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Inkjet advantage

Jun 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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A $1.6 billion company, Rock-Tenn (Winston-Salem, NC) is one of North America’s largest manufacturers of merchandising displays and packaging products. The company’s Alliance Group is responsible for the design, printing and assembly of permanent and temporary POP displays.

Customers choose Alliance for its high quality products and quick turnaround times on point-of-purchase pieces like in-store stands and digitally printed signs. Unlike many printing companies that shy away from new technology, Alliance prides itself on its advancements, which it uses to accommodate the needs of a rapidly changing marketplace, and to encourage new business.

Changing needs
As advertisers started to notice the huge purchasing impact of in-store displays, Alliance began to experience high demand from retailers and manufacturers for bright, attractive pieces.

“In point-of-purchase the two things that are most important are color and quality,” explains Tom Cooper, manager of Digital Printing Technologies at Alliance. “The color needs to be popping and the quality needs to be high-definition.”

Offset and flexo methods satisfied color and quality demands, but, as the business world picked up pace, speed became a critical factor as well. Alliance’s Fortune 100 clients, including global consumer goods producer Procter & Gamble, demanded just-in-time fulfillment, customized labeling, folding cartons and signage for short run jobs. This sent Alliance searching for a solution that could accomplish everything—color, customization and speed. During its five-year quest, Alliance discovered the :Dotrix digital press, a direct-to-press system that performed prepress, digital printing and finishing functions in a single step. It sounded enticing, but when he first saw it in 2001, Cooper wasn’t sure the filmless, plateless solution was mature enough to invest in.

A few years later, Cooper met with Agfa’s executives at a convention, where they discussed the evolution of the technology. A third meeting was scheduled. The meeting included a joint task force of Agfa’s executives, Alliance Group and its sister division (also of Rock-Tenn) the Folding Carton Group, which was conducting its own research regarding the digital press. By the end of that critical meeting, Alliance gained support from the Folding Carton Group, and moved quickly to purchase the new press. “Soon after, we had a formal agreement signed to purchase the press, and in between that we did a tremendous number of trials. We were and still are very pleased with the quality coming from the system,” Cooper says.

Customizing print for different demographics
:Dotrix’s capacity to print at an apparent 900-dpi resolution, coupled with its ability to generate customized, short-run print based on regional and international demographics, opened up business opportunities and helped Alliance attract new customers.

“It is becoming popular to market to a region of people in their specific language, in their verbiage,” explains Cooper. “For example, in the United States, there are many ways of phrasing the same question. In the northeast, it might be ‘How are you doing?’ In the southeast, it might be ‘How are y’all?’ The possibility of creating print based upon demographics, languages and regions not just in a country, but globally, is a phenomenal opportunity.” The ability to manipulate print to engage different demographics undoubtedly has increased value for Alliance’s customers. It also has enabled Alliance to position itself as a strategic partner—not only providing print, but also increasing the specificity and effectiveness of it clients’ marketing campaigns.

“Digital printing provides a better return because you can regionalize it,” Cooper says. “That is one value added. Speed is another value added. Speed is important in test marketing because long incubation periods cost companies money. Digital technology enables them to get test materials out there quickly, see if they work, and then start producing large quantities.”

Variable-data printing
As the industry becomes more focused on tailoring print for specific demographics, Alliance plans to investigate more highly-customized variable-data printing (VDP) on the :Dotrix system. With VDP, each brochure in a direct marketing campaign could have a different name and picture on the front page, and different corresponding text on the inside. Yet each piece could be produced during the same print run. Cooper called this opportunity the “Holy Grail.”

“If you have a press that has quality color and speed, and then you add variable data, you have an extremely powerful tool in the marketplace that can respond at the turn of the switch to the needs of your customer,” he notes.

A digital future for Alliance
:Dotrix has changed the way Alliance produces print. It makes fast, customized print possible for quick job changes and push-button controls. It also has provided greater workflow fluidity with its uninterrupted production from prepress through finishing. Perhaps the most influential was the way it changed Alliances’ mindset about the business of print. “I was a flexo-based person, thinking, ‘Digital printing, OK. Let’s do a little bit of that, while we do all the other stuff.’ Now, my world has been turned upside down,” says Cooper. “In time, digital printing will start taking important shares from the traditional technologies because of its fluidity and the advantages it brings to print.”

When that happens, Alliance will be armed with the latest technology, and ready to take on the challenges that lie ahead.

IPEX announcements
At IPEX, Agfa Graphics announced two new models in its wide-format printer assortment. The :Anapurna L and XL, with respective print widths of 1,600 and 2,500 mm, print on both rigid and flexible media using Agfa’s UV-curable :Anapurna ink.

Other announcements included the following:

  • :Grand Sherpa Universal wide-format printers will be available with a bulk ink feed system for Agfa's fourth-generation inks.
  • The first M-Press hybrid inkjet press for high-quality and high-volume operations is being installed at the SMP Group Plc in London. M-Press is the result of the partnership between Agfa Graphics and screen printing industry leader Thieme. It uses 64 next-generation Universal Print Heads (UPH), which Agfa developed in cooperation with Xaar. M-Press also uses Agfa's own :Anuvia UV-curable inks.
  • The :Dotrix industrial inkjet press was shown in a newer version with modular extensions. It can be fitted with a pre-station for printing white across the engine's full 63-cm-wide surface. Possible postpress modules include varnishing, die cutting and finishing. The :Dotrix press uses Agfa's :Agorix ink.
  • For transactional printing applications such as bank statements and direct mail, Agfa has signed a multi-million euro deal with an unnamed customer in the UK for four duplex configurations of the :Dotrix press with double-sided printing capabilities.