The In-plant Behind the Music
When Dave Matthews, Al Dimeola and Keith Urban need to restring their guitars, they look to D’Addario & Co., one of the largest manufacturers of musical instrument strings in the world. What they probably don’t know is that the packaging for those strings was printed in the family-owned and -operated company’s six-employee in-plant in Farmingdale, N.Y.
The shop’s four-color, 29˝ Heidelberg SM74 press churns out between 14 and 16 million envelopes for guitar strings each year. The in-plant also prints boxes for the reeds used by woodwind instruments, sleeves for drumsticks, and packaging for musical accessories like drum heads and electronic tuners. In all, packaging accounts for 85-90% of the D’Addario in-plant’s output. Other items like music writing paper, posters, small catalogs, stationery and business cards round out its workload.
The in-plant is overseen by Printing Manager Wayne Carbone, a 36-year veteran of the operation. He says that in recent years there has been a push to move packaging material from plastic to more biodegradable options. For instance, years ago guitar strings were inserted into a plastic pouch; today they’re inserted into paper envelopes printed on 12-pt. SBS board.
“We’re trying to be environmentally conscious about what we’re doing with packaging, so we’re constantly looking for different ways to package with more environmentally friendly material,” says Carbone.
With a centuries-old reputation for quality, efficiency and cost control, D’Addario prides itself on the attention it pays to detail in the manufacture of its products. It doesn’t just buy the wire used to make its guitar strings, for example, it manufactures its own wire to keep closer control over quality and ensure strings are being produced exactly to the company’s specifications.
This applies to the in-plant as well. For example, because each set of strings is color coded, it’s crucial that colors on the packaging are reproduced exactly right. To ensure this, the in-plant uses Digital Information’s InkZone software for presetting ink keys on its Heidelberg presses using prepress files, along with X-Rite’s IntelliTrax spectral scanner to scan color bars on press sheets.
“When Jim D’Addario [CEO] walks into a music store and he looks up on the shelf, if those colors aren’t right, he knows it,” says Carbone. “That’s another reason for having the printing department here, obviously, for making sure that everything gets done right, and that we’re always running the right color.
“And we also can react more quickly to spikes in our sales,” he continues. “It’s more that than the savings.”
That need for color accuracy is one reason the in-plant is still a mostly offset operation.
“We’d love to go digital,” Carbone confesses. “The problem with digital is that the color spectrum is too narrow right now for us. Our ability to recreate the Pantone library is very important to us. We’re really waiting for a seven-color digital system that would allow us 96-97% of the Pantone library. Once we get that, our runs will be very short.”
That said, the in-plant does already have some digital printing equipment. It uses a pair of Colordyne Memjet inkjet printers to print small runs of private label guitar string envelopes.
“You’re just printing enough to satisfy the order,” he notes.
The in-plant also has an Epson Stylus Pro 7600 roll-fed inkjet printer, as well as a 4x8-foot Gandi Innovations flatbed UV inkjet printer. The latter is used to create, among other things, personalized drum heads. The in-plant can print photos or other graphics onto a polyester film that is used to manufacture a drum head.
For now, though, the bulk of the in-plant’s output continues to be produced on its workhorse Heidelberg SM74.
“It runs every day, sometimes 10-11 hours a day,” remarks Carbone.
When digital printing technology finally meets its specifications, however, the in-plant won’t hesitate to jump in.
“I see digital in the future here,” Carbone says. “If not inkjet then a Landa-style printer.”
The opportunity to gang up jobs of different colors and to lower inventory levels by printing on demand are too enticing to pass up, he says. The in-plant could even print packaging in other languages. It recently printed a short-run job with Chinese characters.
“We’d love to be able to do more of that,” he says.
Related story: D’Addario In-plant Cuts Makeready Time, Boosts Productivity
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Graphics since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 130 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Graphics.