Large-format Printing -- Many Profit Paths
LARGE-FORMAT sheetfed offset printing means different things to different printers. But, whether it’s the ability to be more competitive in package printing, outdoor signage, taking advantage of the larger sheet size, or finding new applications for uncommon substrates, there seems to be ample reasons for printers to acquire these mini monsters.
Bernie Lacy has dreams of making it big in show business. For now, the owner of Indianapolis-based Litho Press is content with expanding his sheet size for the retail signage market.
Lacy believes the addition of his 73˝ manroland 900 XL press is a perfect fit for applications geared toward the movie/entertainment industry. Litho Press, which also owns a 56˝ Roland 900, had been farming out any work over the 64˝ size. With the recent arrival of the new large-format XL model, current customers have brought more work to Lacy’s doorstep.
“The biggest market for us is other printers that either don’t have a large-format press or can’t fit the work into their own schedule,” Lacy says. “The manroland press has been fantastic. It just allows us to get more work out the door, and we’ve been able to produce more with less people, in less shifts. The bigger size is also taking work away from our competitors.”
Litho Press has UV capabilities on all of its press equipment, with a bulk of the load going toward retail signage, along with printing on plastics and work for silk screen companies.
Another shop, Superior Lithographics of Los Angeles, found itself at a crossroads about five years ago. Parts for some of the printer’s older large-format presses were no longer being made, and it was getting tougher (and more costly) to find replacement parts. The firm would either need to commit to a new generation of presses, or cut bait.
The Quality Swing
Since there is little money to be made in cutting bait, Doug Rawson—president and CEO of Superior—opted to purchase a Roland 900 XXL. A little more than a year later, a 63˝ KBA Rapida 162a sheetfed press was added. The swing in quality, reduced makeready times and degree of throughput was palpable. The presses were such a game changer that Superior experienced growing pains.
“We terribly underestimated the amount of training and the errors that could occur due to the complexity and speed the sheets were coming out,” Rawson admits. “We underestimated the length of time and the expenses involved. Some people are good drivers at 90 miles an hour, but not at 200 mph. So, we had to make some personnel changes because of it.”
Superior serves the folding carton and litho label market for the corrugated box industry. Oversized posters and store signage are also on Rawson’s menu. Most customers consist of packaging brokers and advertising agencies that resell.
Rawson has been in the audience at various industry association events and cringes whenever he hears the assessment that “packaging is the growth area.” While it may not be shrinking like the general commercial market, Rawson cautions that package printing has its own issues.
“This is not a panacea,” he says. “Those printing packaging are struggling to fill their equipment. We’ve been doing it a long time, and we’re very good at it, but it’s still a battle with people and technology internally. If it were that easy, we’d be doing $280 million a year instead of $18 million.”
In the case of Ultimate Paper Box (UPBX), based in City of Industry, CA, an area that was most under-estimated was in sales growth. Earlier this year, the printer installed a six-color KBA Rapida 162a with coater and double extended delivery. Janak Patel, UPBX president, estimates the company has reaped 25 to 30 percent more business during the span, whereas the expectation was closer to 5 to 10 percent.
“By adding the new KBA, we have increased our production capability up to 40 percent,” he says. “The faster makereadies and the quality we get with high-speed production from this press are amazing. We have also developed a new market for 64˝ work, mainly in litho labels for corrugated industries.”
The press has also enabled UPBX to run multiple ups on a sheet for folding cartons at a highly competitive price point. Plus, there’s something to be said for running large sheets at a speed of 12,000 sph.
“We’re finishing our jobs in less than half the time. With all the technology, this press has put us into a different category in the printing industry,” Patel remarks.
Capturing Longer Runs
Toronto-based TI Group installed a six-color, 73˝ Roland 900-8 in March of this year. TI has several business units: photography, prepress, 40˝ general commercial and digital large-format. The installation of the 900-8 has certainly spoken to the needs of the printer’s customers.
“We felt we could capture more of the longer-run business that we were losing to the screen market,” notes David Smith, president of TI Group. “The press has enabled us to win more of that business. We can be competitive for longer-run stuff on the digital side.”
Smith prefers not to discuss the markets and products his company addresses, but he did say the results with the Roland model have been exceptional. “Registration, color and makeready have all met or exceeded our initial expectations,” he notes. “We just hired another person to help us penetrate a new market, and we have some good growth happening there. We seem to be upsetting the apple cart, so we must be doing something right.”
Sometimes, the emergence of a new press can turn a company’s world upside down. Take Orange County Container (OCC), a $340 million-a-year package printer, for example. The City of Commerce, CA-based corrugated manufacturer plugged in an eight-color, 56˝ Mitsubishi Diamond 6000LX press with in-line aqueous and UV capabilities earlier this year. In a sense, the company updated its six-color Mitsubishi press that had been bought in 1998. But that’s where the similarities end.
“The older machine was not a dinosaur, but the difference between 1998 and 2008 are 100 times,” notes Dan Domino, OCC vice president of sales. “We’ve had the press in operation since this past February, and we’ve already put 17 million impressions on it. We couldn’t have done that with the older machine. Our setups are cut in half, and we added an X-Rite color management system to it, so we can maintain color consistency from prepress through the end.”
Domino says the company calculated ROI at about 18 months, primarily because OCC has been able to expand its market. In addition to producing multi-color boxes, the company makes displays and movie theatricals, along with its one-sided labels for the corrugated market and SBS top sheets. Its primary geographic market is Mexico. A popular application for that market is the coated, one-sided labels that are affixed to big screen TV boxes. This has allowed OCC to expand its capacity, particularly in Mexico. In addition to breaking new ground in terms of folding opportunities, OCC is also exploring lenticular printing.
Sometimes it only takes a tweak to help printers smash through their limitations. Take Edison Litho of North Bergen, NJ, which recently held an open house in honor of its 50 years in business. The shop has been turning out large-format printing for the last 25 years. Its sales force had been limited, to a degree, due to what could and could not be run on-press, according to Joe Ostreicher, sales coordinator and COO.
“We were getting requests for printing on plastic,” he says. “When you run [a job] for a long time, the cylinders heat up. For paper it’s OK, but plastic stretches and ink can’t adhere to the plastic as well. It doesn’t dry well, and there’s no registration between the colors. You’ve got a major mess.”
Edison’s newest six-color, 81˝ KBA Rapida 205 is equipped with UV coating and chillers on the cylinders to enable long runs that prevent substrates from getting out of sorts. The printer’s large-format pressroom also features another six-color 81˝ Rapida 205 (no UV coater) and a six-color, 64˝ Rapida 162 with aqueous coater.
Once the 205 revolution began at Edison, the company was never the same. Makereadies dwindled from two or three hours to 20 minutes. Less spoilage and sharper products have equated to happier customers, Ostreicher notes. Plus, the UV press allows substrates such as plastics, opalene, styrene and foils to come out of the press “bone dry.”
Edison Litho produces point-of-purchase signage, packaging and displays, along with monster-size posters and signage on outdoor materials, such as opalene with backlit and Flexcon Busmark self-adhesive vinyl. Ostreicher adds that margins for this work are higher, with Edison garnering between a 9 and 12 percent increase in profit percentage.
“We run 24 hours a day. We’re very satisfied; the 205 with UV coater is an unbelievable machine,” he says. “Since we got the KBA presses, our billing is up 25 percent. Our customers are amazed.” PI