UBS Printing Group -- Forging New Paths
The world of commercial printing can be a cruel one. Just ask Gene Hamrick, president and CEO of the UBS Printing Group located in Corona, CA, just outside of Los Angeles.
When the market shifts, no one mails out a postcard to the affected parties—they find out the hard way. That was the case with Hamrick's company, which he started in 1984 as a printing, packaging and label brokerage before delving into commercial print production in 1989.
Founded in Orange County, UBS Printing was ideally situated to print manuals, company brochures and direct mail for the surrounding computer hardware and software companies.
"Our niche was that we could print everything in the box, and the box itself, for software and hardware companies," he notes.
It's a New World
Shortly after 9/11, software companies changed their packaging habits. Printed manuals were no longer included with the software—those who wanted a hard copy paid a premium to have it shipped as the print-on-demand concept began to take hold. As for the annual reports, they transformed from paper documents to PDF files that were available for download on corporate Websites. Those who still wanted a hard copy, once again, were sent one via on-demand printing.
Hamrick decided that he couldn't grow profits doing commercial printing alone, so he looked into branching into printed products where his company could provide more added value. The result: an aggressive expansion into package printing, which also required new pressroom equipment capabilities. In a little more than a year, UBS Printing has upgraded its pressroom with three new sheetfed offset presses from KBA North America: a six-color, 29˝ Rapida 74 with in-line coater; a six-color, 41˝ Rapida 105 perfector; and a six-color, 41˝ Rapida 105 Universal perfector. Both 105s are equipped with aqueous and UV coaters.
The company also constructed its current plant, a 78,000-square-foot facility that opened in 2000, and is looking to obtain a current neighboring building to accommodate new equipment and satisfy the storage requirements that package printing demands.
Today, package printing accounts for about 60 percent of its $29 million in annual sales, followed by 25 percent for commercial printing and 15 percent for book printing. And when Hamrick looks to the future, he thinks of printing on plastics and increasing his capabilities toward that end.
"Commercial printing is now in a commodity world, not like it was before," Hamrick notes. "Today, if you don't offer quality, price and service, you're out of business. In commercial printing, you now go up against several other bidders and the buyer assumes all of the printers are pretty much the same. To me, it's a going-out-of-business plan to sit still while customers say 'lower your price, lower your price, lower your price.' Pricing becomes fierce because that becomes your only differentiation.
"As a result, printers can't afford to buy new equipment or grow their businesses because they're too busy trying to figure out how to run the job cheaper than the next guy," he laments. "For us, the big focus of being competitive is being on the cutting edge of technology to set us apart."
Last year was a successful one for UBS Printing, which increased sales by 6 percent over its 2003 revenues. That figure is more impressive in light of the multi-million dollar investment in changing the company's entire sheetfed press line over to the KBA Rapidas. Hamrick credits his 75 employees for rallying around the cause for growth and innovation.
Speaking of which, Hamrick is a big fan of innovation and isn't afraid to have his plant manager, Gilbert Ashdown, find innovative configurations for UBS' equipment. For example, when manuals printing was a big part of its operation, Ashdown hooked roll-to-sheeters up to one of UBS' sheetfed presses. By purchasing roll stock, the company gained a 25 percent discount off its sheetfed paper prices and was able to remain price competitive on the book front and still maintain sheetfed quality.
A Binding Original
Hamrick also claims to be the only commercial printer doing "stay-flat" book binding. The printer developed a "stay-flat" book binding process that attaches a paper-reinforced open-back spine, which allows books to lie open for ease of use. UBS obtained a Wohlenberg perfect binder and Ashdown, a printing veteran of more than 25 years, tweaked it to perform UBS' binding process. "We did things that the perfect binder manufacturer said couldn't be done on its machine," Hamrick points out. "They're asking us how we did it."
The decision to diversify, primarily into package printing, fed into that need to be more creative—to do things a little differently and to not follow the beaten path.
"The packaging world is truly innovative—it's all about ideas, ideas, ideas," he says. "Customers expect you to have the experience to look at what they're trying to package and know how to do it. That means keeping an open mind and being creative. You have to listen and react to the client's needs, as opposed to installing a press and just going out and selling press time for it.
"When we go out to an account, we say as little as possible in order to really learn what they need. My sales reps don't go in just to sell a job. We desire contract printing and we want them to know that we can print just about anything they might throw at us. The overall customer mindset over the past five years has been to eliminate vendors. We're one supplier that usually doesn't get eliminated, primarily because we can do so many things."
KBA North America spoke to UBS Printing's needs with the trio of Rapida presses. More specifically, the hardware was the answer to UBS' diversification demands for printing on board stocks, plastics and paper. In doing both package and commercial work, substrates can range from 60-lb. book to 48-pt. board stocks. Hamrick points out that his company does a fair amount of five-over-one printing on board stock for blister packs and clamshell inserts, which can become tricky when graduating into the 20-pt. weights.
With the Rapidas 105s, Ashdown saw an advantage due to the fact that the KBA presses operate on bearings as opposed to bushings. With the printer's previous press lines, fiber optics also became an issue as the units grew older.
"Some of the main selling points for us are the way that the KBA press ink train is shorter and the fact that color changes are so much quicker," Ashdown remarks. "The quality of our products seem to be better and more consistent because of the shorter ink train and the way the computers talk. Makereadies are also faster on the KBAs because we don't have to go and readjust all the transverters. And we don't have to make any gripper pad height adjustments."
The results have been positive, according to Ashdown, allowing UBS to become more diversified in its product offerings by being able to print on a range of substrates and paper weights, including paper, board, plastic and foil board. That diversification also complements UBS Printing's ability to turn around jobs quicker than most dedicated package printing operations.
"When you order paper, it usually arrives the next day, but converting board usually takes two or three days to be delivered," he notes. "We work closely with board converters and have the ability to keep everything in-house all the way through—from prepress to diemaking and diecutting. So we can do a three- or five-day turnaround on packaging when most companies take seven to 10 days."
Quick to Press
In order to achieve rapid turnaround times, UBS relies on a Screen PlateRite 8000 thermal platesetter and an Agfa SelectSet 5000 imagesetter. Color proofing is achieved with an Epson Stylus Pro 10600, a Fuji PictroProof and a two-sided Gerber Impress 2000 imposition proofer. Small-format printing is done on a two-color, 18˝ Ryobi and a single-color, 15˝ Heidelberg TOK press.
Finishing capabilities range from two Sugano diecutters and folder/ gluers to Polar and Harris Seybold cutters, three MBO folders and a McCain collator/stitcher with cover feeder and five-knife trimming capabilities.
Perhaps one of Hamrick's greatest assets is his background as a print broker and knowing clients' requirements from a manufacturing standpoint. "With the broker mentality, you have a 'can do' attitude," Hamrick says. "That attitude is what makes us go forward while others are sitting stagnant."
From Ashdown's perspective, improvement is an ongoing quest to solidify UBS Printing's objective to be a high quality, single-source provider. "Quality is always a constant," he says. "We're constantly looking for new materials, better consumables and always trying to achieve the best dot possible. With the new presses and our other equipment, we provide clients with the highest quality printing they can get on board or any other substrate."
Like its name suggests, the Rapidas allowed UBS Printing Group to attain that goal—in a hurry.