Jon Robinson

Jon Robinson

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Monday, 06 June 2016
Huge Paper Inc. has launched what it describes as a first-of-its-kind magnetic substrates swatch book featuring the product line of Magnum Magnetics. Led by President Jeff Tapping, Huge Paper has long served Canada’s printing industry as an independent source of unique paper, magnetics and synthetics for digital printing applications, in addition to more standard commerical work.

The company’s new swatch-book collection of printable magnetics features samples of Magnum’s most-popular substrates, including pre-magnetized DigiMag in a range of weights, RubberSteel regular black and write-on white, and MessageMag magnetic adhesive substrate.

Huge Paper provides a range of magnetic substrates in the Greater Toronto Area, which can be applied in both digital and litho printing processes. Magnum Magnetics substrates are describes as meeting all North American safety standards including those for toys.

Magnum Magnetics is the largest manufacturer of flexible magnetic products in the United States including printable magnetic sheets and rolls used in a variety of industries and applications.
Tuesday, 10 May 2016
Al George, one of the most-influential printing business leaders in Canada through the 1980s and 1990s, passed away on May 9 at age 73. George was best known for his leadership of McLaren Morris and Todd, which was founded in 1958 and soon became the print supplier for Hallmark Cards. By the early 1960s, the production of greeting cards represented 25 percent of total company revenues.

Following this preeminent Canadian printing contract, McLaren Morris and Todd (MM&T) burst into North American printing notoriety when the company’s owners took a chance on a new, struggling client trying to manufacturer their Trivial Pursuit board game – created in 1979 in Montreal by Chris Haney, a photo editor for Montreal's The Gazette, and Scott Abbott, a sports editor for The Canadian Press.

With MM&T’s crucial manufacturing partnership, Trivial Pursuit would become a global phenomenon, peaking in 1984 when more than 20 million games were sold across the continent. Building on its greeting card and Trivial Pursuit growth, as well as the 1980s boom in collector cards, MM&T began to shift its primary focus onto the production of labels as the company was purchased by Al George and John Morris in 1993 – with previous, second-generation owner Southam retaining a 30 percent interest.

The leadership of George and Morris, who would purchase the balance of Southam’s interest in 1995, would set the foundation for one of North America’s leading label-printing operations, which ultimately led to its purchase by Mail-Well (Cenveo) in 1998. At the time, MM&T had sales of approximately $50 million. Commenting on the sale, George, who was serving as MM&T’s President at the time, said, “We will now be able to expand beyond our current capabilities with the backing of the substantial Mail-Well printing organization.”

George remained with the organization until his retirement in September 2002. The MM&T operation would continue to evolve as a North American printing powerhouse. In 2013, the facility would see a technology investment of more than $6 million to install a 14-unit Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 106 sheetfed press (featured in PrintAction’s May 2015 cover story.)

In 2015, printing giant WestRock Company entered into a definitive agreement worth approximately US$105 million to acquire Cenveo’s Packaging interests, involving six Cenveo facilities across North America, which generated more than US$190 million in revenue in the previous fiscal year. This deal included Cenveo Packaging's most-prominent Canadian facility, MM&T, in large part built by the innovation and strategic insight of Al George.

Al George visitation and funeral details
Family and friends may gather at the Ward Funeral Home on Friday May 13, 2016, from 6-9 pm. A Celebration of Alan George’s life will be held on Saturday May 14, 2016, at the Ward Funeral Home at noon.
Tuesday, 26 April 2016
Alpha Poly Packaging Solutions of Brampton, Ont., for more than two decades primarily focused on the print production of polyethylene plastic bags, originally garbage bags before quickly moving into higher value food-service products, the latter of which was buoyed by an acquisition that basically doubled its size overnight. Alpha Poly’s February 2016 acquisition of Mikia Printing, a specialty flexible-packaging converter, however, speaks more to the company’s future.

The Mikia purchase is the most-recent example of a range of strategic investments led by Alpha Poly President Patrick Kerrigan, who took over leadership of the 50,000-square-foot operation in 2012, succeeding his father, Paul, who founded Alpha Poly in 1989. Kerrigan has been shifting Alpha Poly’s business approach since leading a lean-manufacturing audit in 2009, followed by a branding change, a new sales approach, and ultimately a multi-million-dollar capital equipment investment.

