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The Common Denominator: Read Why 40 Local Printers Went Out of Business
By Ron Ellis
About a year ago I had recommended four printers to one of my in-laws for use in a new business venture. As I
reflected on this over Thanksgiving I realized that three of those four companies had gone out of business. These
companies all had reputations for quality, as well of many years of experience. They were all respected sheetfed
printers with digital print operations. As I began to think about these particular printers, and many of the others we lost
over the past year I began to wonder what these plants had in common, if anything.
As we all know this past year was very difficult for the print industry, and a number of printers in across the nation went
out of business. I began to make a list of all the printers I knew who had gone out of business on the yellow legal pad I
carry. After showing the list to some colleagues, the list went from 12 to 24 printers, and finally to 40 printers. (The
criteria for this list were that the printers closed during this recession, had at least a 29” press, and that they were
within a few hours radius of Boston, MA.)
Doctors tell us that a simple check of our waistline measurement can tell us if we are in for potential heart issues. As
printers what do we need to watch for in our plants? There were several things that nearly all these printers had in
common. They didn’t all go out at once, but the exits were disturbing and continued in steady manner throughout the
year. At first I didn’t see a pattern beyond the poor business conditions – but just registered shock with others in my
community as we watched the changes in our local industry. Many of the companies that left us were customers, and
many were friends.
The first common denominator is that nearly all of the 40 companies who ceased business had no pressroom
scanners and automation. Out of the 40 companies that we lost in this time period only five of these plants had been
using pressroom automation. (There was also one company that actually owned pressroom scanners but never
installed them and did not use the scanners in production.) This first factor is clear – one thing that these companies
didn’t invest in was press room automation. Part of the reason they didn’t make it may have been the cost of their
makereadies, and the inability of these plants to get jobs on and off of the press.
How important is automation? As a consultant who performs press calibration I can tell a great deal about how long it
will take me to get usable press sheets based on whether the site has on-line scanners or not. In a typical shop that
has a scanner, running up to a usable sheet often takes about a half hour. In shops where they are using hand held
densitometers leveling this same press form often takes two to three hours, and even then the results are much less
consistent than the results from the press with the scanner. Of course a calibration run is not the same thing as live
production. Different shops have different quality requirements – but a scanner typically reduces makeready time,
waste and allows the printer to get more jobs on and off press.
The second common denominator was standards and specifications. Out of the 40 printers who closed doors only
three were G7 Masters. This second factor implies that if you are a G7 Master you are less likely to go out of business.
How important is being a G7 Master? Aside from the obvious marketing benefits, G7 Master plants tend to be more
efficient. If done correctly the process pins the press and proofing conditions and teaches the plant how to monitor and
control press and other production conditions. Typically G7 Master printers see a benefit in makeready times, ability to
match the proof, and proof to press match. Having a target to aim at has it’s benefits.
The third common denominator has to do with market segment. Out of the 40 printers who closed nearly all were
sheetfed printers. Only 5 of the 40 printers were web printers. This shows that the sheetfed segment of the market is
The fourth common denominator is how much the plant has spent on technology. In this list of printers twenty nine of
these printers had under invested in equipment and technology. This means they had outdated rips, presses, and
technology. Seven of these printers had current systems and technology including reasonably new presses. Four of
them had state of the art technology and had invested heavily. These printers had the best equipment you can buy
and still went out of business! What this appears to show is that spending too little is more likely to put a printing
business at risk. If the technology becomes too far behind it becomes impossible to compete. Spending too much is
obviously dangerous, but spending too little also brings its own risks.
There are obviously many factors that were not taken into account when considering the above. Each printing plant
has its own story, with its own special events and situations. Even so these factors are interesting to consider.
One conclusion from looking at the printers, and the common denominators is that to survive in the next few years
efficiency will matter more than ever. Many of the plants that closed just were not efficient enough. Pressroom
scanning, modern equipment, use of process controls and standards are all-important aspects we need to consider as
we move forward. Each of these makes us more efficient and helps automate the workflow. For those of us who are
looking to the future, efficiency matters. My work over the next few years will be to continue to help printing plants take
advantage of these tools so they can stay in business. Automation and efficiency are more important than ever. The
time is now to get even better at what we do.
About the author: Ron Ellis is a New England-based consultant specializing in color management, graphic arts
integration, and press calibration. He has provided installation and training services to dealers, manufacturers, and
content creators since 1986. An IdeaAlliance G7 Expert and chair of the GRACoL Committee, Ron has qualified
numerous G7 Master Printers in the United States. In addition to calibrating pressrooms, Ron also specializes in
creating internal working spaces for brands and agencies that allow them to work more efficiently with vendors, saving
both time and money. Ron produced training materials for numerous printing industry vendors and publishers.
Printer Summary Data: Ron Ellis, Boston Region