Heidelberg with two-over-two perfecting capabilities. But despite the quality pressroom equipment, becoming a waterless operation was not an easy transformation.

"There were some concerns finding a viable computer-to-plate waterless plate," Frey recalls. "We struggled with that internally as a company because we wanted to be computer-to-plate."

Superior was forced to output film to make its waterless plates and the switching from computer-to-plate back to conventional created problems with the workflow. The company also had difficulties lining up suppliers and fine-tuning the new technology. That's around the time Hill came on the scene.

"I tried to really make sure that everybody was involved and participating," Hill reports. Frey noticed Hill's dedication to the push for waterless early after Hill took over control of the 88-employee company.

"He has maintained and even moved along our focus to be a waterless printer," Frey adds. "I specifically recall a meeting where he said he got into this with the understanding that he was buying a waterless printing operation. That was important to him because, even with his limited background in printing, he recognized that we had a unique product to take to market."

The Finished Product

About two years ago, Superior finally developed a viable, digital plate. Now, Frey informs, around 99 percent of Superior's work is done waterless. It produces high-end, environmentally sensitive printed literature for the art, food, automotive and financial markets, as well as decorative and building products.

The company was also the recipient of two PIA "Benny" awards in 2001 for its printing of the "Wilderness Collections Coffee Table Book" printed for its customer The Lough Road Art Galleries of Portland, OR. The book was entered under the categories "Waterless Printing" and "Environmentally Sound Materials" and won a Benny for each entry.

Though the quest for a CTP workflow combined with waterless printing has been costly, Superior has been able to recoup its investment by offering customers high-end products.

"There is going to be a continuous focus on the market segments that we have identified and I think we'll see continued growth in that area," Frey predicts.

Hill echoes Frey's view of Superior's future. "We must continue to push technology," he states. "For its entire existence, this company has been totally committed to technology."

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