In 2013, Alpha Poly installed a massive 8-colour MIRAFLEX AM from Windmoeller & Hoelscher to produce higher-end process print jobs.  This investment was followed by a decisive push to capture the growth in multi-laminates with a Nordmeccanica Super Simplex SL laminator. With the support of family members holding key leadership roles, including Matthew Kerrigan, Stephanie Kerrigan and Martin Boeykens, Alpha Poly is positioning itself as one of Canada’s leading independent companies in the robust flexography sector.

Kerrigan worked outside of the family business for 15 years after going to school for broadcast journalism at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ont., which ultimately led to a career in post-production for television and movies. Kerrigan explains this experience allowed him to learn about his own approach in the business world before joining Alpha Poly. “I love to work with people and to mentor,” he says. “It is exciting to watch people grow – helping their families grow.”

Manufacturing measures
When Kerrigan led the lean audit for Alpha Poly in 2009, he faced difficult decisions of managing a manufacturing business, particularly one that has worked to foster a family-like atmosphere across the entire operation. Following the audit, Kerrigan estimates Alpha Poly reduced its labour by 30 percent and increased its output by 80 percent. “The return on investment was paid back in a year,” he says, noting how much discipline it took to institute the changes; for example, having one operator work two packing machines instead of a traditional one-to-one ratio.  

Just prior to the lean-manufacturing audit, Alpha Poly had purchased the assets of a struggling London, Ont., operation that had succumbed to selling work below cost, an easy trap to fall into in any printing sector. “You need to know and understand your costs,” says Kerrigan, who was preparing to have the same lean analyst return in February to reset Alpha Poly’s base after the past three years of change management to branding and sales.

 “It is great to see things moving ahead,” says Paul Kerrigan, who continues to attend major management meetings. “Patrick is driving the ship. We have a lot of good workers and that is a big part of making your business successful. It is exciting to come in and hear about all of the things going on.”

As he began to transition into leading Alpha Poly, Kerrigan leveraged years of broadcasting experience to evaluate the company’s brand position, which lacked a concrete marketing plan. Alpha Poly’s eight-year-old Website was in need of a revamp to better support the sales structure and any future manufacturing investments.

“When people heard about us, because our name used to be Alpha Polybag, the first thing was ‘Oh, you do the shopping bags for the grocery stores,’” Kerrigan says, noting the company had also been printing roll stock for a long time, as well as reverse printing on polyesters. “We re-launched our name to let people know we are not just a bag manufacturer.

 “At that time, I knew the next phase of the company was to get into multi-laminates because you could see back then it was a growing market,” Kerrigan says, recalling reports that indicated multi-laminates would experience eight or nine percent worldwide growth year over year. “Everything is moving from rigids like plastic clamshells and jars to stand-up pouches, so I knew it was a market you wanted to be in.”

Developing new markets
Kerrigan explains a key driver of Alpha Poly’s strategy began to unfold in late-2012 when he crossed paths with David Mailman, who was helping to  lead packaging manufacturer Multipak Ltd., which was in the process of shuttering its operation.

The high-end flexo knowledge of Mailman fit perfectly with Kerrigan’s plans to move Alpha Poly into new markets, which would require investing in the new press. “The stars aligned,” Kerrigan says. Mailman arrived in early 2013 to take over Kerrigan’s role as Plant Manager and to help direct the company’s capital investment.

This allowed Kerrigan to focus on melding Alpha Poly’s rebrand with a new sales approach. “I kept feeling that every time we came into our monthly management meetings we were always looking in the rearview mirror – what happened in the month before,” Kerrigan says.

He brought in an outside firm to review the sales strategy and a decision was made to implement the Salesforce.com CRM tool. At the time, Kerrigan explains Alpha Poly was generating healthy but flat annual revenue growth of around six percent. “We started setting targets for everybody and measuring,” he says. “People want to do better, but if you do not have anything to measure you do not know how well you are doing.” A sales roadmap was put in place to steer away from a shotgun approach and instead focus on what constitutes an ideal Alpha Poly customer.

