By Jon Robinson
By Jon Robinson
The following article was originally published in PrintAction‘s May 2015 issue.
Cenveo McLaren Morris & Todd is home to some of the most knowledgeable technicians, managers and salespeople in Canada’s printing industry. Nearly three years ago, one of these key assets, Steve Hanley, set out on a career-defining journey with one of his key sales clients aiming to mass-produce a groundbreaking baby-formula label.
After months of collaborating with the client, testing inks and coatings in Germany, covering financial plans with corporate, Hanley and Cenveo MM&T’s journey materialized in late-2013 with the installation of a 14-unit Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 106 sheetfed press. The more than $6 million investment, unique in its printing configuration and automation, is rivaled in approximation by only a handful of such high-end presses in North America.
Holding one of the most interesting histories in Canada’s printing industry, from its origins of producing Hallmark Cards to its role in establishing the worldwide phenomenon of the Trivial Pursuit board game, the new 14-unit Heidelberg press is pushing Cenveo MM&T along an impressive growth path in pharmaceuticals, where packaging is often as important as the formula.
Hallmark and Pursuit
MM&T was acquired by Cenveo, then operating as Mail-Well, 17 years ago, adding yet another important marker to its 59-year history in the Canadian printing industry. Headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, Cenveo is a $2-billion company operating in the management and distribution of print and related offerings. The company is overseen by one of modern printing’s most dynamic businessman, Robert Burton Sr., who has been Cenveo’s Chairman and CEO since September 2005 – with sons Mike Burton serving as Cenveo’s COO (June 2014) and Rob Burton as President.
Cenveo encompasses more than two-dozen entities in over 100 facilities. It employs more than 270 sales associates in North America, with additional entities in the Dominican Republic, India and Thailand – 8,100 employees in total. It acquired a Canadian printing gem with the acquisition of McLaren Morris & Todd, co-founded in 1958. One of those original builders, John McLaren (in association with Harry Morris and Art McLaren), secured greeting-card producer Hallmark as a massive customer for its sheetfed presses. Greeting-card production would come to represent 25 percent of total company revenues by the early 1960s.
After being purchased by Southam in 1967, which brought in web-offset presses for direct-mail and advertising work, MM&T would soon enter the spotlight by working closely with the creators of Trivial Pursuit, Chris Haney and Scott Abbott, to manufacture their world-record board game. (Today, more than 100 million copies of the game have been sold in 26 countries.) The original Trivial Pursuit had 6,000 questions on 1,000 cards – a printing risk with a world of potential benefit. MM&T’s early involvement with Trivial Pursuit led to an expansion of the facility to a total of 115,000 square feet.
Building on its greeting- and Trivial Pursuit-card knowledge, and moving with the 1980s boom in collector cards, MM&T shifted its expertise into label work. This application direction was emphasized after John Morris and Alan George purchased MM&T from Southam in 1995. In 1998, they sold their company to Mail-Well, which, after combining with acquisitions led by Robert Burton Sr., became Cenveo in 2004 – resulting in Cenveo MM&T (CMM&T).
A year later, CMM&T installed its first 10-colour flexographic press to dive deeper into label printing. This was soon followed by the installation of a 7-colour full web Goss press. The newest direction for the facility is positioned squarely at feet of the Heidelberg XL 106.
Research and testing
Before the Heidelberg XL 106 was purchased, Hanley visited Germany on three separate occasions to test out the printing units, twice with Heidelberg and once with KBA. The CMM&T team sent over specific inks and did thorough press testing on behalf of their client before pulling the trigger.
“Part of the testing in Germany was to prove it to Cenveo’s corporate leadership, ‘Here is where the client wants to go, here is where I got them, and this is the press that is going to do it,’” Hanley recalls. Hanley himself established the protocols for how the files should be tested, which took place on three different substrates in each of two main application categories, cartons and labels. “Heidelberg was very excited about the project too, because it highlights what they do.
“KBA is a very capable press as well,” explains Hanley, who was impressed with both high-tech factories, but the XL 106 better fit CMM&T’s application and long-standing experience with Heidelberg machines.
The purchase of the press was based on the baby formula producer signing a 5-year printing contract with CMM&T. It was the first such press configuration that Heidelberg has produced. “It is a duo press with flexo and offset capabilities, 14 units, all UV capable, extended dryer. It is a very unique packaging press in the world,” says Hanley. “We had faith in Heidelberg to deliver the product.”
The Heidelberg press arrived in Mississauga literally by 17 tractor-trailer loads. “Heidelberg knows what they are doing, so there were no issues with it at all,” says Peter Zamos, who has been with MM&T for 31 years and led the technical implementation of the press into the plant. Leaving the feeder, sheets first travel into a flexo unit where a premium liquid silver foil is applied, which is key to reaching the client’s graphic goals for its new baby-formula label design. “The advantage of putting it on in the first unit is then you can tint it and it will look like foiling.”
