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.
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.”
The town of Altona in southern Manitoba holds slightly more than 4,000 people in an economic landscape primarily driven by farming- and agriculture-based businesses, as well as the manufacture of books. In early March, the town became home to one of the world’s three 8-colour, 73-inch manroland R900 HiPrint XXL perfecting presses, which Friesens Corporation is leveraging for short-run book work.
Most presses of this size are saved for the packaging sector, where perfecting is usually not needed to print on both sides of the substrate. Of course, Friesens’ press also required significant inline colour management tools to deal with a massive sheet that will often hold 64 unique and different pages at one time. The company is well known by other printers for its near-spotless pressroom and by North American publishers for its ability to print short-run, colour-intensive works of art.
“I never want to lose the underdog mentality that has existed as part of the fabric of this company for 107 years. We are in the middle of nowhere, but that just breeds ingenuity and hard work,” says Curwin Friesen, CEO of Friesens Corp., which provides an ownership model for its approximate 600 employees, tying the highly respected book manufacturer even closer to the community.
When the R900 arrived in Altona by dozens of tractor-trailers, it was too large for Friesens’ shipping bays and the company needed cut a massive hole into the side of the building for direct entry into what would become a newly configured pressroom. Installed, the press is approximately 100 feet long and weighs half a million pounds. Before commissioning the press in July, celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with hundreds of staff members and around 75 dignitaries, Friesens conducted three and half months of set up and testing.
The decision to go with the R900 was made a little more than a year ago, after first discussing the possibilities of moving to very large format technology at the drupa 2012 trade show in Germany. It would be a challenge to handle such a large sheet and perfect it without marking, which can be a technical struggle even with 40-inch perfectors.
“It is very much an efficiency play and a progression from where we have moved in our history,” says Friesen. The company began working 8-page signatures, four pages on each side of a sheet sent through the press twice, drying twice before folding. When press technology improved the crew moved to a machine printing 16-page signatures, again twice through. “In the late-80s, we went to 50-inch format when others were on 40-inch format and that allowed us to go to a 32-page, 8 ½ x 11 signature.” The press sheets still traveled twice through the press, but the company’s 50-inch machines were printing a 64-page children’s book with just two sheets and four make-readies.
The new 8-colour, 73-inch manroland R900 perfector allows Friesens to print a 64-page children’s book with one sheet and one make-ready. The relative efficiency of the new press, over the 50-inch machines, is increased by anywhere from 300 to 400 percent, with a more precise number expected after more time with the R900 reveals figures like wastage, press speed, and finely-tuned make-ready – with the latter number ending up slightly more than a quarter of 50-inch machine make-ready.
“There are hardly any book manufactures in North America who are running 50s and almost none overseas. It is basically a 40-inch world and we live in the 50-inch world and now we are trying to live in the 73-inch world,” says Friesen. “Is it more efficient – absolutely. Are we excited about the productivity numbers we are starting to see – you bet we are. Since the ribbon cutting, every week is getting better and our crews are getting more familiar with it, more comfortable.”
The multi-million-dollar technology investment included the purchase of a massive Maxson Automatic Machinery Co. precision sheeter, because Friesens has traditionally converted its own stock, which now sits about 15 feet in front of the press.
A new large-format platesetter – about 65 feet long in its own controlled positive air space – is also close by and integrated with robotics to move the massive 73 x 50-inch plates – in addition to 50-inch plates – through the imaging process, before a specialized conveyor is wheeled about 10 feet to modified catwalk rails where crews finally touch the plates for mounting on the R900.
The manroland R900 configuration is also unique because Friesens’ management decided to maintain its bindery set-up for 32-page signatures, resulting in an inline slitter system integrated with the new press, as well as the continuing interest in 50-inch machines. “One of the other things unique about this press is that we put an engineered pit underneath it, so we have better access and that is not done anywhere else in the world,” says Friesen, noting how much the company’s mechanics were involved in the R900 investment project.
“The beauty of it is that we were starting from scratch and our goal was to create the most-efficient pressroom in the world and everything mirrors this mindset,” says Friesen.
Despite its massive size, the efficiency of the press and pressroom allows for incredibly short runs of around 4,000 books and up, with an ideal range at around 10,000. “We are a short-run book manufacturer that is what we specialize in within our book division,” says Friesen. The company already produces long runs that may measure around 100,000, but the R900 also presents a new opportunity to provide sheetfed press quality on some lower-end Web offset press speeds.
