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An Envelope-Maker's Primer

How to Avoid the Way of the “Buggy Whip”: For today's envelope makers — a niche hugely impacted by electronic communication and plagued by overcapacity — such a primer would serve as a valuable tool.

In fact, such a tool exists in the form of the Envelope Mfrs. Assn. (EMA), Alexandria, VA. Headed by president Maynard Benjamin, the EMA provides the industry with information about how to avoid demise, or “going the way of the buggy whip.” Explains Benjamin: “We're looking into different areas, one of which is the ‘Intelligent Document Project,’ a joint venture with the US Postal Service that examines new technologies.”

Basically, says Benjamin, the Intelligent Document enables an interface between the envelope and the Web. “We've created envelopes with computer chips, with RFID [radio frequency identification] chips, with high-information density indicias so a camera can interpret them and go to a site.”

Intelligent Documents provide a great way for direct-mail advertisers to target consumers and get them to the information they want them to see — as well as a great direction in which the industry can continue to look for sustenance.

“Up until September 11, 2001, direct-mail advertising was growing at a rate of about four-and-a-half to six percent year over year,” reports Larry Claton, VP, F. L. Smithe Machine Co. Inc., Duncansville, PA. And while the economic downturn and 9/11 had a negative effect on direct mail (on all advertising), Robert Collins, president of Winkler + Dunnebier (W+D), Overland Pk., KS, has no doubt direct mail will play a key role in envelope manufacturing for years to come. “It's been proven by any number of sources direct mail will be more integral in the envelope industry,” he adds.

Technological evolution and creative ideas about how to leverage the Internet will ensure envelopes for the future. And Benjamin believes good old-fashioned mail isn't going away any time soon. “We may not use as much, but the mail we use will [continue to] be more functional and informative. We definitely feel there's a place for it for generations to come.”

While it's been looking to high-tech ways to keep envelopes around for the future, the industry continues to improve the process. Companies like Valco Cincinnati Inc., Cincinnati, OH, provide ancillary equipment to envelope machines made by F. L. Smithe and W+D. Innovations in sealing systems have pushed the gumming part of the process, says J. Paul Chambers, VP, sales/marketing at Valco. “Enclosed, pressurized noncontact cold glue systems, which replace the old open-transfer systems, reduce waste, downtime, and enable far superior control.”

Like most converters, envelope makers are experiencing the demand for shorter runs, higher productivity (faster speeds), and high quality printing. But — especially these days — they may not have the funds for higher productivity machines. Curtius Trading Inc., Atlanta, GA, refurbishes and rebuilds older envelope equipment. “[Because] the industry suffers from overcapacity, we're concentrating on improving the lifetime and productivity of existing [equipment],” says Ludovic de Potesta, Curtius founder.

The envelope industry also is pushing print standards through concerted efforts: Benjamin cites the EMA's involvement with the FTA. “We've formed an alliance with the Flexographic Technical Association to drive high quality printing, to move into process printing. We're really driving flexo (as a competitive alternative to litho) in this industry.”

With the EMA (envelope.org) and knowledgeable suppliers dedicated to envelope manufacturing, envelope converters may need to stop worrying about sharing the fate of the buggy whip and instead look into authoring: “How to Whip an Envelope-Making Operation into Shape.”


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