VALHALLA, N.Y. (January 22, 2008) - In Manhattan Beach, Calif., on the West Coast and in Manhattan, New York City, on the East Coast, printers frequently feel pressured to adapt, innovate and evolve for fear of perishing. But in Manhattan, Kan., in the Midwest, the pressure hasn't been as great. That hasn't stopped Ag Press, however, from implementing new technology to gain a competitive advantage. In April 2006, Ag Press, a publications printer, installed its first digital printer-a DocuColor 240- from Fujifilm and is now able to expand the services it offers its customers.
"We have been very satisfied with our first full year of production of the DocuColor 240," states Tom Carlin, general manager. "It added to our gross revenue which is in excess of $5 million. We are confident digital jobs afford us a higher profit margin than offset printing thanks to several factors, including the elimination of setup, paper waste and proofing materials. In our printing operation, the DocuColor 240 is primarily used for short-run color which would be cost prohibitive on our offset presses."
Ag Press was established in 1954 to publish a farm newspaper called Grass & Grain, which the company still prints and circulates through parts of three states: Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. Today, the company is primarily a commercial printer that specializes in hobbyist publications and produces about 50 magazine titles, ranging in subject from flowers to railroads.
With a new digital printer, it is also providing those customers with 24-hour turnarounds on everything from business cards to holiday cards and publication tear sheets to personalized direct mail postcards. The new printer enables Ag Press to deliver small runs quickly and cost effectively.
For years, Carlin and Neal Bassett, Ag Press' production manager, have been supporting the company as it evolves into the digital arena, with strong encouragement from Fujifilm. About four years ago, Ag Press implemented Fujifilm's Javelin Luxel T9000 CTP, a thermal eight-page CTP device. "When I started working here, we were still working with film and were spending hours of stripping on light tables," says Bassett. "With the help of Fujifilm, we were able to make these steps into the digital world a little smoother. It certainly made my life a lot easier. We were able to downsize our workforce in prepress, and the amount of work the Javelin can do in a day with no mistakes is pretty amazing."
The thermal platesetter-which can output 12 plates an hour at 2400 dpi-feeds five presses and makes a few hundred plates a day on busy cycles. For the strictly four-color plates, for the 26x40-inch press, the Javelin produces 100 to 200 plates a day. "The Javelin can handle the workload and definitely keeps the presses going," states Bassett.
Deeper into digital
Taking its first step into digital printing, Ag Press again turned to Fujifilm and installed a DocuColor 240 printer-copier that prints up to 40 ppm in color and up to 55 ppm in black-and-white with a 2400 x 2400 dpi resolution. The printer features a maximum paper size of 13" x 19" and outputs up to 110 lb. cover stock.
"The printer is very beneficial to us-it doesn't replace work off the offset presses; it allows us to do work we'd previously been turning down," says Carlin. "Often I'd feel uncomfortable about the prices some of our customers had to pay for limited amounts of printing. Now, with the quality of the digital press, we can give them a good price. That's good for us and our customers."
The company wasn't able to produce business cards cost competitively before, but now it can, and it can do so with a same-day turnaround. "One of the things I find very beneficial is how quickly we can turn business cards for people. With the digital printer the quality and the cost are both there, so we do an awful lot of business cards. That is new work."
The company is just beginning to produce variable data projects and anticipates growth in this area. In fact, Ag Press recently produced about 6,000 personalized postcards for Kansas State University. And for the holidays, the company printed numerous cards, including a job showcasing wildlife paintings by a local artist. "Even the artist was pleased with the quality," says Carlin.
"We take pride in our quality and wouldn't have purchased that press if we weren't satisfied with it," states Carlin. "If the quality were dramatically different from what we produce on the offset presses, I would not have purchased it because our customers would have rebelled. But everybody really likes it."
One of the main services the company wanted to provide for customers was producing tear sheets in a more affordable fashion. Many publications provide their advertisers with tear sheets of the 8.5" x 11" magazine pages. Now with the size of the digital printer, Ag Press can cost-effectively print from 100 to 500 sheets.
In addition, the company can provide its publications' customers with direct mail pieces to send to current and potential advertisers.
"For the most part I think our timing in purchasing the DocuColor 240 was about right because we knew that we were going to have to be competitive in the digital market," says Bassett.
"On an annual basis," Carlin concludes, "the printer pays for itself. It's a good investment."
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