Defying Conventional Wisdom About Printing
I'll admit it; we didn't set out to highlight industry trends and paradigm shifts, some that are occurring in response to our nation's prolonged economic slump. But, as various feature articles for the August issue came together, several themes permeated that seem to defy conventional industry wisdom. Here, in no particular order, are some of them:
Since the printing industry so closely tracks GDP growth, it's impossible for a printer to be virtually recession-proof in a stagnant economy. If you believe this, you haven't read the cover story on Trend Offset Printing, which is approaching annual sales of $200 million this year—rising from $182 million in 2001, $151 million in 2000 and $120 million in 1999. The Los Alamitos, CA-based, national printing operation has bucked several industry trends in the process of serving its publication, catalog and directory clients. It has also married coldset, heatset and combination web offset printing within its three production facilities to provide customers with one-stop shopping and to help them further squeeze production cycles.
Capital equipment purchases, including new press installations, are primarily being made nowadays to bolster capacity. If you're still of the "if we build it, they will come" mentality, think again. The biggest drivers of an expansion or equipment upgrade should be to make your operation more efficient and to speed your overall workflow. Trend Offset, for example, polled its biggest clients on where it should expand and booked several million dollars in contracts before building two new plants.
In these trying times, printers can do little to improve the health of their customers. For an interesting perspective on this one, read the Q&A (see page 50) we conducted with William Davis, chairman of R.R. Donnelley. Having come from outside the industry, he believes that we must take a more holistic view of the total supply chain. Davis also contends that our industry is way behind others in adopting manufacturing best practices, in implementing industry standards and in building structured databases.
After the dotcom bubble burst, Wall Street analysts and financial lending institutions finally understand our industry. As columnist Harris DeWese reveals in this issue, printers nationwide are reporting difficulty in borrowing money and, to make it even worse, excessive loan origination fees. One fact: despite our smokestack image, the PI/Compass 30—which monthly tracks the largest publicly held printers—has consistently outperformed the S&P 500. We may not be a sexy industry, but printers put in long hours at work, buy expensive capital equipment and pay their bills on time. Why should the graphic arts be penalized for loans to companies that "cooked" their books?
And, finally, amidst the recent headlines in the general press about the major fire in a warehouse at Quad/Graphics' Lomira, WI, facility, there was one other, less-noticed news item that had a graphic arts tie-in. One century ago, Willis H. Carrier—just a year out of college and working for $10 a week at Buffalo Forge Co.—invented air conditioning. One of Buffalo Forge's clients, the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographic & Publishing Co. in Brooklyn, had a problem: The paper it used for printing jobs, including a popular humor magazine of the period, was expanding and contracting in the summer heat and humidity. This created all kinds of registration and other print-related issues.
So Carrier came up with a simple solution. If the plant was heated by blowing air through coils pumped full of steam, why not cool it by blowing air through coils filled with cold water? Water in the air, he correctly surmised, would condense on the coils, making the air in the plant both cooler and drier. On July 17, 1902, the printing plant was cooled for the first time, and the age of air conditioning was upon us.
After suffering through a summer filled with excessive heat, high humidity and drought conditions, I can hardly think of any invention more important than air conditioning. But, then again, did you ever hear about a guy named Gutenberg whose development put a lot of earnest monks reproducing religious documents out of business?
Mark T. Michelson