American Printer's mission is to be the most reliable and authoritative source of information on integrating tomorrow's technology with today's management.

Finishing: Now Presenting. . .

Mar 1, 1998 12:00 AM

         Subscribe in NewsGator Online   Subscribe in Bloglines

I'm sorry."

"You're sorry? My meeting is in three hours," the client barks, checking his watch, "and I have no presentation folders in which to distribute materials to customers. What am I supposed to do?"

"We printed your folders on time," explains the printer. "But the finishing shop we use missed its deadline. The shop agreed to deliver today, but one of its employees unexpectedly quit and . . ."

Many commercial printers that strive to keep their customers inside their doors have discovered a way to maintain tighter control over turnaround times and project quality when producing presentation/pocket folders, table tents, short runs of carton printing and more. Further, the solution has given printers a competitive edge, secured additional clients or jobs, and boosted profits.

How did these crafty graphic arts firms achieve such sought-after results? By investing in folder-gluers to cost-effectively bring finishing tasks in-house. "We should have done it years ago--that's my only regret," comments Don Moore, president/owner of Letterpress Printing, Inc. (St. Louis), a 25-employee commercial printer and trade shop. One year ago, the firm invested $20,000 in a hand-fed Dick Moll & Sons folder-gluer.

Shops generally don't burst full-blown into this arena, but instead start slowly, gradually pushing their expertise and equipment to a higher level, according to Alan Thompson, product manager for Bobst Group, Inc. (Roseland, NJ). Indeed printers can opt for equipment dedicated to presentation folders or folder-gluers that handle a spectrum of jobs. "Most plants start with presentation folders, but then also do folding carton work," relates Bernie Cote, sales manager for International Paper Box Machine Co. (Nashua, NH). Nonetheless, presentation folders are the "business of the day," continues Thompson.

Indeed, these folders have become business-as-usual in marketing and educational settings--two of the largest presentation folder markets, according to Bob Moynihan with Can-Am Packaging Equipment Corp. (Pelham, NH). For instance, they function as proposal covers, media kits, etc., continues Moynihan.

"Nearly every industry is using them," adds Dave Gentile, vice president of manufacturing for Gentile Brothers Folder Factory (Edinburg, VA). The products may range from simple, standard 9 x 12-inch, two-pocket folders to complex endeavors requiring multiple panels, offset printing on both sides, foil embossing, special diecuts for different types of computer disks, Velcro fasteners, etc.

Currently, only a small number of commercial printers are investing in folder-gluers for this market, claims Thompson, but he adds that their numbers are rising. "It's become a hot issue within the past two years," he remarks.

"The trend has been occurring for longer than people realize," states Mark Fasano, regional sales manager for Dick Moll & Sons (Warminster, PA). "For the past three to four years we've seen more printers doing this type of finishing work in-house, and the trend hasn't hit its peak yet--it will grow in the future."

In the past several years, observes Fasano, Dick Moll sold 70 percent of its folder-gluers to finishers and 30 percent to printers. Today, that ratio is 50-50.

Indeed, Chris Pett, project engineer for Brandtjen & Kluge (St. Croix Falls, WI), believes the trend began five years ago and is becoming increasingly more prevalent.

"More and more of our customers now have some limited folder-gluer capacity," observes Pat Capuano, president of Master Graphic Services, a 45-employee Atlanta trade finisher. He purchased a folder-gluer of his own in December--an EG 1100 from International Paper Box Machine--in order to have a "step up" on his printer customers. His thinking? Printers that own this equipment could receive more jobs than they can handle--Master Graphic Services tackles this "overflow" as well as complex projects.

Folder-gluers once were reserved for the folding carton industry, relates Don Bence, general manager of the MAN Roland (Westmont, IL) converting group. They were designed for board stock and heavier weight papers. Printers that handled presentation folders or other materials that required folding and gluing performed those tasks by hand or sent the work, once printed and diecut, to a trade finisher that then performed those tasks by hand.

Due, in part, to a huge upsurge in demand for presentation folders, as well as longer run lengths, folder-gluers have been modified from the folding carton industry to meet the needs of commercial printers.

Those who have opted for this equipment are pleased. "We've netted 40 percent more business in the past year and have more control over the final product in terms of quality and turnaround," relates Letterpress Printing's Moore. Previously, the shop finished small runs (less than 3,000 folders) by hand and sent longer runs to a "friendly competitor," says the printer. "Our firm was about the last in the area to invest in a folder-gluer, which we did to generate more business and become more competitive."

