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September 2005

Technology Editor

Carrying the name "Toppan" is a lot for a company to live up to in the printing industry. . .and beyond, for that matter. From its headquarters in Tokyo, the company has expanded to reportedly become one of the top two printers (commercial and publications) globally. It also has branched out into the security and cards, packaging, industrial materials, electronics and e-business solutions markets, raising its current total employment to more than 33,000 people.

Along with its commercial operations, Toppan Printing has built its own Technical Research Institute and says it invested about $120 million in research and development. The company also established a printing museum in Tokyo.

Seishi Tanoue (left), president and CEO of Toppan Printing Company America, and Minoru Kamigahira, senior vice president of sales, discuss company operations with one of the printer's two Xerox iGen3 digital color presses as a backdrop.
Toppan Printing Company America, in Somerset, NJ, has been a part of the mix for some 40 years. It was started as a prepress business primarily serving domestic publishers, with subsequent production done in Asia, notes President and CEO Seishi Tanoue.

Since 2004, the U.S. division has been at the forefront of the organization's digital printing efforts, which includes installing two Xerox iGen3 digital color printing systems.

"We want to be the high-quality digital service in the United States," Tanoue says. "We're proud of the high quality (offset) printing we do. It's not easy to match that standard with digital printing, but we believe we can achieve our goal."

Penetrating Markets

The company looked to get into digital printing to diversify its services, but also to gain deeper market penetration of its traditional offerings, Tanoue adds. Books still account for the biggest portion of its business, followed by general commercial and catalog work. The local operation ranks among the top 100 North American printers, with $70 million in 2004 sales, a staff of approximately 135 people and one plant covering 210,000 square feet.

While it focuses on the local market, part of Toppan America's selling proposition derives from what it terms "Global Split Production." That is the ability to call upon resources across the globe to meet customer requirements for quality, delivery and costs, according to Gavin Jordan-Smith, director of digital communications.

"If a customer is looking for 100 pieces, the job goes to one of our Xerox iGen3 digital presses. For 5,000 pieces, we'd use a 40˝ offset press. Or, if a customer is willing to wait four weeks, we can send the job to Asia and produce it for one-third the cost," Jordan-Smith explains.

"We consider ourselves to be a global partner for global businesses," he continues. "That means a lot to our customer base, which includes many Fortune 500 companies."

The shop currently has four 40˝ sheetfed presses, with the flagship being a 10-color Heidelberg Speedmaster 102 perfector, according to George Luthcke, senior operations manager. The other multicolor presses are a mix of Mitsubishi and Komori machines. All are fed plates by two Screen (USA) PT-R 8000 thermal platesetters driven by Rampage RIPs.

"We have full prepress capabilities and are 99.9 percent electronic," Luthcke notes. "We have one client that still insists on using film."

Having the right tools is important, but "our secret weapon is our people," Luthcke says. He characterizes himself as one of the "babies," with a mere 10 years of service, as compared to the more than 20 years or even 30 years many of the employees have been with the company.

In a bit of a departure for a printing company, one person who plays a central role for the entire plant is the quality assurance manager, John Weston. "John is responsible for quality in every facet of our operation, right out the door in shipping," observes the senior operations manager.

Aiding Weston's efforts is a tool not well known outside of Toppan, the Kensa KS-420 proof checking device. The camera/scanner and monitor-based system is used to spot any differences between a proof and original copy. The easiest way to describe its operation is as the electronic equivalent of overlaying two like pieces of film on a light table and looking for places where they differ.

The printer has formalized its attention to detail by implementing statistical process control (SPC) and is ISO 9001 certified, points out Jordan-Smith. It also is ISO 14001 certified as part of its commitment to ecology and has implemented a set of environmentally friendly printing practices that it has branded "Eco-Shield."

"We are proud of our dual ISO certification. That distinction is only held by a few companies," he adds.

According to Jordan-Smith, Toppan America did consider the option of treating digital printing as a separate business, but decided its market demanded the process be held to the same production standard as offset.

"That means every job that comes in goes through the same desktop publishing department," he says. "We've adopted a PDF workflow for efficiency reasons. The goal is to manage that workflow for efficiency irrespective of the printing engine that will be used."

Color Specialists

Toppan corporate already had established a practice of having a color management specialist at each of its facilities before the U.S. operation added its first digital color press, according to Jordan-Smith. "These are full-time engineers that understand color," he says.

When the shop put in its first iGen3, the staff was trained to use SPC and color measurement technology. "We've built profiles that allow us to go seamlessly from digital to offset," notes the digital specialist. "The quality difference between offset and digital can virtually disappear. We're not saying it's going to be the same, though, since it's important to create the right expectation from the customer's perspective."

Having a controlled environment with real color expertise in place is key to getting the most from digital printing, but the characteristics of the device itself also are important, Jordan-Smith says. He points out that Toppan America has been carefully evaluating digital color for the past five years, but it wasn't until last year that the company decided to invest in a press.

"We chose the iGen3, and that wasn't a small feat," Jordan-Smith remarks. "The organization already had some 20 HP Indigo presses installed in Japan, which it continues to operate, and owns approximately 25 percent of Toyo Ink, which manufactures ink for the presses. In addition, globally it has a strong relationship with Heidelberg that spans more than 100 web and sheetfed offset presses.

"Our choice was based on the machine's production characteristics, which we feel outweigh some of the characteristics of competitors in the marketplace." He says that one key differentiating feature is the greater color gamut of the iGen3 compared to the standard four-color printing of other presses.

"We can now manage corporate identity through a variable data print stream and repeat it week after week," he explains. "If you can combine color management with variable data printing, you've got yourself a solution that no other digital printer is providing."

Jordan-Smith considers Pantone Inc. to be a partner in Toppan America's digital efforts. He believes the digital chip book that company is now producing is a very important tool for commercial printers in communicating more effectively with customers about color expectations.

"Our commercial printing clients expect the highest quality, including hitting their PMS colors for corporate branding," reports the digital specialist. "The iGen3 can produce a color product that is acceptable to our traditional customers."

In terms of the broader question of getting into digital printing, Jordan-Smith says the company had no choice but to make the move. "We are seeing volumes drastically reducing and having to rapidly increase the number of jobs we produce in order to maintain revenue levels," he observes.

Quick to Profit

In the first 12 months since installing its first digital press, Toppan America reports bringing in 110 new customers as a result of offering both digital and offset solutions. Its overall growth rate increased by an average of 19 percent and the company has enjoyed higher profit margins on its digital work.

"We've generated $2.6 million in new revenue from those new clients and expect that business to triple in the next few years," Jordan-Smith reports. "We see gaining new customers, building seamless workflows for them, and making it worthwhile for our customers—as well as us—to work together as a key strategy in building our business."

Solution-driven applications are driving revenue increases in Toppan's core business of commercial printing, including offset. "It's wonderful to put together a successful variable campaign for a client and then have the buyer call in a couple of weeks and say, 'I have a really big offset job,' " Jordan-Smith says.

To help build its overall business, the printer has created some 35 hybrid opportunities that combine offset and digital production in the same job. On the all-digital side, it has made a big push into "books of one" production.

Toppan started by partnering with a local firm with case binding capabilities, called Bridgeport Bindery, and the business has now grown to the point where the printer sees a need to also install its own case binding line in-house.

As for what comes next, Jordan-Smith says the company is focusing on expanding its implementation of electronic solutions to communicate with customers quickly and efficiently. Included in the mix are e-business systems, online fulfillment and Web-to-print interfaces for variable data printing.

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