Printers Share How They Strike a Good Balance Between Digital, Conventional
Being nimble enough to react to the varied needs of customers is paramount in a quickly changing manufacturing world. Many commercial and package printers from around the country have realized this, and have shifted by adding a variety of automated features and by upgrading printing technologies.
Many establishments have added digital printing technology alongside their conventional printing equipment to create balanced and flexible shops with nearly limitless capabilities. Companies with a mix of digital and conventional equipment laud the benefits of having a diversified pressroom.
Take Hammer Packaging in Rochester, N.Y., for example. Last year, the company installed an HP Indigo WS 6600 ILP (in-line priming) digital press to complement its existing, state-of-the-art conventional printing platforms. The addition of the HP Indigo has allowed Hammer to enter new markets while offering customers the advantages of digital printing.
“We provide our customers with decoration,” states Lou Iovoli, VP of strategic partnerships. “And how that package is decorated can take on a variety of different forms. We need to use our engineering group to help our customers decide what is the best packaging style for their products.”
Multiple Processes, Multiple Products
Now that the company boasts a 100% digital workflow, it can send a new digital art file to the HP Indigo for every digitally produced job, which is ideal for seasonal promotions and personalized jobs. Hammer can also run preprinted materials from its variable sleeve offset printing or UV flexographic presses through the HP Indigo to create unique packaging solutions for shrink sleeves and pressure-sensitive, rollfed and cut-and-stack labels.
“A customer might ask for five different labeling styles as examples and the approximate cost for each,” Iovoli explains. “We really wanted a piece of equipment that would assist our engineering group to be able to produce and present a variety of different labeling styles to a client.”
Iovoli notes that Hammer has been impressed with the material handling capabilities of the HP Indigo and the bundling system at the back end of the press. He explains that the company’s decision to get into digital printing was driven by a desire to provide customers with a variety of options to help them make decisions on the best labeling solution for their application.
“We can use the digital equipment to demonstrate what it will look like when it goes to conventional equipment for high-volume work,” Iovoli says. “Our client base is getting creative and taking a conventionally printed image that is run high-volume on a conventional piece of equipment and then reinstated into a digital press so that we can add a digital component to it. We designed our digital equipment to work with our conventional equipment so that we can reinsert and do a digital component.”
Iovoli adds that Hammer’s clients have been happy with the digital printing quality in the short-run environment, which has been important for start-up products and companies entering test markets.
While the digital capabilities have been exciting, Hammer has not stopped investing in the latest conventional technologies. The company announced the recent addition of a Mark Andy Performance Series P7 flexo press with a Rotoflex finishing system. The new 10-color, 17˝ press includes combination hot air drying/UV curing, a Mark Andy Quick Change Die Cut (QCDC) unit, web turnbar, cold foil and lamination capabilities.
“I think it is important for the printing industry to recognize that while digital has been successful and grown dramatically, flexo press manufacturers have also done a phenomenal job at reducing their makeready time and lowering their waste and creating a changeover that is very fast,” Iovoli contends. “So that while digital has become more efficient and faster over time and has gone up in terms of run lengths, flexo has become more efficient and faster and has gone down in terms of what the lower run lengths are.”
Meanwhile, in Spokane, Wash., Ross Printing offers its customers a variety of printing options, including large-format sheetfed litho, flexographic printing, and roll and sheetfed digital output. This allows the company, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, to produce anything from premium full-color litho, pressure-sensitive labels with a dynamic shelf presence, to short-run, on-demand digital labels or sheets.
Makeready Costs Fuel Digital
Ross Printing has been an HP Indigo user since 2001, and is now on its third upgrade of Indigo rollfed presses. The company digitally produces a variety of labels for the pharmaceutical, health and beauty, and wine industries. Plate charges and start-up costs are typically factors that will drive a job toward digital, notes Product Line Manager Eric Smith.
“When vignettes or a gradient goes down to a minimum dot that we are not comfortable with in flexo, we try to steer them toward digital,” Smith says. “Or we look at common plate opportunities and try to steer decent-sized runs toward flexo.”
Smith notes that this printing technology flexibility is a critical selling point and part of the company’s presentation to customers.
“We can evaluate every opportunity and each customer’s needs and steer them in the direction that makes the most sense to keep their price points where they need to be,” he explains.
While the short-run digital work is a popular industry talking point, Smith notes that he is seeing a trend of customers making larger orders quarterly or every six months instead of small weekly or monthly orders. That shift is stimulating more flexo business.
“This is driving down the cost of individual labels to the pennies that you would never get on the digital machine because the hourly rate is too expensive,” he confides. “When you are only ordering a couple thousand labels at a time, you are going to end up paying 40 to 50 cents apiece.”
Another company striking a balance between the conventional printing world and the digital space is Tailored Label Products (TLP), an engineering-focused, label manufacturing company in Menomonee Falls, Wis. TLP is home to a wide array of flexographic presses, thermal transfer and direct thermal equipment and inkjet variable data printing technology, giving the company the ability to effectively handle both short and long production runs.
TLP recently added a Fujifilm Graphium hybrid flexographic and digital UV inkjet press to the equipment mix at its 60,000-square-foot facility to offer ultra-high-quality printing designed specifically for the demands of the industrial label market.
Factors in Buying Decision
“TLP needed both the capacity and flexibility that the Graphium provided,” explains TLP President and CEO Jeff Kerlin. “Additionally, durability, color matching and cost competitiveness were significant reasons that we chose this press.”
Kerlin concludes that both digital and conventional printing technologies have their own unique benefits, and that TLP has found it necessary to have both options so it can continue to meet the ever-growing needs of its customer base.
“Most of the parts we print are highly performance critical, so the customer’s application requirements typically play a primary role in which technology we select for each job,” he says. “Our team routinely meets to determine which technology will provide our customer the best product possible. Once we have determined which technologies are suitable for the job, our costing system allows us to quickly assess which technology is the most economical route for a given program.” PI