"We've slashed turnaround times by at least 48 hours since investing in folding and gluing equipment," maintains Jim Burke, bindery manager for Clarke Printing Co., a San Antonio, TX commercial printer. "We also have more quality control in-house and do our own diecutting. The investment has streamlined our workflow. In addition, our profits rose--we have received more jobs from customers that may have been doing their pocket folders elsewhere."

But Clarke Printing tackles more than presentation folders. Indeed, these products constitute less than five percent of the firm's work. "We broke the machine into two halves--half is designed to run pocket folders and the other half to handle box folding. One of our biggest accounts is hair color boxes," relates Burke. He adds that 75 percent of the machine's work is pocket folders; the balance includes boxes and table tents. "We sell approximately $400,000 in pocket folders, table tents and boxes."

Burke doesn't consider in-house finishing popular among commercial printers in his area. In fact, his shop is one of the few in San Antonio to own folder-gluers--almost everyone else in the area jobs out the work, he says. "It's a competitive edge for use," Burke continues. "In fact, we tout in-house finishing in our sales presentation."

Training, he maintains, isn't a problem. "Any operator with folding experience can pick up a folder-gluer in no time." Switching from presentation folders to boxes doesn't seem to necessitate any extra training, according to the manager. "Operators don't have to do anything to make the switch since half of the machine is always set up for table tents and half for pocket folders."

MAN Roland's Bence agrees with Burke's assessment. "Anyone who has a buckle folder can run folder-gluers--the same principles apply."

Which printers are the best candidates for in-house folding and gluing? Clearly, whether or not to invest in folder-gluers depends on a printer's volume of work suitable for this equipment. "If you've got the volume or are predicting the volume will be there, bringing folder-gluers in-house would b e a wise investment, especially if you have your own diecutter," opines Burke. "The diecutter plus the folder-gluer creates an efficient in-house workflow."

According to Thompson, whether to make the investment hinges not only on the volume but also on the type of presentation folders printers run and, thus, the amount of money printers can charge for these products. "The cost to make a presentation folder can vary from very inexpensive--a couple of pennies for a folder on recycled board, no printing, one pocket--to quite a few dollars for high-quality, embossed, foil-stamped folders with top-end graphics."

Obviously, equipment cost is another consideration. According to Cote, prices for folder-glues can run from $45,000 for a small machine running simple folders to $500,000 for a high-end machine. The International Paper Box Machine exec claims, however, that prices would crest at $275,000 to $300,000 for high-end commercial printers producing presentation folders and similar work.

And how fast do these folder gluers operate? Three thousand to 4,000 folders per hour for lower-cost machines and as many as 18,000 folders an hour for top-of-the-line equipment.

As we said earlier, printers entering this market typically start at the low end or invest in used equipment and can gradually move to higher-end machines as their markets build.

Are you considering going the used equipment route? You could save dollars. "If you can locate the right used folder-gluer for you, it may be a great deal. We buy our old gluers and rebuild them. Typically they then cost 70 percent to 80 percent of a new machine," relates Michael Sutcliffe, marketing communications manager for International Paper Box.

But, printers also must take precautions in used equipment purchases. Cote recommends locating the machine's manufacturer name and serial number, then contacting the firm directly. "Ask when the equipment was made and how old it is," Cote advises.

In addition, printers should be as knowledgeable as possible about their current and future market. They will need to match the equipment to the needs of the marketplace.

It appears that presentation folders aren't going to go away, in part because they're so enmeshed in our society, relates Bobst's Thompson. "They're seemingly a part of so much that we do. You go to buy a house, for instance, and someone hands you a packet of information in a presentation folder."

Gentile of Gentile Brothers Folder Factory expects the the market to grow in the next few years. "It seems to be better than ever," he relates.

So, the market is growing, your volume and type of work cry out for an in-house folder-gluer and the equipment is affordable. What else should printers consider before making a decision?

"Perhaps the biggest concern is quality," advises Thompson. "Presentation folders typically require zero marketing, so quality will be the number one issue." The Bobst product manager adds that the hardness of varnish will ensure a high-quality folder coming off of the gluer because appropriate hardness means the folders are less likely to scuff. Scuffing (as well as overall quality) is one of the biggest concerns associated with presentation folders.

Finally, if you've got the right market, volume and equipment, you can help keep customers from going over to the competition. Investing in folder-gluers offers the potential to maintain tighter control over turnaround times and project quality, achieve a competitive edge, secure additional clients or jobs and improve profits.