By Lisa Guerriero
Digital wide format printing capabilities help Meeks Group, a company with more than 40 years experience in printing, evolve to keep up with the latest demands.
Established in 1961 as a lithography shop, it acquired another print shop in the early 2000s. With the acquisition, Meeks Group gained wide format technology. The merger helped the company grow into a multi-division commercial printing operation.
“More importantly, it added a function that 90 percent of our clients utilize,” says James Morales, marketing division, Meeks Group.
Located in Tulsa, OK, the firm employs over 65 people in 77,000-square-feet of building space. Its services include large format printing, direct mail, and promotional products. It works with clients throughout the state.
From Copies to Commercial Print
After absorbing new digital equipment through the acquisition, Meeks Group established a 17-person division to handle its signage services. It also has a wrap division. Wide format now comprises over half of the shop’s printing business.
It offers vehicle wraps, wall graphics, point of purchase (POP) displays, and banners—all services the company either couldn’t offer or had to contract out prior to the merger.
“The challenge of keeping customers through outsourcing was a factor that made Meeks Group incorporate wide format capabilities,” notes Morales.
The company relies on multiple flatbed and roll-to-roll printers, including two Roland DGA print-and-cut devices. Its first Roland was the Soljet XC-540, followed by the newly acquired Soljet XR-640. It uses only Roland inks for these printers.
“Our Roland printers have millions of print miles on them, so we know we can rely on the print and the speed,” observes Morales.
The wide format division also uses two Mutoh ValueJets, a single- and a dual-printhead; two Hewlett-Packard (HP) Scitex devices, an FB700 and an LX850; and a Gerber Edge.
Meeks Group purchased a MultiCam 3000 routing table earlier this year, as part of its ongoing investment in wide format. Routing capabilities allow the firm to expand services, handling jobs like trade show graphics.
“Our company will continue to grow this capability over the next few years as well as incorporate new functions as the market shows a need for those services,” explains Morales.
3M-certified, the shop specializes in wrapping commercial vehicles and fleets, but will wrap virtually anything. Other jobs include an artist’s 35×24-foot mural on a city wall, pink vehicles in support of breast cancer research, and outdoor wall wraps for local businesses.
Larger Than Life
Meeks Group puts its wide format skills and equipment to the test annually—in a big way. One of the firm’s ongoing jobs is wrapping the Golden Driller, a 76-foot-tall statue of an oil worker.
The statue previously wore an actual t-shirt, but the fabric didn’t hold up well when exposed to the elements. The sponsors sought an alternative that would better sustain wear and tear. The solution was a digitally printed wrap.
The iconic figure now wears a t-shirt of vinyl film, with graphics on the front and back, and also a wrapped belt buckle. The graphics on belt and shirt are each about 12 feet across. A local radio station, KMOD, sponsors a new wrap annually to help promote the Tulsa State Fair.
After KMOD determined how it wanted the Golden Driller to look this year, Meeks Group designed mock-ups. Once approved, it ordered materials and began production.
Previously, the firm did the entire wrap with 3M’s Controltac 180C film, paired with 3M’s 8520 overlaminate. The cost of the materials, labor, and print downtime was prohibitive.
The staff now uses 3M’s 1080 film, with no overlaminate, for the statue’s large shirt area. The product is ideal when fast turnaround is required, notes Morales. The graphics are then applied on the shirt and belt buckle using Controltac 180C with overlaminate.
Because the firm has experience with the size and scale of the wrap, “we have the knowledge on material usage, install/removal times, and templates to turn this job around in under a week,” says Morales.
The entire project requires four 60-inch rolls of film. The company uses its Roland Soljets for the job—previously the XC-540 and this year, the newly acquired XR-640 model.
“We used these printers for three reasons. First is the VersaWorks print software, second is the speed of the Roland printers, and third is the cutting ability,” explains Morales.
Roland’s VersaWorks RIP software is easy to use and allows the staff to manage multiple files. Additionally, “with the complex curves of the Driller, it’s easy to place cut graphics and the Roland can print and cut all in one,” he notes.
Meeks Group strived to finish installation in two days because the shop is busy at the same time with other projects for the Tulsa State Fair—enough that the wide format division works intensively for a week straight.
The amount of vinyl, the application technique, and the height of the statue made the two-day goal a challenge.
“We max out a 60-foot crane trying to get just to the top of the neck. While extended, the installers have to heat set the vinyl onto a concrete-like texture,” explains Morales.
The staff limited the panel size to 5×5 feet. They installed entire sections at once by bringing a trash can full of rolled-up panels and treating the edges only in applicable places. The armpit received full heat treatment because of the curves and under location.
With a two-person crew, the company removed the old wrap and installed the new one in 49 hours.
In addition to being a high-profile job, the Golden Driller project brought additional benefits for the Meeks Group this year—publicity. The firm promoted its social media presence by teaming with KMOD for a Web campaign called #Meeksfair.
The campaign had some larger-than-life help from the Driller—the wrap on this year’s statue included the #Meeksfair hashtag. The project generated over 500,000 views for the company and utilized its Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram platforms.
Meeks Group redefined itself repeatedly during more than 60 years of business, evolving from a small copy shop to a multi-service print provider. When it saw the print industry moving toward digital, the firm took the leap—and it paid off.
The prominence and uniqueness of the Golden Driller job helps cement the firm’s reputation and build its social media presence. Wide format capability does more than promote the company, utilized by nearly all of Meeks Group’s clients, it represents a key part of the business and its growth. dps
Aug2015, DPS Magazine