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Unigraphic Inc. : Widening the (Digital) Gap

June 2012 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
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New England has long enjoyed a string of disruptive influences. Paul Revere stirred the masses against the British, and even helped chuck some Lipton overboard during the Boston Tea Party in 1773. William Lloyd Garrison founded the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, calling for the emancipation of all slaves. A number of Beantown writers left their mark on society, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. And Ralph Waldo Emerson challenged us through his essays and poems.

(And, for you sports fans, we couldn’t possibly leave out the 2004 Boston Red Sox and their improbable comeback from a 3-0 series deficit against the arch-rival New York Yankees en route to the eventual World Series title. So, we’ll add Dave Roberts and his game four steal of second while trailing by a run in the ninth inning.)

Well, not quite a half-hour north of Boston is one of the printing industry’s noise makers, a firm that is well aware that change can be necessary and good. UniGraphic Inc., of Woburn, MA, has witnessed a revolution of its own since its 1964 founding as a prepress house. Certainly, any printing company that has survived nearly 50 years has needed to make adjustments along the way in order to keep the doors open. But the brother trio of Bob, Mike and Jack Quinlan have grown their business from roughly a $19 million entity in 2008 to $31 million in revenues last year, with targeted sales of $38 million for 2012.

Sure, some of the boost in sales was aided by the acquisition of two firms: Synergy Graphics of Wilmington, MA, in 2005 and Vermillion of Derry, NH, in 2009. But the Quinlans have been aggressive in their approach to growth since acquiring the firm in September of 2000. UniGraphic was a straight-ahead commercial printer at that point but, within the next eight years, the firm would add wide- and super-wide-format printing, digital printing, direct mail and fulfillment to its menu.

“I was always pushing the previous owners to diversify and grow,” explains Bob Quinlan, president. “After we bought the company, we added wide-format the next year, then digital printing the following year. We’re on our fourth generation of HP Indigo. 

“About four years ago, we moved into direct mail. It seemed that at every single new business pitch in which I participated, the customer was looking for a full-service shop. We’ve become very sophisticated with mailing, and we’re now HIPAA compliant. Protecting client data and their lists is extremely important.”

That diversification has served the company well during arguably the most difficult economic period in the printing industry since the Great Depression. UniGraphic serves more than 600 clients in a wide-ranging set of vertical markets—from retail, financial and advertising agencies, to education and health care. Both acquisitions were tuck-ins; all work is performed at the firm’s 90,000-square-foot facility in Woburn, which employs 160.

UniGraphic’s product offerings reflect the company’s “graphic services provider” mission statement. On the commercial and UV printing end, its (up to seven-color) sheetfed offset press arsenal (KBA, manroland, Komori and Heidelberg machines) produces the standard catalogs, brochures, annual reports, postcards, posters and packaging. 

Three seven-color HP Indigos, two black-and-white Canon imageRUNNERs, and a four-color KBA Karat and Kodak Digimaster DI press headline the digital printing division, while UniGraphic’s wide- and grand-format offerings can fill the need for items ranging from banners and trade show graphics to billboards and building wraps. Its graphics can be found adorning taxi cabs, transit shelters, kiosks and floors.

According to Mike Quinlan, chief operations manager, part of UniGraphic’s beauty is its ability to provide multiple applications within a single campaign. “It’s not uncommon for us to have an image that’s in an advertisement and then use the same image in a brochure and a super-wide-format piece, like we did for a Super Bowl ad client a few years ago,” he notes. “Many departments are involved in the same campaign or project.”

Want to talk disruptive? Try taking a ride along the Mass Pike without seeing The Sign, a.k.a. the Stop Handgun Violence billboard just outside Fenway Park. Commissioned by a nonprofit group of the same name, the billboard measures in at 20 feet in height and 252 feet long. It’s viewed by an estimated 200,000 people per day. The board space, donated by a Boston resident, has been home to more than one message from the Stop Handgun Violence lobby, and all three Quinlans have helped install and take down the gargantuan graphics.

“It’s eye catching and shocking,” Bob Quinlan notes of the unofficial largest billboard in the country.

Clearly, the UniGraphic team is bullish on the future of all things large following the 2011 acquisition of two big-bodied inkjet printers—a six-color Fujifilm Inca Onset S40 and an eight-color EFI VUTEk GS3250LX—within days of each other. Both output devices provide increased wide- and grand-format capacity, and enable the printer to drastically reduce turnaround times.

The VUTEk GS3250LX joins an EFI fleet that already includes an eight-color VUTEk 5330 and a six-color VUTEk QS3200 flatbed, while giving the Quinlans another tool to provide point-of-purchase displays for their national retail chain clients. The GS3250LX is capable of UV printing eight colors plus white, at 1,000 dpi, on substrates up to 10.5-feet wide and 2˝ in thickness. Its LED-based ink curing technology also supports UniGraphic’s environmental commitment; it contains no VOCs, uses less energy and can print on recycled materials. 

“We can now turn around projects that used to take two days in just one day,” Mike Quinlan remarks. “We’re able to deliver in half the time, and with similar or better quality. That’s helped to drive more demand, more projects into UniGraphic.”

According to Bob Quinlan, the new printer acquisitions reflect the company’s decision to aggressively grow its wide- and grand-format digital printing offerings. It’s next to impossible for him to walk clients through the production facility without a prolonged visit to examine the eye catchers.

“Because it’s UV printing, we can print on so many different substrates—plastic, paper, cardboard, vinyl, self-adhesive,” Mike Quinlan adds. “With so many different projects and applications you can do, this makes it challenging and interesting. We’ve printed on rubber mats and wooden planks, plus we did a door recently. Fabrics, sheet metal, Plexiglas…the creative departments love the challenge it presents.”

In 2010, the printer also brought aboard a Standard Horizon BQ-470 four-clamp binder that uses EVA or PUR adhesives for on-demand perfect binding. At press time, UniGraphic was preparing to take delivery of a custom-built inserter from Pitney Bowes. Going forward, Bob Quinlan is keeping his eyes on the technology that was showcased of drupa, particularly in terms of roll-to-roll inkjet printing.

Bob Quinlan heard the naysayers when he first ventured into large-format digital printing—those who doubted that UniGraphic could excel in that area because it wasn’t the commercial printer’s niche. But, the company is consistently meeting its clients’ expectations for sheetfed offset, digital, mailing, fulfillment and, yes, wide- and grand-format output. 

Proof positive is UniGraphic’s continuous sales growth. Affirmation is in the firm’s long-term plans, which include becoming a $100 million concern within the next 10 years. 

UniGraphic has adopted continuous improvement initiatives that promote opportunities to learn new techniques and methods that will improve the company’s products and services. New technology, lean manufacturing principles and a 5S program drive UniGraphic’s commitment to quality.

In the end, it’s the Quinlan brothers’ job to prove they can do it all, and do it well.

“We’ve seen what everyone else is seeing,” Bob Quinlan concludes, referring to the economy. “But, we need to be in the game. If we’re not putting our best foot forward every day, we’re going to get beat by our competitors.” PI



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