“Books are not DVDs. Books are not music. Books are different. As we see with business cards, some players in the market believe that business cards are going to be around forever and they certainly do not seem like they are going away,” says Friesen. “One large player has also used large format on short-run business cards to change the game.”
Friesens generates approximately 55 percent of its revenue from the U.S., which Friesen has noticed picking up because of the lower dollar, and 45 percent domestically. Based on various avenues of research, he notes the book market has been very stable for the past five years, to the point where independent bookstores are growing for the first time in a decade. Friesen explains it appears the concentration of e-readers has hit a saturation point in North America. “E-books have their niche and have an important role in the book business, but not the only role,” he says. “Publishers see that sales are bearing that out and so we continue to believe there is a strong future for books.”
Friesen describes one recent report from Deloitte based on polling a sample of 18 to 24 year olds who exhibited a strong propensity toward printed books. “Despite the fact that they live in a digital world they still like print for a bunch of reasons.” Friesen is also noticing more on-shoring of book printing, relating that many publishers are returning to North American printers instead of having the work done in China.
The trend is driven by much busier Chinese ports and the need for shorter turnaround times, as well as more preference to print lower run totals; for example, two 5,000 jobs instead of 10,000 at once. Friesen explains it is not in a printer’s best interest to print 10,000 books and have the publisher only sell 2,000. “Is China still going to be a big printing force – absolutely – but if five percent of that business returns, or 10 percent, on a billion-dollar industry, that is significant.”
In addition to its strong roots in yearbook production, typically with runs measured in the hundreds, self publishing is a growing sector for Friesens, through its FriesenPress division that sells packages – potentially with editing, copywriting, designing and proofreading services in addition to printing – that might cost around $3,500 run on digital presses instead of $15,000 via litho.
“We believe that we are going to be in books for a long, long time and if we are going to be in books then we better be geared up for it and not just dabbling,” says Friesen, projecting a relatively stable market for at least the next decade. A little more than five years ago, however, Friesens’ managers were tasked with expanding the company’s interest in packaging, which resulted in think4D, consisting of around 40 employees.
After purchasing a Toronto company and related patents, and investing a few million into R&D, think4D is a unique operation in the world that marries thermoforming and printing. “We found thermoforming and print were two different worlds,” says Friesen. “With some of the technologies we were researching, we thought that we could combine those worlds. Why not print on the plastic and then thermoform that piece out of the plastic already printed.”
This innovation in packaging is built from a culture that developed over decades by leveraging technology to innovate the process of manufacturing books. “It isn’t always just the numbers we paint on press at times. There are efficiencies and robotics and workflow… yet the product we are producing is an art piece, often at the end of a creative chain.”
Five years ago, Webcom Inc., one of Canada’s preeminent book manufacturers for three decades, began building a true evolutionary printing platform around HP’s new T300 Inkjet Web Press. Webcom’s paradigm shift, a fundamental change in the basic concept of book printing, now represents an investment of $30 million and a 2.1-billion pages-per-year digital inkjet manufacturing capacity the Toronto company.
In October 2015, Webcom continued to illustrate its intent on shaking up the book-publishing world by installing a new HP Indigo 10000 press. PrintAction spoke with Mike Collinge to learn more about the direction of a Canada-first platform.
What key advantages does the Indigo 10000’s 29-inch format size provide?
Mike Collinge: It allows us to do larger-format products that you cannot do on smaller systems, whether it is a [traditional] Indigo, NexPress or iGen, basically they all are suited to 11 x 17-type products and, in books, that limits you with spines on books and jackets and oversize book products. It also allows us to double our throughput, so we are able to respond much quicker in peak periods, which publishing has. Third, it allows us to cut a lot of the processing and labour expenses in half because we are producing at least twice as much as we could before every hour.
How does the 10000 fit with Webcom’s existing HP Inkjet Web Presses?
MC: With digital inkjet and an HP Indigo 10000, we are able to offer our customers cost-efficient, offset-quality, short book runs of tens, hundreds or a few thousand books at North American – if not globally – competitive rates… all very, very efficiently.
How does this platform best help clients?
MC: The unique solutions we offer help a publisher pull their capital investment out of keeping inventories and redeploy that [capital] so it is not stagnant in a warehouse… It also helps them customize books for small markets… or, with a backlist title on the end of its lifecycle, our technology allows a publisher to keep products alive.
What growth is available for web inkjet?