In its most recent fiscal year, Alpha Poly experienced year over year revenue growth of slightly more than 20 percent. “We know where we are going because we can see everything in our pipeline,” Kerrigan says. “We can do accurate budgeting now… plus you have metrics that everybody is looking at.” The reinvigorated sales structure is also supported by a new business-development approach led by Kate Davis and former HP Canada trailblazer Debra Swift.

The February 2016 arrival of Vaughan Campbell, former owner of Mikia, who takes on a prominent technical sales role with Alpha Poly, helps establish one of the strongest senior leadership teams in Canadian flexography, with a technical and strategic ability to reach into completely new flexo markets. One of the most promising aspects of Alpha Poly’s new direction is that it currently only generates around five percent of its business from the United States.    

With all of the investments in people and technologies, Kerrigan continues to focus on bottom-line growth. “We have to keep this cog going and we have really invested in this team to help us,” he says. “Our next goal… I would like to see in the next couple of years a 10-colour press in here.”
Tuesday, 19 April 2016
MGI Digital Technology has debuted what the company describes as a major new addition to its JETvarnish 3D digital enhancement product portfolio. The JETvarnish 3D Evolution is also described by the company as the world’s first B1 scalable sheetfed Digital Enhancement Press.

JETvarnish 3D Evolution features a modular architecture, digital foiling and an upgradeable inkjet expansion system with three available substrate size options: 52 x 120 cm (20 x 47 inches) 64 x 120 cm (25 x 47 inches) and 75 x 120 cm (29 x 47 inches).

The B1+ size format option (75 x 120 cm, 29 x 47 inches), explains MGI, is designed to give printers and converters the ability to run fully personalized short, medium and long runs in a “die-less” manner for packaging applications. Every piece finished on all of MGI’s JETvarnish 3D systems can include a blend of digitally embellished images, text, data and brand designs using spot varnish, 3D raised varnish and digitally embossed foil in one pass.

The JETvarnish 3D Evolution is a high-production technology that incorporates pallet stacking, automated inkjet head cleaning, a new automatic feeding system, as well as a new sheet registration system, all of which will be unveiled and launched at drupa 2016.
Tuesday, 05 April 2016
Steve Cory of Objex Unlimited shares insight he has gained from almost five years of innovative 3D printing, which stands to revolutionize a range of industries.

Just as most people might be shocked by the invention age of inkjet printing (1951), toner printing (1959), and laser printing (1969), the birth of 3D printing traces back to 1983 despite its new stature as the beginning of a third industrial revolution, opined by futurist Jeremy Rifkin three years ago. Today’s potential of 3D printing, also commonly referred to as additive manufacturing, is based on its sudden widespread accessibility, akin to the consumer-level arrival of the Internet in the late-1990s despite its 1969 roots laid down by ARPANET.

The availability of mature 3D printing technology now falls into the hands of revolutionary business leaders who take enormous risks to disrupt legacy markets and to ultimately generate new revenue models. In the west end of Toronto, Steve Cory, President of Objex Unlimited, is one such entrepreneur who has been exploring the possibilities of 3D printing since 2011. He has built a worldwide name for Objex developing innovative scanning booths, unrivalled 3D figurines, creative and industrial prototypes, and by diving headfirst into any potential 3D arena his team of young engineers, artists, programmers and writers can imagine.

Growth of Objex Unlimited
Cory found his way into 3D printing after reading what he describes as one of those big-future articles in The Economist, highlighting a 3D-printed chainmail glove and working clock. He became obsessed with the implications of additive manufacturing and for six months researched the sector, attending a handful of local 3D-printing enthusiast meetings.

In mid-2011, Cory, at age 35, had been running his own consulting business for more than a year. A problem solver at heart and a trained mathematician, he had built a successful career by leveraging Information Technology to manage production, including a 100-person plant making sprockets and roller chain; catering facilities at Pearson Airport; and with the document-destruction company Shred-it.

