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BUSIER AND BIGGER WITH CTP

Feb 1, 2000 12:00 AM


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Celebrating 50 Years of Graphic Reproduction Excellence." That's the motto you'll find on the opening page of Williams Co.'s website (www.wmsco.com). Founded in 1947 by Levi Williams, the Chattanooga, TN, printer occupies 100,000 sq. ft. and employs 120. This family-run business is also a family of companies. In addition to design, prepress and printing, the company offers marketing and public relations, fulfillment, photography, mailing, catalog management, and website development and management services. Williams publishes Chattanooga Magazine, Envirolink and chamber of commerce magazines, as well as church pictorial directories for studios and photographers throughout the U.S.

How did a printer become a publisher? "We were doing business with a city-wide magazine that was struggling," recalls Harold Williams, who co-owns the business with his brother Earl. "We just decided it was something we would continue to do. As corny as it sounds, it's kind of a civic duty to do something that reflects well on the community. It's our public relations piece. We're a printer and we're proud of it-there's no better way to show how proud you are of your product than to place it into the hands of the people in your community."

Williams describes the company as "a typical commercial printer." Jobs include catalogs, point-of-purchase displays and sales support materials. About two years ago, Williams took the computer-to-plate (CTP) plunge, installing a Screen PlateRite PIR 2080 to produce plates for two five-color KBA-Planeta presses and a six-color Mitsubishi press.

"I hate to say it too loudly because all our competition will jump on it," confides Williams, "but CTP is the only way to go. If you understand electronic imposition, it's just another device, no trickier than a printer. You're just printing to metal instead of paper."

The exec cites quality and consistency as key CTP advantages. "Register is absolute," explains Williams. "We've had some excellent strippers, but human beings make mistakes from time to time. When you have to assemble an eight-page form, you're handling anywhere from four to 32 pieces of imagery. Any little bobble can create a problem for the press operator. Those kinds of things have gone away and our makereadies are faster because of it. We just don't have registration problems any more."

Williams concedes that while CTP delivers many advantages, it does require more attention to housekeeping details. "These machines are very unforgiving," says the exec. "If you have a speck of dust on a conventional plate, a human being can see it. With CTP, a speck of dust, lint or glue edge leaves a void. Everything needs to be extremely clean."

Although the company was an early adopter of CTP technology, Williams did not rush the platesetter decision. "We did a year's worth of research, interviewing people who had it and failed as well as those who had succeeded. Then we did the ROIs for about seven different systems and different server applications. We found that the combination we purchased had the best ROI and showed no particular weakness."

Because typical runs range from 2,000 to 50,000 impressions, Williams decided to go with a conventional rather than thermal platesetter. "We weren't interested in thermal at the time because of the huge difference in plate cost," recalls the exec. "We were looking at conventional CTP, and at the time, the other players didn't have a multiple cassette machine-Screen was just coming out with one."

According to Williams' calculations, the cost of processing a thermal plate would have been $17 to $18 per plate. "That's huge," acknowledges Williams. "This firm uses about 12,000 to 15,000 plates a year. It was roughly a $4 difference [between thermal and conventional plates]. That's a $50,000 to $60,000 differential. If that differential isn't overcome by some advantage thermal brings to the table, that's a pure loss."

As an early CTP adopter, Williams had fewer plate choices. "There weren't as many plate options as there are today," recalls the exec. "We tried three or four brands and found them to have no significant advantage from a handling or running aspect, but they did have some disadvantages when it came to cost and service."

Service was one reason Williams chose DiamondPlate LA plates from Western Lithotech, a Mitsubishi Chemical Co. Designed for exposure by an argon-ion laser platesetter with a wavelength of 488 nm, the plate system reportedly produces 200- to 300-line process color with excellent highlights, mid-tones and shadow.

"We got a lot of attention," recalls Williams, noting that as a CTP pioneer, the company had a different learning curve than subsequent adopters. "They came in and worked awfully hard to make it work. We started with the DiamondPlate LA-2 plate and later did field testing on the LA-3 when it was ready. It's a great plate-we've used it from the day it came off the production line," says the exec. "Every day we get busier and bigger-with the laser plates, I can get a lot more production out of my presses."

Ease of use was another selection criteria. "The DiamondPlate LA-3 is just as reliable as the conventional plate we've used for years. You let the machine expose it, process it, hang it on the press and run it, without having to wear kid gloves," says Williams. "You expect it to work and it does."

It looks as if Williams Co. will be celebrating many more years of digital graphic reproduction excellence. Today, the Tennessee printer seldom handles a piece of film-its workflow is 95 percent CTP. One such all-digital job is a "launch book," a 100-page, four-color training manual prepared for the national sales force of a large manufacturer. Every time the company introduces a new product, Williams produces a new launch book.

"They are rather elaborate," notes Williams. "Typically we have three or four days to complete the job. They are very short runs, but we still need to be economical. We've been able to reduce costs over the past three years because we've eliminated film and proofing methods associated with it. We've also reduced production time by about two days. We make digital proofs and digital plates on everything and then go straight to press."