MC: Inkjet still has a really positive outlook for the next five years. The industry studies say over 20 percent CAGR in digital inkjet and one of the top two drivers of that growth rate is targeted to be books. So it is a high growth part of the book manufacturing business. It is not all necessarily new business for a manufacturer or publisher… but it is definitely a fast-paced, high-growth segment for the publishing industry.
How difficult is it realize enough margin for large digital-printing investments?
MC: It is not just about printing a physical book and shipping it to the door. We are addressing supply-chain and inventory-management needs and customer integration. We have a lot of investment in systems, people and process… rationalizing and automating our customers’ order entry processes is part of our solution.
Has Webcom moved from unit-cost print?
MC: It is a total cost of ownership model that we take to our publishers and they need to look at more than just a print and bind… we are not quote-and-produce vendors for them. We are business partners.
How does Webcom leverage inkjet colour?
MC: Inkjet technology is so flexible that you can put colour on two pages in a 400-page book and not have to make sure that it is on a certain form or signature… When a publisher is looking at how to differentiate their product in a very competitive marketplace, whether an educational publisher or trade, colour is an underutilized capability because the print community has made it expensive and awkward. Inkjet really addresses that for short run products.
What is the outlook for printed books?
MC:[At November’s BMI conference] Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House, said, “Our basic strategic assumption is that print will always be important, always – not in 50 years or 100 years – always.” So the Amazon forecast of the demise of the printed book was, and I still believe is, premature and inaccurate. Digital headlines do not match the reality of the publishing world or what their consumers are choosing for preferred book format.
I am happy that our publishers are still successful and sustaining their businesses, but I think Webcom’s solutions are much better valued if there is urgency on them not to patronize old publishing models.
How does Webcom provide sustainability?
MC: Depending on the product, somewhere between 25 and 50 percent of books printed in the past have gone to obsolescence or recycling. Our technology makes it reasonable for a publisher to print only what they need, only what they have back ordered, without significant premiums… We are buying world-class technologies that have sustainability underpinning them.
How do you qualify the risk of being first with new technologies?
MC: We have a very succinct vision of what we can deliver for book publishers in North America. We have fantastic ownership and a strong financial position to be able to make these investments. I would call them investments, as opposed to risks. Whether it is in technology, process or people, these investments are the building blocks to help us deliver us on that vision for our book-publishing customers.
- Serge Loubier, President of Marquis (photo by Anny Lecault). Serge Loubier, President of Marquis (photo by Anny Lecault).
- Marquis' Kolbus KM 600 in Montmagny. Marquis' Kolbus KM 600 in Montmagny.
- Marquis' Timson ZMR in Louiseville. Marquis' Timson ZMR in Louiseville.
Marquis Book Printing over the past three years has more than doubled its annual revenue through consolidation, beginning in mid-2012 when the company, headquartered in Montmagny, Quebec, acquired two manufacturing plants from TC Transcontinental. The purchase of Transcontinental Gagné in Louiseville and Transcontinental Métrolitho in Sherbrooke added just over $35 million to Marquis’ revenue base, which was around $20 million before the purchase. The company’s employee count went from approximately 125 to 350 people.
Just over a year later, in late-2014, Marquis’ management team reaffirmed its confidence in the book-printing sector by acquiring certain assets of Imprimeur Lebonfon, a former Quebecor plant in northern Quebec, which included bringing over members of Lebonfon’s sales team who were generating about $10 million in business. Today, Marquis Book Printing is generating more than $60 million in annual revenue as one of Canada’s largest independent printing operations.
As Canada’s biggest monochrome printer, running six massive, highly automated Timson web presses in Louiseville, Marquis is also beginning to shift into more colour work to move with the book market. In October, the company’s future outlook for book manufacturing also materialized in an exclusive partnership with SoBooks of France to create a transatlantic technology bridge for on-demand book publishing. The most unique strategy currently being employed by Marquis, however, revolves around a yearlong project to build its own UV-enabled web-offset press, scheduled to start-up this December.
Maurice Marquis founded Marquis Imprimeur in 1937 and quickly began to focus on book-printing capacity after acquiring some rights from European publishers, because books were no longer being shipped overseas during World War II. He even built what was called the Bibliobus, travelling from town to town to sell books printed by Marquis. The company never lost sight of its core competency to manufacture books, a position that was embraced in 2006 through a management buyout by Serge Loubier, who now serves as President of Marquis, Pierre Fréchette, Vice President of Sales, and Marc Delisle, who remains involved as an advisor.
