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Digital Solutions Provide Graphic Tech with More Versatility

Published on September 27, 2011

COO of Graphic Tech Jim Blee sits down with Cary Sherburne to discuss the transition to include digital printing solutions but not fully replace their analog solutions.

Cary Sherburne: Hi, I'm Cary Sherburne, Senior Editor at WhatTheyThink.com and I'm here with Jim Blee who is the Chief Operations Officer for Graphic Tech.  Welcome.

Jim Blee:  Thank you.  It's nice to be here.

Cary Sherburne:  You guys are large format, formerly screen printer. 

Jim Blee:  Well, we're still screen-printing, yeah.  Ironically, it's still around.  We run a lot of multicolor lines still and still a very robust business.  But as with  everything in the world of technology, digital is obviously having an impact on our analog business.  So we've been very prolific with digital executions.  We currently have two turbo jets and latex technology as well.

Cary Sherburne: Oh, okay.

Jim Blee:  And certainly moving in to the next generation of industrial presses.  So, yeah, still around in screen-printing but not gone yet.

Cary Sherburne:  So, what were the drivers that sent you first looking for a digital solution? 

Jim Blee:  I think versatility.  That's one of the key areas that digital brings to the table is that it has a level of dynamics you can't get with analog technology.  And speed to print.  There's no question that the prepress function of analog work is very expensive and time consuming but digital changes the game.

Cary Sherburne:  And at what point now do you see the crossover point between -- for cost effectiveness between analog screen and digital? 

Jim Blee:  Yeah, it's actually a really unique time.  We're at the teeter-totter, that balancing point where analog just is really not ready to go away just yet and the digital presses that are coming on the marketplace are not necessarily robust enough to be a replacement technology.  So we're excited.  We think we're in a good spot right now a little bit but it's still expensive.  You have to continue to invest in your company on the technology side.  So, challenging. 

Cary Sherburne:  But in terms of quantity, how do you decide?  Like is it 1,500 units or is it...?

Jim Blee:  You know, it's a sliding scale that's been moving, obviously digital was just even three or four years ago was maybe sub100 or 200 and now today that number it's almost got another set of zeros behind, you know, to hit the thousand mark to be the cost effective break even point.  But it's always a moving target.

Cary Sherburne:  And then the other piece would be environmental probably. 

Jim Blee:  A little bit.  Digital is certainly unique in the sense that it doesn't have all the consumable waste that we have on the front end of prepress with analog technology.  So we do see someadvantages as well for a little bit more sustainability.

Cary Sherburne:  And are there new products that digital wasn't able to produce?

Jim Blee:  No question versioning.  That’s been one of the biggest things that we've seen.  We've been able to take a similar product, instead of doing 1,000 copies of one version, we not only do over 100 of ten to equal the thousand.  So for us that's been a really big game changer for version. 

Cary Sherburne:  So that could be something like signage for ten different stores or...?

Jim Blee:  Very much so.  Logistics has changed the game.  I mean, you can actually track a package right down to the Main Street, Ohio and Main Street, Florida.  So no reason why the graphics shouldn't match up as well.

Cary Sherburne:  Oh, that's a great point; I like that.

Jim Blee:  Yeah, and very true.

Cary Sherburne:  Well that's good.  And how long have you been in business and how many employees do you have 

Jim Blee:  Well, we've -- our core company has been around almost 25 years.  So we've been around a long time and we have certainly grown the business as well.  We're a little over a hundred employees right now  there at our facility located in Southern California.  We don't know.  Digital certainly creates opportunity.  So we do see additions in our workforce in the finishing side of things, maybe not so much in the press operator side but definitely in the finishing side.

Cary Sherburne:  Yeah.  So, where do you see it going?  I mean, going in the future.  Obviously more digital and...? 

Jim Blee:  Yeah, it's certainly a digital world.  There's no question about it.  The number of pages that continually to be turned from analog to digital is happening.  I still feel, though, that there are specialty markets that unfortunately digital is really never going to capture, true PMS colors and we do a lot of spot colors and a lot of things that clients are specifically asking for.  I don't think I'll ever see a day where a digital device does florescent printing.  So there are still needs for us and we think this makes a good balance.

Cary Sherburne:  Well that's good.  And a lot of times commercial printers think I'll just add wide format, large format to my mix but it's not always that simple, right?  Because you probably do a lot of installations and other...? 

Jim Blee:  Yeah, it's goes far beyond just being able to pull the checkbook out and write a check for a piece of equipment.  The finishing ramifications in large format just exponentially grow in some ways that I don't think this side of the commercial market quite understands.  So while this machine is really nice and maybe affordable and sits in the corner and doesn't really have a lot of things to people to worry about.  The reality is the product that comes off those devices is very, very labor intensive.

Cary Sherburne:  Well, good.  It sounds like you're on the right track and you're having a lot of fun at it.

Jim Blee:  Let's hope so.

Cary Sherburne:  That's great.  Thank you.

Jim Blee:  Thank you.

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