The Label Shoppe Finds Performance and Value by Mixing Flexo and Digital Presses
The Label Shoppe in City of Industry, California had developed a strong customer base by providing fast turnarounds for short- to medium-run label printing. But as customers asked for ever-shorter runs and tighter delivery windows, the company’s four existing flexo presses could not keep up with demand. The hunt was on for a way to balance both short-run and long-run customer needs without compromising quality.
One customer had essentially the same job mix every month, relates Ryan Gaytan, Vice President at The Label Shoppe.
He would need 50 versions of a given label, a thousand of each, all four-color process. It could take up to two and a half days of press time. And that customer wasn’t the only one with those kind of needs.
Knowing something had to be done, Gaytan and his team evaluated the needs of all customers with similar requirements, did the math, and knew a digital press would be the best way to streamline their production process. But finding a machine that could meet their productivity targets while satisfying demands for uptime, print quality, substrate selection, and operating cost proved to be a significant challenge.
Smart Evaluation Process
Digital presses for label printing all use one of two technologies: electrophotographic systems that use either dry or liquid toner, or inkjet. Each has advantages and disadvantages, and presses of both technologies from several vendors are enjoying success in the marketplace. But all converters—and their customers—have specific and often exacting needs, so a digital press must be selected based on those requirements.
As the converter of choice for a wide range of customers in food and beverage, electronics, automotive, and some emerging markets, The Label Shoppe invested both executive and production staff time in evaluating several digital presses to ensure the one selected would satisfy the broadest possible range of customer needs.
Sample job files and specifications were sent to each press manufacturer who provided finished labels on the desired substrates (or closest matching materials) to Gaytan and his team for review. This enabled the Label Shoppe to compare the best output from each press, side by side, and also compare it with the flexo-printed labels already in use. This approach put everything on the table: print resolution, gradient smoothness, color accuracy, and substrate options. The published specs for each machine were also considered, such as print speed (thoughput), recommended monthly print volume, acquisition and operating costs, consumable costs (inks and other materials), substrate choices, training requirements, software, color management, predicted reliability, finishing options, and more. Consideration was also given to the vendor support available for each machine.
Gaytan and his team also looked at how press vendors worked with them throughout the evaluation process. Being completely new to digital label production, they sought strong support and the deep knowledge that comes from a vendor who not only understands the marketplace, but also the challenges converters face every day.
We have a lot of very loyal customers, notes Gaytan,
and we wanted the same loyalty from our press supplier.
At the end of all the testing, the Screen Truepress Jet L350UV stood apart and one was installed in Label Shoppe’s print plant in the fall of 2014.
With Anderson & Vreeland and Screen, we felt they were not going to sell us a machine that didn’t meet our needs, because they made a point of understanding us during our due diligence and evaluation process.
Key features that stood out were the smooth gradients, a direct benefit of the small (3 picoliter) ink droplet size; print speeds of up to 164 feet per minute, UV inks that could run on most standard label substrates, and a reputation for reliability.
It was not the least expensive choice, admits Gaytan,
but its advantages made the Screen press the best choice. And because it is an inkjet system, we think it is a differentiator in the LA market where virtually all the other high speed digital label presses are toner machines. He smiles.
UV inkjet can do things toner systems can’t do.
“So easy even I can run it”
Now, with several months using the Screen press behind them, well over 40 percent of jobs The Label Shoppe previously ran on its flexo presses are now produced on the Screen Truepress. Typical print runs range from a couple dozen protoypes for a new product, up to 1,000 labels, with some jobs ranging as high as 100,000. Versioning, just another part of a non-stop print stream, is a common part of the job mix. Although the majority of jobs are small compared to many shops, this is by design. The Label Shoppe has not changed its positioning as a key source for short-run, fast-turnaround label production in the Los Angeles area. Yet, one customer has leveraged the new capabilities to bring a job once offshored to China back to California.
The benefits show up in significantly more efficient operations. That monthly job that once required two and a half days can now be completed in less than four hours, and most jobs can be turned around in three to five days, compared to a week or more at other converters. Using UV inks lets The Label Shoppe run jobs on commonly available substrates, helping control costs for customers. Registration is easier and faster, gradients are equal to those of flexo presses, and there is no appreciable difference in print quality between the company’s flexo and digital presses.
Another major advantage is the absence of click charges and fixed frame sizes common on some toner-based presses. The Screen Truepress Jet L350UV uses a consumption-based model for inks, and the lack of a frame size (predetermined print area) can contribute to cost savings as well. Because click charges on most toner-based presses are based on filling a certain frame size, converters can wind up paying for a full frame even if a job doesn’t fill the frame. For example, in the case of a 6” x 9” label, a converter may be able to fit only one label in a typical frame. By comparison, the Screen L350 has no frame limitation so converters can print up to 12.6” wide by up to 96” long.
Another bonus is ease of use. While some toner presses require extensive training, Gaytan describe Screen Truepress operation being so straightforward that “even I can run it.” At The Label Shoppe, a computer-savvy shop assistant was assigned to the press and with support from Screen, was able to have the press producing salable work very quickly.
Looking ahead, Gaytan sees more digital presses in his company’s future.
We originally thought that we’d be buying only digital presses in the coming years. But having the Screen Truepress L350UV has opened the door to doing some longer run jobs that are a better fit on flexo presses, he notes,
so the future will have more of both technologies.