Visual Marking Systems Putting Wraps on Continued Growth
Going strictly by the numbers, Visual Marking Systems (VMS) of Twinsburg, Ohio, has underscored its excellence by registering a compound annual growth rate of 8 percent, year-over-year. Well, technically, that’s not true. In 2014, VMS racked up a growth rate of roughly 16 percent, a figure David Sunderman, marketing manager, expects to be repeated in 2015.
Stepping beyond the numbers, it is a commitment to quality, sustainability, customer service and fair pricing that has bolstered the 110-employee VMS squad to a leading position among providers of product branding and identification products. Further, the company has validated those commitments with a financial dedication that will ensure VMS will live up to its promises during the foreseeable future.
VMS specializes in customized digital, screen and wide-format graphics. It churns out products serving various industries, including original industrial equipment manufacturers (graphic overlays, faceplates, nameplates and decals), consumables (a wide range of labels), point-of-sale/POP (displays, signs and graphics), public transit (exterior and interior graphics) and fleet graphics (wraps and letterings).
A three-shift, five-day operation, VMS was founded in 1963 and is led by CEO Dolf Kahle. Even though it has crossed the 50-year mark, the company continues to expand and grow, buoyed by a number of critical investments that will not only enable it to decrease turnaround times, but allow it to gain in-house efficiencies and strike a chord of differentiation among its competitors. Among the enhancements and additions:
- VMS acquired an 8,000-square-foot facility across the street from its headquarters. The former warehouse will serve as home to the company’s vehicle wrap installation and removal services for its fleet graphic customers. VMS also rebranded its wrap division as Body Art by VMS.
What the building also does is provide full turnkey services for vehicle inspection, estimating, graphic design and installation, along with removal services, on a year-round basis. The dedicated space also enables VMS to accommodate vehicles and trailers up to 54 feet.
“We have different vehicles stored, so we can demonstrate to customers how we install and remove graphics,” Sunderman notes. “Plus, the indoor facility enables us to extend the selling cycle into the winter months.”
- The company recently obtained a new direct-to-screen imaging system that creates a 1,270 dpi resolution. The system utilizes LED light source technology and boasts an imaging speed of 200-500 sq. ft./hr.
Ultimately, VMS envisions investing in direct-to-screen imaging equipment will drastically reduce the film waste that occurs during the screen-making process, as it eliminates the use of a plotting device and film usage during production. In fact, VMS has a goal of 95 percent reduction in the purchase of film during 2015.
“We looked at our consumable purchases and they were pretty substantial, just in the amount of film buying,” Sunderman says. “For every color overlay we were doing, we’d have to shoot a new screen with new film. This machine reduced our film purchases by 97 percent within the first year. It also allowed a huge efficiency gain.
“The manufacturer said you couldn’t get more than one image up on a screen; we were the first company to put multiple images on one screen. It not only reduced film purchases, but improved efficiencies and our productivity numbers shot up. That allowed us to have tighter tolerances and a greater quality product.”
- While Sunderman wouldn’t reveal the vendor, he also reports that VMS acquired a mobile vinyl and adhesive removal system that is used onsite at customer locations for the expedient removal of a vehicle wrap. The machine has a diesel-powered engine—much like a power washer—with a plunger on the end that emits highly-concentrated steam, which melts the decals off the surface and removes the adhesive, with no residue or harsh chemicals.
Sunderman says the system has drastically reduced wrap removal time. For example, a 54-foot trailer used to require more than a week and one or two people to remove the graphics by hand. Now, VMS is able to skin two such trailers in less than a day. “It’s a huge cost savings to the customer and a faster way of removing the graphics,” he says.
- While on the subject of fleet graphics, VMS picked up a liquid coater. The system uses an aqueous laminate on top of the vinyl base to protect the graphics from chemicals, UV light, salt, heat, rain—any conditions Mother Nature can throw at a vehicle. Sunderman points out that the clear coats boast most of the physical characteristics of a hard laminate, without the cost (the hard laminate can account for 50 percent of the material).
- A Zünd G3 2XL-3200 cutting machine was installed in late March. Prior to acquiring the cutter, VMS had experienced finishing production bottlenecks. The company had two Zünd cutters previously, and a lot of the products that didn’t require a die ended up going through those devices, prompting the traffic jam. However, the G3 has a dual zone that provides setup on one side of the machine and cutting on the other, providing 50 percent productivity savings. Plus, the large cutting bed allows bigger rolls and projects.
As a lean manufacturing company that applies Six Sigma practices throughout its operation, VMS relishes the opportunity to reduce waste and production time. The G3 is also able to cut a roll of vinyl vehicle graphics in about half the time, while opening the finishing department for new projects.
VMS might not be done with the equipment shopping. Sunderman says the VMS executive team will peruse what the 2015 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) Expo has to offer this November in Atlanta.
VMS adopted a sustainability policy and garnered Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) third-party certification in 2011. This documented system measures metrics in consumables consumption and energy costs. Moreover, the company has taken the additional steps of removing six substances of “high concern” (as stipulated by the European Union) from its products. This entailed screening its entire supply chain and material vendors to find out the materials used in adhesives, inks, overlaminates, etc., and documenting each of them by weight, in accordance with customer needs.
The upshot of these extra steps? By getting a passing grade within REACH and RoHS compliance parameters, that gives VMS a leg up on dealing with customers whose ultimate end users are multinational. “While 98 percent of our business is domestic, a lot of [customers] are selling it to their end users globally,” Sunderman notes.
As VMS continues down its “lean and mean” path, one thing is for certain: Quality is still of the utmost concern. The growth rate was not borne out of second-rate performance.
“Quality is not only about the finished product,” Sunderman explains. “It’s also present in every aspect of the company—quality product, quality service, quality price and quality customers,” he says. PI