By Cassandra Balentine
Webcrafters traces its beginnings back to 1868. With a staff of approximately 400, the family owned company currently operates two facilities in Madison, WI. The national commercial printer serves the education and trade book market. With a pulse on the latest digital print technologies, it enjoys continued growth despite a decline in print spend.
Brad Koch, VP of sales and marketing, Webcrafters, says that the company installed its first digital press—a toner-based Kodak NexPress 2100—back in September of 2005. More recently, it installed its first high-speed digital inkjet press—The Kodak Prosper 5000—in March of 2011.
Today, with a mix of traditional offset and digital technologies, it is well suited to serve the needs of an evolving segment. Today, Koch estimates that in total, digital makes up about ten percent of its overall sales, a number that he expects will grow year over year.
A Move to Inkjet
Despite its adoption of digital toner technologies nearly ten years ago, Webcrafters recognized the need to move to the next evolution in high-speed digital production—inkjet. “We needed to have a more robust digital print platform than toner could provide,” admits Koch. “High-speed inkjet offers compelling attributes—cost relative to throughput—for the markets we serve.”
The company runs two, web-fed digital inkjet Kodak Prosper 5000Xli Presses to produce four-color books. The presses enable them to efficiently print on demand, while still providing the variety of offerings its customers have come to expect, including short runs and specialized jobs that extend its traditional offset business.
Koch says that typical volume on digital orders ranges from runs of 15 to 800, and sometimes higher.
The company was impressed with Kodak’s Stream Technology, which is a continuous inkjet offering compared to the piezoelectric drop on demand technologies prevalent in the space. Koch notes that its Kodak Prosper presses offers production characteristics well suited to the company’s demands—including speed, throughput, product size, and ink coverage.
Finishing capabilities complete the picture, the shop operates Muller Martini Sigma lines added inline to the high-speed inkjet presses.
The company continues to operate multiple Kodak NexPress devices to handle covers and other book components better suited for toner production.
There are advantages and disadvantages of incorporating digital into a production environment. Webcrafers is open to discussing the opportunities for digital with its customers. “We are having great discussions and debates over digital printing with all of our customers,” says Koch. “Some of our customers were early adopters. We have others that are just beginning to understand the value of inkjet outside of the printed book or catalog,” he comments.
However, others are cautious of making the leap to digital. “There are still some that are not ready to begin. Overall, our customers and prospects have responded very positively,” he adds.
Koch notes that workflow is a critical component of a successful digital operation. The shop continuously automates its workflow to get the most advantage of digital production.
In general, Webcrafters’ digital business brings an important aspect to the future of the company. “As run lengths on certain types of work trend smaller, the Prospers have been the key to our success,” says Koch. He adds that at times, a Kodak Prosper is even able to handle overflow from its conventional platforms.
To illustrate its digital workflow, Koch walks us through a recent order completed with one of its Kodak Prosper presses, a 600-page 10×12-inch spiral bound teacher’s edition book. The goal of the 400-unit order was to deliver the books on time with the same quality integrity as offset.
Koch says they did this with a turnaround of three weeks, as it was part of a several book series. The text was printed on the Kodak Prosper inkjet system, while covers were produced on the toner-based NexPress device. The book was completed on the shop’s automated spiral binding line.
This job required heavy ink coverage, which Koch says is typical of teacher’s editions, as the pages have a lot of color, including large areas of solid coverage. The Prosper was able to handle these requirements. “Webcrafters has worked closely with Kodak to have the best combination of profile, speed, and substrate. Producing heavy coverage is one of our unique offerings,” he adds.
Koch said the result exceeded customer expectations.
Webcrafters operates with the goal of always being a single source for its clients over the entire lifecycle of a book—from early adoption, heavy sales cycles, and end of life.
In addition to its education and trade books, the company is setting its sights on translating this goal into other areas, such as catalog offerings. With digital capabilities, the company allows its clients to talk more directly to customers through customization afforded by digital capabilities and sophisticated workflows. dps
Jan2015, DPS Magazine