GURNEE, IL—DWS Printing was established in 1865. Abraham Lincoln was in office, the Civil War was ending, and David Weil was starting up a lithographic company in New York City. Soon after, Charles Staib became a principal managing partner. Today, Charles’ great-grandson Tom Staib is the fourth-generation Owner and president of DWS Printing. Tom joined the family business in 1987, and in his 32-year career with DWS Printing, he has focused on continuous improvement initiatives for minimizing waste, improving quality and maximizing efficiencies through lean manufacturing practices. He performs due diligence on new technology and equipment purchases to remain an industry leader in all aspects of prepress, print production and post-press finishing.
Recently, at TLMI printTHINK 2019, Tom served on a Q&A panel titled “Operational Choices, Challenges and Advantages of Digital Technologies” in which he discussed DWS Printing’s journey to digital. The panel was moderated by Cory Francer, editor of Packaging Impressions.
There are many printing technologies to choose from. Which did you evaluate during your digital journey, and why did you select the platform you did?
Tom Staib: My first introduction to the various technologies available was at the Digital Packaging Summit about three years ago. There were case study presentations from people who had the different types of presses, there were speed dating sessions where you could sit down and representatives from each of the different press manufacturers discussed the various technologies and the pros and cons of each. And that actually started my journey. It took about a year and a half from that point, with some significant due diligence to evaluate the different options available. And my technical director and I literally traveled around the country. We must have done over a dozen different demos, and we sent a dozen or so files on all sorts of different substrates to each of the different press manufacturers that we were evaluating, so we could compare, contrast and scrutinize the quality, and evaluate the print results in addition to evaluating some of the other factors that were going into our decision-making process, such as speed of the press, uptime vs. downtime, cost of maintenance, the ability to print on various substrates.
Our business’ main focus is food and beverage, and we also have a strong presence in the craft beer market. And the craft beer market is heavily into shrink sleeve labels on beer cans, so a lot of our business was trending that way as well. We wanted to have the option to print shrink sleeves digitally, for our craft beer customers. At the time, there was really one option available. When we met with the UV inkjet suppliers, I asked every one of them “Can you print on shrink?” and the answer was no. And at the time, that was true. We did some testing with UV inkjet on shrink film. We would bring it back to our shop to run through our flexo press with shrink white, because the UV inkjet white would not shrink. At first, nothing really worked. But we didn’t give up. We tried and trialed and went through the testing. We were intrigued with the UV inkjet. Not that the electrophotography was not a good option for us, but the quality of the UV inkjet was getting better and better. We were impressed with that, we liked the speeds, and we liked some of the other things it offered us and some of the other markets it could help us break into.
So, near the end of our process, we did have some success printing shrink. Domino had reformulated their ink set to the UV90 ink set. They ran our shrink through the machine, and low and behold, they had some success. That was a game changer for us. But the reality was, we were not going to be printing UV inkjet shrink, and then run it back through our flexo press a second time, that just didn’t work for us. And that’s where the whole concept of hybrid came into the picture. If we could print digitally, put down UV white inline, and get high quality at speeds with all the benefits of digital, all in one pass, that was a nice attractive option for us. And then it came down to which one. Domino partners with several flexo press manufacturers. We opted to go with MPS. We have a comfort level with them. They have a sophisticated flexo platform and their flexo equipment is highly automated. And that in a nutshell is the journey that lead us to the Domino MPS hybrid press.
What are the key skillsets that you look for in a digital press operator?
Staib: We were fortunate. We had a young individual who was running our slitter/rewinder, and he was running the seaming machine for the shrink sleeve. He’s in his 20s. The younger generation embraces the digital world, so we gave him the opportunity to get involved. At the same time, we had an experienced flexo pressman with over 25 years’ experience. So, we trained the two of them. They were both sent to Domino, and then MPS came and trained them onsite during the installation. So, we have two different types of operators. One is the younger generation more versed in the digital, and the older one that is more versed in flexo. And they make a great team. However, either one of them can run the press solo. It’s not a two-man machine. So, we kind of have the best of both worlds in my eyes. Today they are both proficient in digital and flexo, and they share best practices.
How do you determine which jobs will be run flexo and which will be run digital?
Staib: The obvious one is the run size. The smaller the quantity, the more appropriate it is for digital. We also take into consideration the label itself, and the artwork. There are some graphics that lend themselves better to digital printing instead of flexo printing, just because of the nature of the graphics. For instance, maybe some smooth gradations might be better running digital than flexo. Other labels that have requirements for high white opacity. The Domino UV inkjet white is a beautiful white, it’s very opaque. In my opinion, it rivals screen. So, if we’re printing labels on a clear film or metallic substrate, then it requires an opaque white. Even if the run length may be longer, it would be more suitable for digital. The fact that we have a hybrid press also has its advantages because we can have longer run lengths, it’s more cost-effective. We can add additional PMS colors to it if necessary. Lastly, if the label has different versioning requirements, either variable data or variable versions, that is something that cannot be done flexo, so it would have to be done on a digital press regardless of volume.
What finishing technology have you implemented for your digital output?