“I was always a good manager because I had better information than anybody else,” Cory says. “I would go get it myself, because I was really good at understanding ERP systems, pulling the data – optimizing it.” Computer Integrated Manufacturing exploded across the business world in the 2000s and Cory in 2009, with the recent arrival of two young children, decided to use his attractive skill set to branch out on his own. He became bored, however, with the tedious routine of sitting around the kitchen table and developing process solutions in Excel.

Cory in September 2011 made a seminal decision to invest around $100,000 to purchase a used 3D colour printer and to lease a 3D plastic printer, followed three months later by his first scanner. “It took three months to complete my first order, which was $200,” he says, “and it took me another two months to sell a $50 order to a guy who still buys from me all the time.” Cory also began to serve as a distributor of 3D technologies to sustain  his more inventive plans for 3D printing. As fate would have it, the second handheld scanner he sold was to an influential Toronto businessman who would soon become a silent partner in Objex Unlimited.

“I wasn’t really looking for a cash infusion at that point,” Cory says. “I was ready to muddle through for the next coupe of years and grow slowly as revenue permitted, because I knew it would take time.” The cash infusion, however, allowed Cory to dream even bigger, broaden Objex Unlimited’s 3D printing assets, and begin to hire and train a unique collective of employees to push the frontiers of commercializing 3D applications.

“My business partner feels a big responsibility to give back and we are both very proud of the jobs that we have created here… 26, 27 jobs and probably 15 of these people would not have jobs like this,” Cory says. “They are extremely intelligent and talented, but maybe they didn’t go to the right school or maybe they are a little too wacky to survive in a normal working environment.” Cory prides himself on the creative atmosphere at Objex, which, to take from his own long-term business mantra, is very likely fostering future leaders of Canada’s 3D printing industry.

Exploring the future
Objex Unlimited today primarily uses Multijet Modelling, Fused Deposition Modelling, Stereolithography and 3D inkjet technologies, in addition to a range of ancillary equipment, to meet almost any non-metallic prototyping or modeling needs. This includes printing with carbon fibre and Kevlar additives.

“Prototyping is the reason 3D printing exists, because there is nothing better to make one-offs [particularly] if it is a small part with high detail,” Cory says. “When I started Objex there were three or four other 3D printing companies in Toronto all very strong in the automotive industry.”

Understanding it would be difficult to push his way into auto-part prototyping, where engineers supply great geometries but are naturally picky, Cory instead took a risk to focus on more creative 3D printing. As a result, Objex Unlimited is likely the most diverse 3D printing operation in Greater Toronto, probably Canada, running 14 machines. It affords Cory an unprecedented perspective – as both manufacturer and distributor – for what the 3D market can bare.

“There is a lot of really good marketing out there that makes it look like you can get a $1,000 printer and make parts for the Space Station,” he says, adding most people entering 3D simply do not understand its many critical manufacturing nuances, such as how difficult geometries are to reproduce, working with negative space and support materials, or why Z-axis builds provide little product strength. Cory explains any 3D printer between $20,000 and $50,000 is really a starting point to figure out how 3D works.

“A good 3D printer is $100,000 and they go up from there – it is capital intensive,” he says, reinforcing the need to take a long-term approach. Objex Unlimited itself – albeit on a unique path of 3D discover – is only now beginning to realize meaningful return on its investments, expecting to generate anywhere from $5 to $6 million in revenue by the end of its current fiscal year.

Cory explains the growth of 3D-print portals, driven by machine utilization, ganging jobs on a printer bed via online templates, presents significant challenges. “I really feel, that in some ways, 3D printed parts are disregarded by people because they have had bad experiences with them – poor quality, bad results, because everybody is chasing that low cost and lowest cost is not the right way to do it.”

He describes building an aluminum extrusion for a window, as an example. It might take three hours to print the part upwards on the Z-axis, but it can be easily snapped. If the window part was instead built lying down, this would require filling its negative space with support materials (later torn away or dissolved) and it might take seven hours to print, but the part actually bends because its lines are built horizontally on the X and Y axes.

