Built for Speed
One customer places 330 orders each month, totaling more than one million labels a year. But because that company no longer maintains an inventory of finished labels, each of those orders comes with a two-day delivery window.
“With digital capability, our finished goods inventory has dropped by half,” explains Bob McJury, partner and vice president of sales at TLF Graphics in Rochester, NY. “We have a retail signage client with whom we use an e-commerce front end. So the orders come in, are printed, and shipped in 72 hours. There is nothing on the shelf.”
Another customer—a mid-size retail chain—has color-critical needs, wants to stop franchisees’ habit of buying print locally, and would like to customize many materials for its stores, from labels to POP signage.
“Our world revolves around turning inquiries into cash as fast as possible,” says McJury. To that end, the company produces a variety of product decoration, overlay panels for industrial equipment, and high durability labels and decals for products ranging from small hand tools to giant cranes. Meanwhile, other machines produce eye-catching signage for in-store graphics, exterior signage, banners, floor and wall coverings, and more. And closing the loop, TLF manages it all for customers with inventory controls, warehousing and distribution services.
Equipment and heroes
To deliver on these and similar needs, TLF Graphics draws on a rich mix of digital and conventional printing technology. The fleet includes flatbed inkjet printers, electrophotographic label printers, five screen-print presses, six flexographic presses, computer controlled cutting tables, and most recently, a Durst Tau 330 LFS, an inkjet label press with an integrated laser cutter. An additional 32 pieces of finishing equipment round out the equipment mix.
“Labels are an important part of our business and digital technology lets us work much faster and more efficiently than we could with flexo alone,” says McJury. “We are built for speed and we have heroes inside our company that make things happen and deliver for our customers.”
Many small jobs
All this work amounts to approximately $21 million in revenue split evenly between direct sales and distribution. And when you peel back the layers you find nearly 33,000 transactions a year with an average order size of less than $800, which is a big reason why digital printing technology has become a mainstay of the 35-year-old company.
“We use each machine for what it does well,’ says McJury. “We work based on ‘customer-need-by’ dates and run jobs on whichever press has the availability. For labels, that could be a flexo press, a toner-based digital machine, or the Tau 330.”
The flexo presses remain the workhorses for long run jobs, and are still used for jobs with few or no plate changes. Yet as customers increasingly seek shorter runs, look to minimize inventory levels, have multiple SKUs, and expect very short turnaround times McJury says digital presses, especially the Tau 330, have transformed the nature of his business. Many digital presses can do high quality work, he notes, but because they lack speed compared to flexo presses, they are often limited to shorter runs, perhaps up to about 5,000 feet. He has found their speed and throughput fills certain needs, but his customer mix requires more flexibility.