Staib: Once we decided on a hybrid press, there was really no need for an offline finishing system, as ours is inline. We do have a cold foil on one of the flexo units and a turn bar, so we can reverse the web for shrink film and some coatings. And then we diecut inline. So, our digital finishing is inline with the hybrid press.
What were the key factors that led to your decision to add a hybrid press?
Staib: This was our first venture into digital and we really had a lot of homework to do to find out what the differences were, what the benefits were, what technologies were out there. At the time, it seemed like HP was the one and only option, because we wanted to do shrink sleeves digitally. But Domino came in with their new ink set and we had success printing shrink sleeve with UV inkjet, and that in my eyes was a game changer. And we were able to get increased speeds, and the quality was very good. And the combination of the MPS flexo with the Domino digital, it really seemed to be the best option for us.
We did a lot of testing. We narrowed it down to four or five different presses, and printed samples on everything from white semi-gloss to white BOPP to metallized BOPP to clear film, and of course shrink. We gave the packets of samples to all our salespeople and we let them give us their feedback, what they thought about it. We did not tell them what press the samples were printed on. We wanted to get their opinion on what they thought their customers would like. And at the end of the day, we had a vote and the vote was unanimous. It was Domino. And I’m glad, because that was the direction that I wanted to go, and our technical director wanted to go as well.
Not only did we have higher speeds, but the quality was excellent. We could do shrink with UV inkjet. Nobody else was doing that. We like to be on the leading edge of technology, but careful not to be on the bleeding edge. And I know that we made the right decision. The press for us is a differentiator. To my knowledge, our UV inkjet flexo hybrid press is the only one in the country that is printing shrink. And we’ve come a long way. It wasn’t without its challenges, but MPS and Domino have worked very well together to work out some of the initial bugs and kinks in the system, some reconfigurations specifically to printing the shrink sleeve film…better, crisper, cleaner. And where we are today, compared to a year and a half ago, we are light years ahead. So, we are very happy with the system, and no regrets.
In what circumstances have you found that hybrid production provides cost and efficiency advantages?
Staib: Certain jobs that we used to run flexo, we now run digital. But if we have a certain customer or brand owner with a specific logo color, we may have a hard time matching that in digital format, so we have the option then to run the PMS color flexo. And so, we have no issues or concerns whatsoever in trying to hit a specific PMS color. That is all done inline, in perfect register with the digital. So, we can do shorter runs more cost-effectively, and take advantage of the flexographic print units, and the flexo colors…a metallic gold or metallic silver. Plus, our digital has expanded gamut with CMYK + OV and white, so we do a very good job of matching Pantone colors.
What are some of the best practices you’ve found in maintaining color consistency across multiple platforms, and from run to run?
Staib: Consistent calibration and color management. We are very conscientious of the color matches. We have the luxury of running a specific PMS color in the flexo unit if we have to. But what we will also do is take a PMS color from a previously printed flexo unit and bring that over to the digital platform, and if we find that the digital version doesn’t match all that well, we take the color and run out 10, 20, 50 different color swatches in that particular spectrum, and all different variations to pick and choose and see which one is the best match. Sometimes we have to “dumb down” the digital to match flexo, because there is a difference in the quality depending on graphics. But we are very conscientious of the compatibility between the two and we are very confident in our processes to have them match. If there is oddball color we are trying to match, we use our spectrophotometer and out comes the color, and more often than not it is spot on.
On your digital platform, have you found that the color remains consistent throughout the run?
Staib: The Domino does a great job. We have had absolutely no issue with color variations throughout the run. And then jobs that we run one month later, six months later, they are spot on with the previous runs. So, no issues with color consistency from job to job, run to run.
Has your company entered or explored segments beyond traditional labels?
Staib: We are printing more shrink sleeve now than pressure-sensitive labels. And the digital press gives us good opportunity to compete in other markets. For example, household, industrial, automotive—those markets all use labels that the Domino UV inkjet digital is beautifully suited to supply. But it is easier said than done. Our sales team is heavily invested in food, beverage and beer, so to try to get them to break out of their bubble and their comfort zone, it is a challenge, but it’s a challenge that we are working on.
Have you utilized your digital printing capabilities to provide versioned, variable, or personalized packaging?
Staib: We have several accounts that have taken advantage of the digital capabilities. Specifically, the versioning aspect of it. One of our craft beer customers, they wanted a different picture of a dog…I don’t know how many different dogs, but a lot. So, every label prints with a different dog. So that’s not something that could have been printed flexo, but it was an opportunity for them to get multiple labels out in one production run in a cost-effective manner. We have another beverage account that has five or six different flavors. Each flavor has about nine different versions with these different mottos and sayings. So, we are printing multiple different versions that are repeated. So those are just two examples of how the digital technology has enabled us to supply that type of product to some of our accounts where we would not have been able to do so otherwise.
Are your brand owner customers requesting this capability and how aware are they of digital printing’s ability to perform these tasks?
Staib: I think the bigger the brand, the more the brand owner marketing team is aware of the technology and capabilities that are out there. And so, we do get asked quite often “can we do this, can we do that” and now we do have the technology that we can offer some of these unique attributes specific to digital, where we could not before. Some of the smaller brand owners are not privy to what is going on in the industry, they are not as knowledgeable about the current technology, but our sales team is keeping them up to speed on what we can do and helping to educate our customer base.