Leading the way
Cory and his team are now a few months into an ambitious project to produce thousands of 3D figurines. Selftraits is an Objex-owned storefront studio on Queen St. West in downtown Toronto selling 3D selfies starting at $120 each. Selftraits leverages one of Objex Unlimited’s key R&D programs, a 3D scanning booth that employs 140 synchronized SLR cameras and vast amounts of intellectual property, from electronics and lighting to focusing tools and data transfer. The system was built by two 24-year-old Objex employees, who are now working on a fourth iteration of the machine, which Cory calls The Cobra and will sell for around $250,000.

“Everybody tells me our photo booth is overkill: ‘Why would you use 140 cameras when 60 is fine.’ It is to reduce the digital sculpting time,” Cory explains. The Queen St. store opened on December 10 and scanned about 300 people to make 5-inch-high figurines before Christmas. “I don’t think anybody in the world could have done that – not just scanned but delivered.” Cory hopes Selftraits will be scanning 500 to 700 people per month this summer. “It is both exciting and scary because we are proving a business model that you can have a free-standing store to make [3D] selfies and actually make money.”

Objex is now working on a mobile booth to scan dozens of people per hour at major events, in addition to high-profile art installations, which will place the Toronto company onto an even bigger 3D world stage.
Wednesday, 23 March 2016
The former mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, 46, passed away on March 22 after a battle with cancer. Prior to taking office, Ford was a principal of the family printing business Deco Labels and Tags, based in Etobicoke, Ont., on the outskirts of Toronto’s downtown core. He became the first printer to occupy the city’s mayoral office since William Lyon Mackenzie was elected as Toronto’s first mayor in 1834.

Ford served as Chief Financial Officer of Deco Labels, which was founded more than 50 years ago by his father, Doug Ford Sr. He worked closely with brothers Doug and Randy Ford to grow Deco Labels into one of Greater Toronto’s largest label printing operations, while also developing his firebrand of politics as a City Councillor that lead him to victory – by 93,669 votes – in Toronto’s October 25, 2010, Mayoral election.

Read Victoria Gaitskell’s November 2010 PrintAction cover story on Rob Ford, published just days before he officially took office on December 1.
Tuesday, 09 February 2016
MET Fine Printers of Vancouver, BC, won Best of Show, Print, in Veritiv’s annual uVU awards competition for its production of Nike’s Young Athlete Book, You Can Even Ask My Dad book, produced on a Man Roland 700 UV press at 240 lpi.

The Award of Excellence for both design and print went to the project Empowering Global Citizenship Book, designed by Circo De Bakuza and printed by Imprimerie l’Empreinte of Laval, Quebec.

The competition, which travels across the country to recognize leading print and design projects produced by Veritiv customers, included four Judges’ Choices awards received by Andora Graphics, Unicom Graphics (2), and Flash Reproductions, in combination with partnering design firms.

The remaining category winners in the uVU Print Categories included: Imagination Ink Ltd. of Regina, SK, for Wide Format; Hemlock Printers of Burnaby, BC, for Brochures (2 awards); C.J. Graphics for Brochures (2 awards); C.J. Graphics for Catalogues; Hemlock Printers for Magazines; Flash Reproductions for Note Cards and Invitations; C.J. Graphics for Note Cards and Invitations; Kallen Printing for Books; Somerset Graphics for Books; MET Fine Printers for Books; Emerson Clarke for Digital; and MET Fine Printers for Packaging.
Tuesday, 02 February 2016
Brad King has been named Vice President of Xerox Canada’s newly redesigned national graphic communications organization. Prior to his new role, King was Xerox Canada’s Vice President of Central Operations, responsible for sales and marketing of Xerox’s portfolio of office and graphic communications products to clients in the Greater Toronto Area and southwestern Ontario.

King was a member of the 1992 Canadian Olympic team and competed in alpine skiing in Albertville, France.

“The printing industry continues to be a very competitive marketplace for our clients – it’s also a very exciting time as we develop new technology platforms that will help them produce relevant, profitable, quality and high value offerings for their own customers,” stated King, in a release about his new role. “As the industry continues its migration from offset to digital, we are well positioned with our leading high-end printing solutions – such as the Xerox Impika Evolution, a continuous-feed, inkjet digital press – to help our clients broaden their offerings, while increasing productivity, overall revenue and business growth. This is a strategic priority for us.”
 
