County In-plant Enters the Flexo World
In-plants are always looking for new ways to enhance their capabilities and improve their value. Sometimes this leads them into unfamiliar territory.
When Palm Beach County’s Graphics Division installed a Mark Andy Digital Pro 3 flexo hybrid machine in September to get into the label and sticker printing business, it was a journey of discovery for the Greenacres, Florida, in-plant. Manager John Johnson says that, despite his 45 years of experience managing print shops with offset presses, flexographic printing has left him a little confused at times.
“There are different kinds of inks involved and different kinds of substrates. So, it’s been a big learning curve,” he says. “I’ve been in printing since the late 1970s, and so I’ve got lots of experience, but this is all a different ballgame.”
The press has two flexo stations, one before the toner unit and one after it, with a bypass to jump the web over the toner unit if needed. The flexo units can be set up to print an ink flood coating or positioned to print images and text. The second flexo station can also apply an adhesive-backed laminate. The in-plant buys its flexo plates from a prepress service bureau.
Johnson had two reasons for getting the Mark Andy: he loves to try new things, and the in-plant wanted to bring in work it was previously outsourcing. His “build it and they will come” approach has so far been working well. The press already has plenty of work to keep it running with projects like labels and stickers for the county’s library department.
“There’s 18 library branches scattered around the county,” Johnson says. “So that was 50,000 labels in that order, and we got it all done before Halloween.”
The 11-employee in-plant has also done projects for the county’s consumer affairs department, which handles licensing for taxis and limos. The in-plant was tasked with printing QR code stickers on clear polypropylene that taxis and limos can put on their windshields.
One of the biggest hurdles with the flexo press has been finding vendors for inks and substrates, he says.
“It’s been a bit of a roadblock with some vendors who are, you know, stuck on wanting to do new customers their way instead of the way that a government agency operates, which isn’t the same as a commercial business,” he notes. “That has been one of our biggest hurdles, trying to convince the vendors that we will pay our bill.”
At PRINTING United Expo this year, Johnson was able to connect with a number of vendors for ink and substrates.
“We were able to make good connections with several vendors that were there. And we’re now working on following up and getting them set up with us to provide materials and hardware,” he says.
Overall, Johnson believes that constantly evolving your services will build the value of your in-plant.
“The more relevant we are to the organization, the more they need us; and the more they depend on us, the more that they want us to be part of their organization,” he says. “So, there’s a kind of a self-preservation motive here.”
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