“Five years after the management buyout, we were where we said we were going to be,” says Loubier. “ Then we went all in with the [TC Transcontinental] deal. We pushed all of the chips into the middle.” At the time, Transcontinental, which was moving toward a marketing-services platform, was Marquis’ largest competitor in monochrome and two-colour book printing, which remains as the heart of its operation with newer investments like Canada’s first Variquick PC 15 press and an Oce’ Varioprint 6250. The Marquis platform has also been enhanced with a 10-colour Heidelberg (adding to four- and two-col0ur litho presses), a Xerox Versant and iGen150.
Over the past several years, Loubier has focused on annual capital expenditures of around $2.5 million to purposely build the platform and to support the more than $15 million invested in Marquis’ market consolidation strategy. Initially, Loubier explains the plan – as presented to the banks – was to shutdown the Louiseville plant acquired from TC, now called Marquis Gagné, and move assets to Montmagny to realize savings, but minds were quickly changed after spending time in the facility.
“The employees were like the gold out of the transaction that we made – a really good crew over there,” says Loubier, noting the plant is led by a relatively young workforce that was surprisingly bilingual, being based in a francophone region of Quebec. “The heart couldn’t live with the idea of closing [Louiseville] and we had also miscalculated the space needed to produce big runs of books… we didn’t have enough floor space, in my mind, in Montmagny.”
With a potential relocation to Montmagny, Loubier was concerned the skilled Timson operators and well-trained salespeople and CSRs from Louiseville might not join Marquis. This was the case when the Sherbrooke plant purchased from Transcontinental was closed, which also showed Marquis was ultimately going to do what was necessary to succeed in its consolidation plan. He worked with Louiseville’s union to settle on a 15 percent cut and a five-year contract, saving about $1 million per year in costs, and targeted opening up more business in the United States to support the plant.
At the time, Marquis was generating about $400,000 in business from the U.S. and the management team set an ambitious growth target to reach $4 million. “In the first year, we managed to bring in $5 million from the U.S.,” recalls Loubier, noting this was at a time when the Canadian dollar was at par with the U.S. greenback. “It has been three years since the deal and we are going to finish this year over $15 million [generated out of the U.S.].”
Loubier is now comfortable in stating that the consolidation plan has worked out well. In explaining its success, he points to the stability provided by the Montmagny plant and its unique Marquis Laurentien division based in Quebec City. Purchased about a year prior to the Transcontinental deal, Laurentien was the province’s largest producer of school agendas and number two (behind Marquis) in yearbooks. With the TC Metrolitho deal, Laurentien became number one in both categories.
The Laurentien division has about 40 employees focusing on the typesetting and graphic design of books, particularly in the educational sector, including working with more than 1,000 schools. Marquis is now growing its work with schools in other Canadian provinces and again focusing on expansion in the United States.
Largely based on the dollar advantage for Canadian exporters, and a stabilized book-printing market, following a few years of uncertainly around the potential impact of electronic publishing, Marquis is now shifting toward more organic growth for its printing platform. “For the next three to five years, our plan is to double that capital investment,” says Loubier, hinting this will likely point toward putting more sheetfed power into the platform, integrated finishing, and also new inkjet web press technology currently being investigated.
“We need [inkjet] technology that will accommodate monochrome with a click charge that we can then switch to a colour click charge,” says Loubier, noting Marquis’ unique need to maintain high-volume monochrome production as it looks to the future with colour. “I also want to be able to choose my paper, to change it, and I want to print like offset… I thought [press makers] would never achieve it, but they are starting to show me things.”
Loubier also remains intent on running what Marquis knows best – “a big press is hard to beat” – and the company’s vital litho systems are highly automated. “My average run at Marquis has to be 3,800 to 4,000, so my big concern is not the speed of the press when it is running. It is how long it is stopped for,” he says, describing a recent run of 1,500 books with 144 6 x 9-inch pages that took just under 15 minutes to print. “We have Timsons in Louiseville with zero makeready. We do not stop to change the plates.”
In the more immediate future, however, Loubier is eager to start up the web press invented by Marquis. The eight-month project has been led by Alain Roberge, former owner and Director of Lebonfon, because of his engineering background and years of experience in web-offset production. An outside firm provided schematics for the 16-page press as Marquis planned out its interior, including the integration of a brand new closed-loop colour control system. In November, the company was adding folders and preparing to take the press apart for moving and reinstalling in Louiseville.
“We wanted a press that would do four-colour without heatset. The ink will be dried by UV lamps, so there will be no emanation and no gas involved in the process. It is going to be the greenest colour web in Canada,” says Loubier. “I like machines, so building my own press was always a dream.”