Xerox explains the redesigned graphic communications operation will provide clients across Canada with access to specialized experts to help them better leverage the company’s production and digital printing technologies, application developments and workflow solutions.
Monday, 18 January 2016

At the age of 17, Vinay Tewathia, after a high-school co-op placement with a local print brokerage, began to build a printing business in the basement of his family’s home. He initially designed and brokered print, developing a business model around the high-impact possibilities of modern production technology.

By 2004, Tewathia founded New Era Print Solutions and focused on adding value to print through special finishing treatments. He acquired New Era’s first major press in 2012 with a Heidelberg DI. This August, as he was in the process of doubling his shop’s space from 3,200 to 6,400 square feet, to accommodate a 29-inch, 5-colour Heidelberg press with coater, PrintAction spoke with Tewathia about his passion for print.



This article originally appeared in PrintAction's September 2015 issue.

Why have you invested in a 29-inch press?
VT: We already have one Heidelberg machine. We have windmills and letterpresses where we do all of the finishing, from foil stamping, embossing, offline UV, and the OPP laminations and more of the specialty stuff. So we are just expanding more on the production side… we are known as higher-end printers within our local community. So the whole point of us acquiring the machine is so we can take on more and more, not outsource as much and be cost effective for the current brokers that we are dealing with.

Why focus on high-end print?
VT: Everybody knows how to get a quick postcard, business card or flyer done, but a lot of people get stumped or have questions when it comes to creating something with a foil stamp or adding a finish or some sort of elegance to the job.

Starting from the age of 17 and coming up in this industry, you are young and see how traditional technologies can be married with new technologies, so you just try to create something different and use new looks and feels.

Why print instead of digital media?
VT: We are in both. Print has been the stronger revenue for me. It is kind of where I started… I did a lot of the design for free [in the beginning] just to get the work flowing, incorporating it into my print price. What I find today is that digital is becoming more and more over-saturated and people want that tangible good in their hands and that is why we went the route of specialty and high-end finishing versus just everyday print production.

How significant was the DI press purchase?
VT: Purchasing the DI was probably the best move we have ever made… it is probably why we are in the position to now acquire the 5-colour Heidelberg. Without the DI, I just had a digital machine and we were outsourcing so I would always have to gang things up on a bigger sheet. It was very tough to offer different stocks and types of jobs, outside of just ganging things up and trying to make a profit.

How will the 29-inch format help New Era?
VT: A lot of the work I outsource now is to 40-inch machines and I find this is a happy medium to bridge the gap between outsourcing jobs and keeping them in-house. I am hoping the Speedmaster will allow us to do pretty much 95 percent of our work in-house... we definitely anticipate becoming a lot more profitable.

How will the facility expansion help?
VT: Right now in our one side we have the DI, three letterpresses, offline UV coater, OPP laminator, a folder and our cutter, with a whole bunch of skids and paper on the floor. We are now putting the press on the other [newly expanded] side with all of the paper, which will give us an easier workflow and customer-pick up area on the  current side.

Why do you have such optimism for print?
VT: Everybody has new challenges and new things they want to do and I always feel like we are helping them out. Sure, printing is a tangible good, but I also feel like it is a service industry because you are serving people who have needs on a daily and weekly basis… to be honest that is what drives me all of the time… driving for success, trying to get bigger and better companies through our door.

What key print challenges are you finding?
VT: A lot of the market is underselling and undercutting each other and the truth is if the bigger companies put their heads together and stabilize costing I think it would really revive where print can go in the next five to 10 years. I think print is being undervalued and that is a  significant challenge.

What is the risk with this new press?
VT: It is just over a half-million-dollar investment… the biggest one we have made thus far. It is the most critical time, being at an age where I am, but I feel it is going to get us over the next hump in business.

