Goal to Never Stop Innovating Fuels Success at Allied Printing Services
When John F. Sommers founded Allied Printing Services in 1949, he did so with the vision of having a state-of-the-art printing facility to serve a wide range of customers. The belief that innovation was a key to business success is one that has endured, with third-generation president and CEO — and namesake — John Sommers now at the reins.
The Manchester, Connecticut-based company’s equipment list is an impressive mix of sheetfed and webfed digital and offset equipment, with finishing, prepress, mailing, fulfillment, and more rounding it out, making it ready and able to tackle nearly anything that might walk through the doors. Just in the past 24 months, Allied Printing Services has installed an impressive array of equipment, including, just to name a few:
- A 29" Komori Impremia IS29 sheetfed UV inkjet press.
- Two six-pocket W&D BB700S intelligent inserters with a camera system.
- Three Bobst diecutters, including a Visioncut 106LE flatbed diecutter/stripper, and two Novacut 106E flatbed diecutter/strippers.
- An eight-color, 29x41" Koenig & Bauer Rapida 106 sheetfed offset press with in-line aqueous coater, and onboard register and color control.
- And, being installed in September, an eight-color, 29x41" Koenig & Bauer Rapida 106 X sheetfed UV perfector.
And that is barely touching the surface of the installations Allied has made in the past few years. “A lot of these recent investments had to do with not only building out capacity,” Sommers explains, “but also adding new capabilities to meet customer needs. Without a doubt, our business has been evolving in terms of what products and services we provide, and who we provide them for.”
Pivoting Through the Pandemic
Like most companies, Sommers notes, COVID-19 took its toll, with 2020 being a challenging year, especially because, at the time, the bulk of Allied’s customers fell into either the financial services market or the travel space — specifically doing work for cruise lines — as well as a great deal of work for the retail segment. “We had to pivot,” he says.
In particular, while digital printing, had long been a big part of the company’s mix, that department is now outpacing the growth of the entire company, with recent installations in that space including six five-color, 20" Xeikon 9800 roll-to-sheet digital presses, and a Canon varioPRINT iX3200 cutsheet inkjet press.
One factor driving growth in the digital department is the work Allied is doing in the healthcare space, with a vast need for personalized communications tailored for individual patients. In fact, it’s not just the presses that have been upgraded to better handle that vertical. Sommers notes that Allied Printing recently earned SOC 2 data security certification — which proves it can be trusted to handle sensitive data — and the shop is ISO 27001 compliant, which is another protocol involving the use and handling of data.
“It has really been a focus for us to get these IT credentials,” Sommers says, “so we can handle highly secure information and use our customers’ data to personalize their communications and be trusted with HIPAA personal health information, financial data, etc.” He goes on to note, “It’s probably not the most sexy and exciting topic, but [those certifications] really transformed our business and opened up a lot of new doors.”
On the sheetfed offset side, Sommers is particularly excited about the new Koenig & Bauer perfector press installation, noting that this will mark the sixth Koenig & Bauer press Allied has purchased. Configured to print both conventional and UV inks at 18,000 sph, the eight-color, four-over-four Rapida 106 X is the latest model and the first of this specific configuration in the U.S. It is designed with four print units, plus coater, two drying towers, another four units, and another coater with a 12-ft. delivery. Automation includes automatic plate changing, auto blanket washing, and SIS. An important distinction on the new press is its reduced maintenance. It features a self-lubricating and maintenance-free gripper shaft, making the press more efficient and productive.
The majority of work for the new press will be two-sided coated commercial work, but it will also be used for different combinations of packaging jobs in straight mode.
“This is our first perfecting press,” Sommers notes. “We always tongue-in-cheek thought of our web offset presses as ‘perfecting presses’ since we could print both sides in one pass. But we see adding this new press is almost the same as adding two new non-perfecting presses.
“And the UV capability is huge for us — we pride ourselves on providing the highest quality work, no matter what we print, and specialty coatings are big. Our last Koenig & Bauer UV press was installed in 2018, and it was a double coater, non-perfecting, press. It really helped us differentiate ourselves and do multiple coatings in one pass, even on a single sheet.”
