Ripon Community Printers -- A Heat Wave
Ripon Community Printers (RCP) ended a string of more than 40 years of coldset-only printing at its Ripon, WI, home with the installation of a MAN Roland Rotoman N heatset web press in a stacked configuration. A 25,000-square-foot addition was needed for the landmark press, which churned out its first job last spring. PI interviewed Andy Lyke, president of RCP, and Dennis Darnick, vice president of production, to get their views on the company's new heatset tenant.
|Among the people responsible for turning on the heat at RCP after 40 years of coldset printing there, are (pictured from the left) Dennis Darnick, vice president of production; Andy Lyke, president; and Russ Welch, a web press supervisor and the employee who oversaw the MAN Roland Rotoman N web press installation project.|
PI: With your company firmly established as a longtime, successful coldset web printer, why break into the heatset side?
Lyke: We had tinkered with the idea for several years. We thought we had a good base of operations already, with prepress and bindery. And we have a lot of knowledge about putting ink on paper with a web press. We thought that, by adding the ovens, we could really round out our offerings and tap into a broader market.
PI: Did you prebook work or did your customers ask you to enter that arena?
Lyke: It was a little bit of both. Some of the work was booked in advance and some customers had asked us to expand into heatset work.
PI: What have been the results so far?
Lyke: We've been extremely pleased. It was supposed to be a three-month startup…there were a few nagging problems here and there, but nothing too bad. One issue has been that customers wanted to see samples, and we couldn't run samples until we started printing work. So it was kind of a chicken and the egg-type thing.
Darnick: The print quality is definitely there. We've received good support from MAN Roland, as well as the auxiliary vendors and we're pleased at this point.
PI: Any major challenges thus far?
Darnick: Nothing that we can't overcome. Probably the biggest challenge was designing and installing the mezzanine because it was something that was brand new. We had a team of individuals working internally with an outside source to pull this off. They did a magnificent job of putting this together. It's an impressive structure.
PI: Was there a learning curve involved?
Darnick: Certainly, the whole heatset experience. It's an entirely new process for us. It's still ink on paper, but totally different from what we have been producing for the past 40 years. Russ Welch (first shift web press supervisor and press installation supervisor) and press manager Tom Konecny set up an in-depth training program. Our web press supervisors and press personnel invested many weeks of training on the Rotoman along with the various auxiliary and consumable vendors, learning the equipment and heatset process to give us the best opportunity to succeed. We have an enthusiastic group of people now working on this pressline.
PI: Why did you choose MAN Roland?
Lyke: We felt that, coming from coldset, we didn't want to be seen as just a newspaper printer trying to be a 'me, too'-type printer. We've been known for quality on the coldset side, and have won many awards. We wanted to attain the same level of excellence, so we didn't want to enter the market with a used machine. And we wanted state-of-the-art automation. We think that's the way we need to be in the future to compete.
Darnick: The shaftless press design was very attractive to us. MAN Roland's reputation in the industry is very good and our reference checks bear that out. A group of press and maintenance personnel visited various sites to inspect the equipment and were in agreement MAN Roland was the press for Ripon based on the technology and design we were looking for.
PI: Are you targeting any specific heatset markets and products with this press?
Lyke: (laughing) Ah, whoever will pay the bills. I'm embarrassed to say that we don't have a totally defined market. We're looking at business-to-business catalogs, which will probably be our primary niche to start with.
Darnick: The MAN Roland installation definitely lends itself to new opportunities. Since we already offer mailing services, as well as fulfillment, we are convinced these services will make us attractive to future heatset customers.
PI: Do you have plans for adding future heatset equipment?
Lyke: Yes, we allowed for three presses in the addition, and we plan on another addition after this, as well. We have room for the paper now and a proper workflow.
PI: Again, a bold move, given your success as a coldset printer.
Lyke: I'm a little bit adventurous, I guess, but we were cautious this time. We talked about this move for several years, but last time we got to the altar and backed down. A couple of years ago, we were ready to pull the trigger and couldn't do it.
PI: How big of a sales spike do you anticipate this will provide for the company?
Lyke: We're looking at 15 percent for the first year.
PI: Deba Horn-Prochno (RCP quality/resource manager) is raving about the excitement that has been generated in-house by the new press.
Darnick: People are excited about this new venture, knowing that we're continuing to look for new opportunities to grow the business and take advantage of services we already offer. I will admit, given the current economic conditions, there's also some cautious optimism out there, although that is to be expected.
Lyke: Another thing we did—almost on the spur of the moment—was purchase a Canon imageRUNNER 110 digital press that produces 110 copies per minute. Customer demand drove this purchasing decision. Obviously, it's a much smaller press, but still required a lot of investigation and preparation. With this coming online at almost the same time we got the MAN Roland running, we find ourselves going in two different directions.
PI: Do you plan to expand on the digital side in the future?
Lyke: As we're pushed, we'll do it. At this point, I don't see us pushing ourselves yet. We just need to keep focusing on the big iron. As time goes on, I'm sure we'll do more and more.
PI: This move would seem to change your customers' perception of RCP, as well.
Darnick: The addition of the MAN Roland heatset pressline has added to our capabilities and reputation of being a full-service printer. Many of the catalogs we currently produce are a blend of heatset (done by outside vendors) incorporated with our coldset web work. We can now do it all here, whether an all-heat catalog or a combination of heat and coldset.
PI: Did you promote the press?
Lyke: We sent postcards announcing the press to everyone in our customer database file and then followed up with an issue of our quarterly newsletter, PressLines, which told the entire story of the press. A picture of a tropical beach on the postcard set the foundation of our campaign, which has been, 'Things are heating up in Ripon.'
PI: Any final thoughts?
Lyke: My fear was that we'd lose focus on our coldset work, because we need to keep maintaining that. We can't have salespeople off selling heatset jobs now and banning coldset. We've also had to be careful; we've got to change our tune. Before, with the customers who were strictly coldset, we had to explain why coldset was so superior to heatset. Now we can't say that anymore.
PI: So you had to remind your sales force that coldset is what got you this far?
Lyke: That's right. You dance with who brought you.