Why invest in offset, and not digital toner?
VT: Offset is traditionally what I have been dealing with for the last 14 years… I still feel like it is going to be almost impossible to replace conventional offset machines. There is still going to be a need for bulk work and specialty work; and you are still very limited when it comes to digital machines. The investment on a brand new digital machine to me is too risky... I know what I can produce, create and generate with this offset machine.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Craig Riethmacher grew up surrounded by the business of large-format printing, with his father being one of the founding shareholders of Middleton Group back in 1952. Middleton today is a unique printing operation in Canada, based on its move into merchandising more than a decade ago and a continuing drive to deliver the rich quality of screen printing through two massive, 4-colour, UV-enabled inline presses, and four single colours.

Middleton was also among the country’s first screen printers to dive into inkjet printing, taking on a 4-bed-per-hour Inca Eagle 44 press in 2005, followed three years later by a 10-bed-per-hour Columbia Turbo. In late-2010, Riethmacher led Middleton’s purchase of a massive Agfa M-Press Tiger press, which produces up to 170 beds per hour.

In March of this year, Middleton replaced its Columbia Turbo, after running it for seven years, with Canada’s first Inca Onset R40-LT UV inkjet press. Before touring the company’s impressive 50,000-square-foot printing plant, Riethmacher sat down with PrintAction to discuss the growth and direction of Middleton Group.

The following article was originally published in PrintAction June 2015 issue.

Historically, what was the largest technology jump for Middleton?

CR: When I worked on the presses we switched from solvent-based inks to UV inks. That was a really big jump, because it just changed everything. It changed all of our equipment and all of our processes.

What were the early days of digital like?
CR: The speed was horrible compared to screen-printing, so it was really limited in the beginning... But it was beautiful when it came out – just so slow. The biggest bonus was the lack of prepress compared to screen.

Why did you invest in the new Inca?
CR: The Inca is so good for us because of the type of work that we do; having to do those thick substrates and edge-to-edge printing and now we can do whites and spot gloss clears, so it is a really good press and it fits our shop.

How much has printing white advanced?
CR: It is great. We are screen printers so we have had that luxury of doing digital and putting a screen ink on the back or vice versa, but you still run into some weird curing issues... We went through a good amount of R&D on that, so to be able to just send in a sheet and have it come out with white on is great.

Will digital inkjet replace screen?
CR: Ten years from now if they keep going as they have in the last 10 years, we are going to be running some pretty speedy digital presses. I don’t think you will ever replace screen 100 percent, but it will get close. I do feel there will always be a place for screen.

What percentage of your work is screen versus inkjet?
CR: We do more digital. I would say probably 60/40. It is very much quantity related too. Larger jobs that are over 500-plus sheets tend to go screen – depending on what the job looks like. Sometimes we will look at the artwork and realize it is going to be very difficult to produce screen, like some jobs with fine light colours that have really low percentage tones where we are going to pull our hair out trying to achieve colour, so we just put them on the digital press.

How important is print today at Middleton?
CR: We are definitely not just a printer anymore with all the permanent display work we do, but we still like to boast that we are a pretty darn good printer. We always have been and I think we always will be about quality. We will take the extra step to make sure our quality is well above average before it goes out the door.

Do you feel the competition of commercial printers getting into wide-format inkjet?
CR: Yes – when we were just screen-printing, it was just us and three or four other big competitors. That became five or six as digital started and now there are people with [digital] in their garages, nipping away at things.

There are so many types of digital. So, what we tried to do here was not become a so-called digital shop where we have other processes like roll-to-roll. We buy digital equipment that compliments our screen print and it makes us a better large-format printer – better at what we do best and what we sell best.

Will you scale up the R40-LT over time?
CR: We have the M-Press, which really pounds out the prints and it wasn’t that we were looking for another print pounder… The LT was perfect for us because it is four times faster than the Turbo. Even at the base model and quality is exactly the same whether you have the full R40 or not. We will definitely be looking to scale up the press moving forward.

How much of your sales is from merchandising versus print?
CR: I would say about a 60/40 split with printing still being higher… Print is very competitive. We are going to get what we can, but if we really want to grow our business we have to grow it on the merchandising side, while still being a great print provider. That is really where our focus is... helping the bottom line.

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