This immediately raises technical challenges in a press run, but the liquid foil is a highly efficient route for long-run label production, as opposed to applying traditional mylar (metallized polyester film) or other forms of foil. The baby-formula work is now produced in a single pass at very high speeds. “There is an unknown factor with a raised plate when you are trying to marry it to a lithographic plate in the next units,” explains Zamos, describing fit and trapping issues when breaking from the conventional wisdom of putting the opaque colour down last.
Zamos feels the capabilities of the Heidelberg press are almost like a return to the craft of printing, including the file preparation of Autumn Graphics, a specialized flexographic prepress house from London, Ontario. Autumn Graphics has been working with CMM&T and this client for approximately 20 years. “You are trying to fit transparent ink around an opaque shell without having a visual problem,” he says. “From a client’s perspective, there is a craft to that.”
Leaving the flexo unit, sheets travel through two drying stubs before reaching the offset units, coating and drying units. Karl Cox, who took over as the lead of CMM&T’s facility at the beginning of 2015, agrees with the artistic value that the new press brings. “The art aspect of it is not only in how we look at the colour and how we get to the quality, but how we run the press efficiency at its maximum speeds,” he says, continuing to point to how business flows into the press, scheduling its run and labour to meet the expectations and needs of the facility.
During his early research, Hanley also had to consider how the printed labels would fit into the client’s packaging line. “A key challenge is to run at high speeds and to reach the proper coating gloss levels to have it run smoothly through the customer’s lines at high speed,” he explains. The production team is targeting a superior gloss level of 90 and is currently just below this high standard, while also committing to run with a delta E of two or less (well below the normal standard of delta E 3).
“This was Steve’s passion. He believed this is what this organization needed and went for it – the proof is that he got it right,” says Cox, Regional Vice President, Sales and Operations at CMM&T. “It is exceeding the ROI that we positioned for the press when we brought it in. We are ahead of schedule. It has been a massive success for us as an organization.” Cox explains the press has already attracted new clients and he expects more. “We first wanted to perfect our art as a business with the press, before taking it to market for new opportunities. We are really at that point now.”
This strategy fits well with CMM&T’s historic approach of working with high-end, demanding clients. “We used to print for Hallmark Greeting Cards. It was our first account and Hallmark has always been a very quality-oriented company,” says Zamos. “If you are going to buy a card for $6 you want it to be perfect and their quality levels are almost at pharmaceutical levels… Really, it is nothing new for us.”
In addition to closed-loop colour, the Heidelberg XL 106 includes auto inspection cameras with pharmaceutical-specific PDF architecture to capture an image of each sheet – and dreaded hickeys – at press speed, to mark and pull errors from the run.
Printing and mailing
Cox joined Cenveo in January 2014 to implement structural change at the Clixx Direct Marketing facility in Scarborough, which Cenveo purchased in 2010. After more than a decade of Cenveo’s growth through acquisition, Cox is tasked with consolidating processes and to capitalize on individual assets at CMM&T. Cenveo is divided into three groups: Packaging, which includes CMM&T; commercial print; and the envelope group, as a result of the Mail-Well acquisition. After acquiring the assets of National Envelope in 2010, Cenveo became the largest envelope manufacturer in North America.
“We are starting to see an improvement in mailing,” Cox says. “That provides us with huge opportunities… We can essentially print in this facility and then add variable aspects at the Clixx facility. The two facilities work very well together.”
One of Cox’ first moves at CMM&T was to bring in a lean manufacturing black belt to drive further efficiencies. The facility has been deeply involved with both external and internal auditing processes since 1996, when a client’s new Request For Proposal approach required partners to be Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certified.
“We took it on very aggressively… and we passed every audit they could throw at us,” says Hanley, noting the baby-formula market has higher standards than most pharmaceutical sectors. “It really highlights the importance in the quality of printing and in every aspect of the quality of that product.” Concern for quality control in the sector came to a head about five years ago when several infant deaths in China were tied to contaminated baby formula products of the country’s domestic suppliers.
“We have a platform that we can grow with a lot of different products and services that meet the needs of our customers,” says Cox. “That is what really impressed me [about CMM&T]. We have a great team here.”
Hanley is one of the top salespeople in the Canadian printing market and he sees an enormous opportunity ahead, because of the new 14-unit Heidelberg press. “This is the defining moment of my whole career,” he says. The packaging industry is still largely comprised of small entrepreneurial businesses and Hanley expects many mergers and acquisitions are ahead, mirroring the past decade in commercial printing.
“There are some challenges on the commercial side from a margin perspective and there are different types of challenges in packaging,” says Cox. “We have opportunities for margin and growth potential through the development of new products, the installation of new presses, and in the innovation that we have brought to market with this press. That is where we see opportunity.”