LIKE ITS name, the story of Sun Printing has been bright since its earliest days. The company has been profitable from its first month in business, reports Andy Cook, president and CEO, when the staff consisted of the three owners and a bookkeeper. Twenty-five years later, Sun now operates in six locations, employing around 220 people. Philip Morris, vice president and director of sales, and Kathi Cook, secretary/treasurer and Andy’s wife, complete the management/ownership triumvirate. There was a darker day, though, when the owner of another printing company where the three had met and worked was killed in a tragic accident. After exploring the possibility of buying that company, they teamed up to open Sun Printing in Orangeburg, SC, and assumed basically the roles they have today—Andy oversees operations, Philip leads the sales effort, and Kathi handles human resources and manages the front office.
Currently, there is a new era dawning at Sun Inc. (its corporate name) as it works to bring online a completely new facility in Columbia, SC. “It’s going to incorporate a totally integrated production system from front to back,” Cook says with pride. “We are going to be one of the few shops in the country that has gone to this extent, if there are any others that can match us.”
Initially, the organization was looking to just acquire a new press. It opted for a four-color, 41? Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105 sheetfed model with coater to increase productivity, owing to its fast running speeds and quick setup times.
“We started to look at other pieces of equipment and the capabilities they had, and our idea of what was possible started to grow,” Cook explains. “We finally came to the conclusion that to make end-to-end, integrated production work, we needed to add all new equipment—MIS, platemaker, press, cutters, folders and stitchers—at once and stay with one manufacturer.”
Even with the major commitment the management trio has made to developing a highly automated, interconnected printing process built on Heidelberg’s Prinect technology and enabled by the Job Definition Format (JDF), Cook still likes to refer to it as a theory. “If it works, this is going be the biggest change I’ve seen in the 35 years I’ve been in the printing business,” he says.
For Sun, that change starts with being able to enter job information one time and have it passed down the entire production line to drive presetting of all equipment. The same data is also used to direct palletizing and labeling of finished materials. However, it’s the reporting back capability that is of particular interest to Cook.
“I’ll be able to see an estimate when we enter a job, then, as soon as it’s shipped, I can get production information to compare back to that estimate,” the company’s president explains. “Every day, I’ll be able to get reporting back (from the plant) to tell me exactly how we are doing compared to what we estimated we’d be able to do.”
Cook is looking forward to receiving real-time production information, without depending on human intervention to record it. “If the theory materializes as they (Heidelberg) have assured me it will, I’ll be able to see how many waste sheets we had. How long it took to set the press up. What speed the press ran at. I believe this level of integration is going to be something that changes the face of printing,” he says.
Accountability is the primary reason Sun is relying on one vendor to put all of the pieces—hardware and software—together and provide the training needed by its staff. “We didn’t want anybody to point a finger at someone else and say, ‘This is not working because of them.’ Heidelberg made a tremendous investment in time and effort to ensure this theory materializes exactly as promised,” he reports.
The decision to add all new equipment was partly a matter of necessity, but also a strategic move to facilitate integration of the entire process. “Once we started creating new capacity by adding the press, we needed cutters, folders, stitchers and that type of support equipment anyway,” Cook notes. “We felt that if it (integrated production) had any chance of success, all of the new equipment needed to be brought in at one time.”
Setting up a brand new, startup facility created a unique opportunity, adds Morris. “Having to build on to an existing workflow would have made it harder. This way, we won’t have to go back and unlearn anything. We’re training the staff on the new way things should be done from day one.”
Taking a lesser route by phasing in new equipment over time would have reduced the gains in efficiency, speed, quality and information reporting that the company is seeking, Cook continues. “We felt this justified the level of investment that we made.”
Sun has pretty much been a Heidelberg shop from day one, with the first piece of equipment it bought being one of the manufacturer’s presses. Among the other systems and equipment being installed in the new 20,000-square-foot facility along with the XL 105 press are Heidelberg’s Prinect Prinance MIS, Prinect prepress workflow, a Suprasetter thermal platesetter, three Stahl folders, two Polar cutters and a Stitchmaster saddle binder.
The company is also relocating its Color Quick digital printing division into the same facility, but will retain its separate brand and dedicated production space. “Color Quick has developed a strong identity and good customer base in its three years of existence,” Morris says. “We don’t want to make it look like they’re not here anymore.”
Columbia’s prepress department is being set up as a common operation to push work out to both the offset and digital pressrooms. Once that facility is fully operational, the plan is to extend the Prinect Prinance management system out to processing work for the other divisions from a central location.
Along with the two operations in South Carolina that serve the high-end sheetfed market, there is Sun Printing of Mansfield, OH; St. Cloud, MN; Murfreesboro, AR; and Juárez, Mexico. A big portion of the organization’s work, especially in the Arkansas and Ohio locations, is what Cook characterizes as “industrial” printing on sheetfed and some Didde-type narrow web presses. Books, manuals, parts lists and similar jobs fall into the industrial category, he says.
The Minnesota and Mexico operations are geared toward fulfillment work, along with doing some limited production. Large-format digital printing—including point-of-purchase displays, posters and giclée prints—is also in the company’s repertoire, Morris notes. So is the printing of promotional publications and magazines, for customers such as retirement communities, and some specialty catalogs for a manufacturer, he adds.
Color Quick currently houses an HP Indigo press 3050 and two Konica Minolta bizhub PRO 1050 monochrome printing systems. It has been producing variable data print campaigns through to mailing, and is expanding its services to include personalized URLs and landing pages. “The sales team that I have basically sells for both sides (digital and offset),” Morris notes.
Since the offset portion of the Columbia facility is completely new capacity and not supplanting any existing equipment, Sun has relocated some key operators from its Orangeburg plant and hired workers from the local market to staff the operation. “A lot of our people have already gone to Kennesaw (Heidelberg’s headquarters) for training. I’ve never seen my employees as excited as they are about this new technology,” Cook says.
The move represents a little leap of faith on the business side, as well as technologically, since the printer is looking to pursue new market opportunities. “Most of the time when we’ve bought new equipment, it was already booked solid,” reports the company’s president. “We’ve never really had completely new capacity in our company before.”
Higher quality, faster turn work is the market the new Columbia plant is designed to serve, although Cook points out that the printing organization already produces high-quality work on its six-color, 40? Heidelberg Speedmaster 102 press. By situating the facility in the state’s capitol city, Sun can now compete for the demanding ad agency business based there.
“I expect to be able to run a lot leaner with our new equipment,” he says. “I’ll be very surprised if we don’t have a considerable advantage here, even over our other facilities.”
Sun’s new operation is intended to be a proving ground for process integration and a place to work all the bugs out of the system. Once it’s fully operational, the plan is to start pushing the model out to other facilities.
Even with the ambitious scope of its current endeavor, Cook doesn’t anticipate needing to take any pause in the plans for the company’s further development. He points out that room was left in the new pressroom for a second press.
“Sun has always been a fast growing company,” notes its president. “I’ve got a couple of ideas that, by the first of the year, we’ll already be starting to work on.” PI