The Digital Edge

To meet the growing demand for short- and medium-run print jobs, Rock-Tenn's Alliance division took a very long look at digital presses. “We saw a need for quick turnaround [and] small quantity,” explains executive VP Jim Einstein. “We do a lot of smaller-quantity, regional-type promotions. Due to the plate costs, the makeready, and the waste costs, traditional offset does not lend itself well to smaller quantities, so we searched out digital. We actually had an individual who, for about two years, [solely] investigated digital printing for us. He probably knew every press made in the world,” Einstein recalls.

“After a two-year search, we ended up going with Dotrix. It had the size, speed, and quality we felt was needed in the marketplace. The digital printers we saw prior to Dotrix were either too small and too slow, or the right size but too slow to really generate much production.”

Alliance prints, laminates, die-cuts, and performs folding and gluing applications to produce corrugated display products at its 700,000-sq-ft headquarters in Winston-Salem, NC.

Founded in 1991 as a point-of-sale display company, Alliance was purchased by Rock-Tenn in 1995. Since then, the division has grown into a business that sells $230 million worth of both promotional and permanent displays and also houses a budding litho-laminated packaging business. The company has 1,050 employees at 12 plant locations, including three manufacturing plants in Winston-Salem, NC, Tullahoma, TN, and Burr Ridge, IL.

Flexo printing is accomplished on two Bobst presses, a three-color model purchased in 2001 and a four-color model recently rebuilt and upgraded to six colors. Offset printing is achieved on a KBA Planeta. For offset, Alliance is 100% computer-to-plate. The company relies on Graphic Arts Services, which is located on-site for its offset prepress needs. Graphic Arts Services utilizes Markzware FlightCheck software for checking digital files (see sidebar). Alliance produces its photopolymer flexo plates using DuPont's platemaking system.

Bobst also supplies the plant's folder/gluers and die-cutters, which Einstein describes as “the best in the world.”

Going Digital

Alliance's decision to invest in Dotrix's the.factory (pronounced “the dot factory”) has already created a buzz in the industry. The.factory is reported to be the first high-speed, wide web, digital ink jet solution in North America, and as part of its exclusive partnership with Rock-Tenn, the.factory will not be sold for a minimum of six months to any North American signage, packaging, or display competitor, giving Alliance a visible leg up. Or as Einstein predicts, this revolutionary technology will position Alliance firmly in the short- to medium-run market.

“We want to be a leader in the short-run printing market,” says Einstein. “That's a goal we have, and this technology certainly gets us there. The quality of digital off this machine has been superb. We don't just want to be the leader — we want be the leader in delivering and producing high quality.”

Specifically, Einstein has his sights set on the retail signage business. “We do in-store signage right now, primarily associated with display, so we're looking to do the signage that is used in the retail stores. We think that would be a natural for this process.”

Although Alliance is still “shaking down” the machine and getting used to a digital way of life, the results so far, Einstein raves, have been beyond expectation, especially in the area of speed.

“The speed of the machine is what is critical to us because it runs at 80 lineal feet per minute, and that is, by far, the fastest digital press that we've looked at,” Einstein says. The press uses UV inks, so you get a very high gloss to it. The quality of what's coming off [the press] is every bit as good as offset. That's been very impressive.”

Einstein continues, “The size is large enough to give us a pretty good position in the market. It's 25½ inches in width and is a roll-fed machine that sheets at the end of it, which allows you to run almost unlimited lengths.”

With the anticipated success of the.factory at Alliance, and digital technology firmly on his mind, Einstein is looking to move some die-cutting into the digital arena. “To accompany the digital printing, our intention is to go into digital cutting,” he says. “We're waiting on technology that we think will be available later this summer and will be installed in the fall. We can then come straight off the printer, laminate to single-face corrugated if necessary, and then go right into cutting. You eliminate the cutting die itself for the short runs because that is another fairly sizable expense.”

It may be too soon to talk about additional digital presses, but Einstein predicts that Rock-Tenn will introduce the technology in other areas within the company. “We can locate these in various parts around the country, depending on what the demands are. They aren't very large pieces of equipment, so our plan would be to strategically locate them where it most benefits our customers.”


Alliance, a Rock-Tenn company

5921 Grassy Creek Blvd., Winston-Salem, NC 27105; 336/661-0830;


Dotrix, an Agfa company;





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