In early 2015, Prime Data of Aurora, Ont., became the third company in North America to install a Delphax Technologies Elan 500 press, built in nearby Mississauga using a sheetfed inkjet architecture with Memjet Waterfall print heads and a transparent Mylar substrate transport system. Supplying data-driven marketing services for more than 15 years, Prime Data’s initial goal with the Delphax system was to reduce inefficiencies associated with printing offset shells for post variable imaging.
Prime Data’s Elan 500 installation is unique because it is producing variable colour marketing materials, whereas the other two Elan systems are primarily printing monochrome collection notices (California) and government forms (Quebec). With its world-first printing position, Prime Data has been transforming itself to operate more like a tech startup to mirror a growing shift toward marketing automation.
“We have a mantra around here, everything is always in beta… to have a tech startup mentality and keep that in the place to make everyone feel comfortable with change,” says Steve Falk, owner and President of Prime Data.
Over the past couple of years, Falk has instituted several initiatives to embrace print, which currently accounts for approximately 30 percent of his company’s revenues. These strategies range from investing tens of thousands of dollars in security measures to new CSR tools and from cross-media consulting to variable full colour printing with sheefed inkjet.
The Memjet print heads employed by the Elan have 70,400 jets that fire up to 700-million drops of ink per second, hitting resolutions of up to 1,600 dpi, on a range of coated and uncoated substrates with weights from 60 to 350 gsm and format sizes from 8 x 8 to 18 x 25.2 inches. This translates into printing up to 500 A4 images per minute.
“The biggest thing [the Elan] did was simplify the process of doing batch-run direct mail, so we did not have to worry about offset shells… being able to roll it into one process where you go straight to colour imaging at an affordable price,” says Falk. Prime Data continues to leverage both colour and monochrome Konica Minolta systems for shorter-run applications. Falk explains, however, today’s highest-end toner presses produce upwards of 150 colour sheets per minute in simplex mode and are not fast enough for Prime Data’s larger variable runs. It would require multiple million-dollar toner machines to eliminate offset shells.
“There is only one sheetfed inkjet printer right now and it is the Canadian-made Delphax Elan,” says Falk, noting roll-fed inkjet options from companies like Canon Océ and Ricoh do not fit with his current client base. “For our marketplace, [with a need] to change stocks and sizes several times a day, for the run sizes, sheetfed inkjet is perfect.” Falk explains the Elan produces full variable colour at around the same price as printing offset shells for variable imaging; while also reducing workflow issues by a factor of days. “This business is also big on testing,” he says, which is cost prohibitive when printing offset shells to reach segmentations of 1,000 households.
The ability for Prime Data to leverage data expertise through responsive print helps mitigate the risk of being the world’s first Elan user for variable colour DM. “You should not be looking only at print quality, which is what people once cared about, but you should be focusing on the quality of the print message and how it is responding to [consumers],” Falk says. “The quality of responsiveness to the person you are talking with is what gets you better sales.”
Prime Data has developed proprietary tables and subroutines for cleaning up client data, sweeping vast fields to find potential VDP campaign disasters. “Data can be a nightmare and it can be a relationship killer if you do it wrong.” Falk estimates Prime Data might spend as much as four times the effort relative to competitors when working with customer information – and charges accordingly.
The data-sensitive marketplace led Falk to make large investments in securing Prime Data’s processes over the past two years. This involves measures like building and testing firewall security, entrance swipe cards, non-disclosure agreements, destroying computer and printer hard drives, and chain-of-custody procedures for overprint and setup sheets. The growth in marketing automation also relies on securing data transfers with tech-savvy clientele.
“What you want to do if you are a [printer] is think about how you can interact with how your clients are saving their data,” says Falk, “so communications back and forth, grabbing data at certain milestones in its lifetime.” This environment also pushed Prime Data to establish a CSR-driven customer tracking system to respond to issues immediately, which also helps to drive the company’s always-in-beta mentality. Employees are always improving their internal systems.
Falk feels the new emphasis on online data collection has hurt print, as agencies try to hold on to as much marketing budget as possible, running email and social media campaigns. “Even though this sector has been active for over a decade online, and tried all kinds of things, they can only close 10 percent of their deals online.” He is seeing more interplay of print and online marketing automation.
“For the first time, I had a couple of people come to us and say, ‘We are missing part of the puzzle and it looks like you guys can help us. You can talk our language, take our digital world and add a print piece to it,’” says Falk, stressing the fit of the Elan press. “We are going to grow with this new piece of equipment. We would like to see two of these in here. With the trajectory we are on right now, we will probably make that happen pretty fast.”
