"Superior" litho print now an everyday commodity

Converting Magazine -- Editor in Chief Mark Spaulding, 5/22/2009

At Superior Graphic Packaging, talk about "difficult jobs" has largely disappeared. What once was difficult is now run-of-the-mill with the company's ROLAND 900XXL sheetfed-offset press.

Folding cartons now make up a good share of Superior's revenue ever since the ROLAND 900XXL gave it the ability to print what previously had been difficult work.

Seen as a reliable, strategic supplier by customers, Los Angeles-based Superior Graphic Packaging is now further expanding its folding-carton business. The press not only is helping maintain the converter's position as one of the premier providers of litho labels to the corrugated-box market, but it expects the new large-format capability press will also open and develop new markets while making Superior more competitive in 2009.

That's the belief of Doug Rawson, Superior Graphic Packaging president/CEO, and Rudy Chavez, vp-operations. Known in the community as the "go-to" printer, the award-winning company is now running its fifth manroland press. The duo has seen all of the presses since the company's early days when they were two of the three original Superior employees.

"In 1986," Rawson recalls, "we had a client request for a large-format (55-in.) job. At the time, manroland was one of the few making large-format presses. Rudy and I were fortunate to find a used, 63-in. ROLAND 800 nearby, so we bought it and started printing large-format work."

Twenty-three years later, Superior is bigger, stronger and more talented than ever. The company has grown to 70 people and generated revenues of about $18 million in 2008. Teamwork is behind its success, and it shows as the highly experienced and knowledgeable staff makes a difference with customers. So, too are manroland's service/support personnel making a difference with package printers such as Superior.

"Over the past 20-some years, we've gotten to know manroland's local technicians pretty well," Chavez says. Having a printservices® package for the ROLAND 900XXL has proven to be a solid investment, he adds.

As the first fully automated press to take up residence in Superior's pressroom, the 900XXL has helped expand capabilities while boosting productivity and efficiency. What matters most to Superior's customers throughout the Western US, is timely delivery of on-spec product. Most of the printer's output is top-sheet and litho label for corrugated-box and point-of-purchase display converters, as well as a broad range of folding cartons for both food and consumer packaged goods.

Package as salesman

ROLAND 900XXL printing press at Superior LithoAutomated makeready tasks, in-line slitting and related productivity features help Superior Graphic Packaging' ROLAND 900XXL large-format, sheetfed-offset press speed job turnaround for diverse packaging customers.

"We're part of a dynamic and complex supply chain. With the growth of Sam's Club, Costco, Best Buy, Home Depot and Walmart, the demand for high-quality graphics and great looking packaging is exploding," Rawson says. "Today, the package is the 'display,' and the product 'brochure' is on the box. Even the instructions for using or installing the product are often printed on the box."

Print buyers and consumer marketers have long considered the package as part of the brand image, but today, the package plays a much more important role in branding. Organic foods and the popularity of local and regionally grown foods have provided another opportunity for Superior to meet emerging customer needs. These foods are all grown and processed within a couple of hundred miles of its facility, so Superior can be more responsive to the food-processing community, from design and press approvals to just-in-time delivery. Food cartons have progressed from simple clay-coated or SBS board to more sophisticated materials, including plastics.

"A good portion of Superior's revenue now comes from folding-carton work, ever since the ROLAND 900XXL gave us the ability to print what previously had been difficult work on most any substrate," Rawson explains.

Superior typically runs the 900XXL at 12,000 sph on paperboard and up to 10,000 sph on paper labelstocks. It counts International Paper, Clearwater Paper, Meadwestvaco and Graphic Packaging Intl. among suppliers. INX International Ink Co. is a primary ink provider.

Print runs vary significantly, adds Chavez. "Some of our orders are for only 500 sheets, and others are for 250,000. About 80-percent of our runs are between 15,000 and 50,000 sheets. That's the benefit with this manroland press. It makes us competitive in all of these situations."

Speed-to-market is key. "The question we ask when making decisions on technology, as well as in other areas is, 'Will this help us do it faster?'" Roland says. "The manroland press certainly allows us to do many things much quicker. This makes us a better supplier, and it makes our corrugated-converting customer a better supplier to the consumer product company whose products go in the box, which also makes him a better suppler to Walmart or other stores. Our performance affects every link in that chain."

From "art" to "science"

Superior Graphic Packagingpress operatorA press operator checks a printed sheet at the system's control station.

In areas such as makeready, the manroland printnet PressManager is a step up on anything Chavez has seen. "For example, from prepress, a huge percentage of the makeready is fed to the press operator before they ever click into a job," he explains. "With repeat runs, the press is 85- to 90-percent makeready before the operator starts his setup. When they call up a job, the press already knows sheet sizes, thickness and ink rotation because the information is preset with PressManager. Our operators are more efficient now."

Not only does this help get jobs up-and-running and out the door faster, but it has essentially transformed how Superior Graphic Packagingproduces printing.

"The ROLAND 900XXL took us from the 'art' of printing to the 'science' of printing," says Rawson. Regardless of the shift or crew, we can show a customer the histogram from the Press Monitor software for their job, and they will see the densities are identical to both the proof and previous runs. As a result, we're able to turn out more high-quality and more consistent work than ever before," says Rawson.

"We do a high percentage of 6-color work," adds Chavez. "Previously, our makeready waste was as high as 1,000 sheets. Now, we've cut those numbers down to under 350 sheets, and we do it in 18 mins. If 'Offset Press Makeready' was an Olympic event, I'd bet on our guys to win the gold medal."

The ability to slit on-press is a tremendous advantage for Superior, Rawson says. "Our diecutters include 29 x 41-in. equipment and a 45 x 65-in. box diecutter. With on-press slitting, we're now able to fill up the diecutters with work regardless of the press sheet size. Then, we arrange jobs so we run a 41 x 56-in. sheet, slit it to make two 28 x 41-in. sheets, and fill up the smaller diecutter. Because the slitter allows us to go both ways, we're not locked into a large or a small sheet, and we don't have to buy more diecutting equipment."

Response and support

ROLAND 900XXL large-format printing pressMakeready waste on the new ROLAND 900XXL sheetfed-offset press has been cut by 65 percent.

What separates a "vendor" and a true business partner is how your supplier deals with adversity. "There has never been a press that, once installed, did not have issues," Rawson says, acknowledging reality. At one point, there were problems with the slitter, but they were quickly resolved with adjustments and operator training.

From Superior's perspective, manroland's printservices' specialists have come through with flying colors. "This press prints at top speeds the best dot we have ever seen," Rawson says. "The service support we receive from manroland's printservices division is remarkable. They are part of our team and treat us as part of theirs."

Chavez recalls some repair work that was performed beyond expectations in late 2008. The printservices team looked at the calendar and planned the work in short segments to minimize downtime and the impact on Superior's production schedules.

Think outside the carton

Despite the current economy, Rawson remains optimistic when looking ahead at Superior's opportunities for 2009 and beyond. 

"We're becoming more of a strategic supplier, consulting on ways to integrate our manufacturing schedule with theirs to minimize everyone's inventory, for example. In some cases, we inventory material, finish goods, and deliver on-demand. We see opportunities to move deeper into folding-carton packaging for electronics, food and other consumer packaged goods that are made in this area. The ROLAND 900XXL gave us the ability to print board, and we plan to make full use of it."