Reassessing market brings growth to this converter

Looking at its niche market six years ago brought a Maine converter to realize it needed to expand to maintain growth. The decision to add high-quality printing to the firm's capabilities was instrumental in providing substantial growth for this converter.

A commitment to high-quality printing has helped a New England converter reach rapid growth and a wide-open future.

Maine Poly, Greene, ME, was founded in 1973 to provide antistatic packaging to the electronics industry. As part of this activity, the company had some printing capability, but it was a small, relatively unimportant part of the business.

"I didn't consider us to be a printer," Bob Neal, vice president, said. "We had one press and turned out pretty mediocre printing."

Neal runs the company with his partner, Bob Bay, the company's president. Things began to change drastically in the late 1980s when Neal and Ray correctly foresaw an impending crash in the electronics industry and in the economy as a whole.

They concluded their antistatic packaging niche simply wasn't going to provide enough room for the company to grow and decided to make a major change in Maine Poly's orientation. In 1989, the company made a commitment to go into high-quality printing.

The firm acquired presses and photopolymer platemaking equipment, using equipment and materials exclusively from Du Pont Packaging Graphics - Cyrel, Wilmington, DE. "The beginning was difficult," Neal said. "It took a lot to get everything under control. But now we're among the better flexo printers in America."

Maine Poly prints on clear or white film as well as on paper. It produces work for a range of customers like frozen vegetable suppliers, bread companies, and firms such as National Sea, Rich Foods, and Fun Designs, which markets a wide variety of licensed zipper bags with Looney Tunes and Power Rangers themes.

Maine Poly has recently been printing with ultraviolet-cured inks. One significant advantage to using ultraviolet inks is easy compliance with US Environmental Protection Agency regulations. The ink has no solvent, so it doesn't contain any volatile-organic compounds and, thus, doesn't pollute the air. According to Neal, ultraviolet ink has no volatile-organic compounds because it's a 100%-solid system. The ink doesn't evaporate, it simply hardens when exposed to ultraviolet light. Because of this, it prints very cleanly with a finer dot pattern and tighter color control than with conventional flexo inks.

"Printing with a solvent system is really chaotic," Neal said. "How the ink dries depends on the ambient temperature, the humidity, the characteristics of the solvent, the size of the plate and how fast the job is running. All these variables combine to create what I call manage chaos. It really takes a great deal of work and finesse to print well with solvent inks. It's a constant battle. With the ultraviolet system, the ink performs the same way every time. You don't have the same issues to deal with."

One factor that hasn't altered is Maine Poly's use of Du Pont Cyrel PQ plates, which are compatible with ultraviolet inks. The plate material has caused no concern with the new technology, according to Neal.

The transition to ultraviolet inks has also been greatly eased by the presence of Maine Poly's in-house prepress capability. In early 1994, the company installed a complete-electronic prepress system when they were spurred by the desire to have better control of the entire process and to increase productivity.

Maine Poly's graphics department is now equipped with a Du Pont Crosfield Magnascan Plus color scanner, a Crosfield MS850 imagesetter, and four Apple Macintosh Quadras that run packaging graphics software from Professional Computer Corp, Langhorne, PA.

"The people in our graphics department went from a manual operation with a very primitive computer system to what we have today," Neal said. "It was an incredible technology jump to make in two months."

Neal credits his system supplier as having played a major role in the transition. "Du Pont gave us lots of support, and PCC also played a role," he said. "We work very closely with Kevin Hagerty, our Du Pont representative. He played a major role in helping us make this transition. Without that help, we wouldn't be nearly as successful as we are. The suppliers and our in-house people were terrific. I never expected it to go this well."

The printing operation runs five days a week, around the clock on three presses with another two presses running seven days a week. Maine Poly runs presses up to 50 in., and the current ultraviolet press is 32 in. The company is coming near the limit of its machine capacity and will be installing its sixth press, a new 39-in. eight-color ultraviolet press from Cobden Chadwick, this year.

The combination of the in-house prepress system, Du Pont Cyrel plates and Du Pont films gives the firm a closed-loop feedback, according to Neal. "We're gaining absolute control over the entire process," he said. "For example, my press operator can talk directly, on a day-to-day basis, to the graphics person doing the work they're printing because they're all right here. And the graphics people can see the result of their work the next day."

Maine Poly has about 190 employees. It finished 1994 with a sales increase close to 17% above the previous year. Neal expects growth of about 23% this year, a rate he feels is sustainable for some time.

"Because we're so small we can continue to gear ourselves toward getting a few good customers," Maine Poly's Neal said. "The market available to us, as a high-quality printer, is virtually unlimited."


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