Once the new Rapida 106 X is operational, Allied will be networking all of its four Koenig & Bauer presses (two conventional and two UV) together with the latest version of LogoTronic software to provide more efficiency, easier scheduling, and maintenance reports.
In addition to the major gains in the healthcare space, Allied Printing Services continues to expand its packaging clientele. “Packaging only accounts for less than 15% of revenue at the moment, but it’s growing quickly,” he says.
At the same time the healthcare and packaging segments are proving to be lucrative growth areas, Sommers notes that travel and retail have come roaring back in a big way as well. “Travel and retail were the hardest hit by COVID, and those segments were always important for us,” he says. “And not only were they the hardest hit [verticals], they were the first to be hit and they are the last to come back.”
He continues, “We were able to replace a lot of that temporarily lost revenue with a focus on Medicare, healthcare, and healthcare-compliant mailings, but now that travel and retail are back, we definitely needed to increase capacity.”
Allied Printing also brought another capability in-house — perfect binding. While the installation happened just before the pandemic hit, Sommers is still incredibly pleased with the addition of the Muller Martini KM610C (Kolbus) perfect binder, which, he says, “is a significant piece of equipment. It takes up a quarter of the bindery.”
Sommers is nostalgic about it, saying, “I remember when I was still in college, and I went to my first ever drupa. And I stood there at the Kolbus booth in awe. And my father — who was the president of Allied at the time — and I chuckled and said, ‘we’ll never have one of these.’ And now, fast forward 20 years, and we’ve got one.”
Allied has been providing perfect-bound applications for decades, Sommers notes. So while he says he has a great relationship with the outsourcing partners he was using, he felt Allied finally had the volume to justify bringing it in house.
“That machine has been incredibly productive,” he notes. “It drives both the web offset and sheetfed presses, and can create these amazing super-thin books. A lot of people want to do those 3"-thick catalogs — and don’t get me wrong, I would love to do those — but there is a lot of opportunity with much thinner, perfect-bound books.”
Rebounding from the Pandemic
With all of this new equipment expanding capacity and opening up new markets, Sommers notes that Allied has not only weathered the pandemic storm, it has come out stronger than ever. “We’re not only on track, we’re ahead of where we had hoped to be by now, even if COVID had never happened,” he says. “We took a step back in 2020 only to take two steps forward in 2021, which was a record year for us in terms of sales and profits. And we’re significantly ahead of 2021 so far this year.”
Looking forward, Sommers notes that more investments are coming. “It’s constant,” he says, “and that is one of our core values — innovation. We’ve always prided ourselves for being on the forefront of technology. It definitely might sound like we’ve done a lot the past couple of years, but that’s what every year is like at Allied. I just feel if you stop changing or growing, you start dying.”
That said, he stresses that despite the fast pace of innovation, every equipment purchase is made for a reason — there is not a Field of Dreams mentality here. “You have to be smart with your investments and not overdo it,” Sommers advises. “Keep an eye on what technology is coming to the market, and be proactive and listen to your customers. Understand what they want and need, not just today, but tomorrow. Try to focus on ROIs, not ‘I want to buys.’ Every time we bought a piece of equipment for one customer, it never worked out.”
Sommers also advises others to adopt technology and services that are complementary to current offerings, not “just getting into a new space because it sounds fun.” “This is such a nuanced and broad industry — you can’t be all things to all people,” Sommers notes. “But some of your best prospects are your current customers — what do they wish you could do for them, and what are their pain points and challenges?”
Allied Printing Services is a perfect example of how continuous capital investments — when done thoughtfully and with purpose — can help propel a printing business forward. By always looking forward to what’s on the horizon, Sommers and his team ensure they can be what their customers need, when they need it. And, at the same time, they are well-positioned to jump on new markets and opportunities that might not have been on their radar before.
Even now, more than 70 years since the first John Sommers opened the doors,
Allied Printing Services is a perfect example of the successful blending of innovation, modern technology, and good old-fashioned high-quality work.