Alain Paquette, together with a silent partner, purchased Artcraft Label three years ago and set out to modernize the Burlington operation, leveraging its experienced team and position as a producer of high-quality pressure-sensitive labels. Founded in 1977, Paquette took over the operation from John and Edna Robinson, who grew Artcraft from a sticker business to an award-winning prime-label manufacturer.
Stepping away from his established career with technology suppliers, Paquette saw huge potential in Artcraft’s strong market position to institute significant operational changes to drive out costs. With his own background in lean manufacturing, investments were made to improve all aspects of the business, from the shop floor to the entire IT system.
Paquette focused heavily in establishing Artcraft’s prepress department, through Esko’s HD Flexo system, including a CDI imager and powerful new imaging software. The move adds more control over Artcraft’s high-quality printing platform housed within a 20,000-square-foot facility. The plant is meticulous in its cleanliness and order and primed for the future, which is likely to include contracting out prepress work, which currently accounts for a very small percentage of Artcraft’s revenue.
What potential did you see in Artcraft?
AP: I realized the market was changing so we came up with a plan to really optimize it… everything top to bottom… all of the software, computers, everything was all redone. We reinvented the whole ERP system. All of our stock is barcoded, for example.
How much cost have you driven out of Artcraft?
AP: We have managed to drop our operating costs substantially by optimizing. Of course, we now have a little less staff... and as a result, we crossed trained a lot of staff to be interchangeable.
How was Artcraft’s print work when you bought it?
AP: The knowledge, the quality, everything was already in top shape. There was really not much work to do there. Those improvements come with time.
What has surprised you most getting into this market?
AP: I saw quality from a manufacturing eye, not from a printer’s eye... there is a lot more that goes into this. [It] was a big eye opener.
Are prime label clients overly demanding?
AP: We search for the ones who are the most particular. It is not just for the margins, but you protect your space a lot better… where not many others can follow.
What is the shape of Canadian flexo?
AP: The funnel comes down very, very fast and we are all sitting at that same size. I call them the single-owner type. There is going to have to be some consolidation at some point, if you want to get efficiencies up. We are at the point where we are starting to eye the market to see who can we work with to create growth.
What are your plans in terms of M&A?
AP: We are looking to acquire… We have set up Artcraft so you can take our installation, especially with what we have done in prepress, and easily double or triple it without that much strain.
How did you revamp prepress?
AP: We installed Esko Flexo HD. We are noticing with recent demands and SKUs that you really have to push the quality. We do not have offset presses, but you have to get yourself there and basically we are now.
Do you plan on offering prepress services?
AP: We actually do plates for a few other label printers, primarily out of province. With the locals, there is always [a] trust issue, but we are not out to take business.
What applications are you focused on?
AP: We are a good player in specialized high-quality segments. Our focus is local and regional – a 200-kilometer radius.
Beyond prepress, where else have you invested in technology?
AP: In finishing – our flexo can run silk-screen inline, which not many can do in the area. We are present in health and beauty where there are a lot of the requirements to have more than one screen… We found with HD Flexo that we are eliminating some screens now.
Are you planning to invest in digital print?
AP: We have small digital capabilities right now. We call them our helpers. For us, we just really haven’t seen the value. I know there is payback, but the volumes needed to sustain a million-dollar investment is no walk in the park. There are still a lot of limitations in digital technology.
What future goals do you have for Artcraft?
AP: We want to see growth as a good mid-level shop and we are going to get there. It does take time and we are probalby looking at anywhere between a 5- and 10-year window, but right now the architecture is done. We have a team in place that can transfer knowledge and we will start growing from there.
The full Q&A article with Jay Mandarino can be found in PrintAction January 2015
It is hard to argue against stating Jay Mandarino, President and Founder of the C.J. Group of Companies, is the most-visible personality in Canada’s printing industry. By being so engaged in the community, particularly in the hypercompetitive environment of Toronto, he is as much a sounding board for insight as a lightning rod for criticism.
BELLWYCK on September 2 announced the opening of its Center for Innovation & Design at its newest location in Long Island, New York, to introduce emerging packaging applications to clients in the North East. “New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, technology, and art – something we absorb and apply in our innovations to help companies not only grow their business but present their packaging in a luxurious and high-quality manner,” said Greg Keizer, BELLWYCK’s Executive VP, Business Development & Innovation.
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