Feeding a modern-day COW

Robinson, Jon

[Graph Not Transcribed]

A Nela-Ternes plate-loader, the fifth to be installed in the world, removes a slip from the plate and begins one of North America’s most-advanced production processes in the full-web market. The Kodak Anitec plate is loaded into a Creo Trendsetter NEWS 100 and then slides into a Kodak processor for baking before it lands on a conveyer and heads toward a K&F Vision Punch Bender, supplied by Heidelberg, that bends the plate for output on a 28-unit Goss Community web press.

“We had four different companies involved and we timed it all so they had to start their installations the week of January 10, they all had to be here on Monday, all the equipment had to be here,” says Jim Gilbert, president of Central Ontario Web (COW). “The last piece was ready to go Friday at noon.”

Later that night, the Barrie Advance became the first newspaper to run through this hands-free system that actually includes two Nela loaders and two Trendsetter NEWS 100s, which were the fourth and fifth production models to be installed in North America. The system cost COW around $1.1 million. “It was a big expenditure to put in,” says Gilbert. “But it saves us about $2.50 a plate and we do approximately 1,000 plates a week.”

When Gilbert and Kris Kennedy began Central Ontario in 1990 – with an 8-unit press and a folder – they decided to continually invest a substantial portion of their profits back into the company, which afforded them the opportunity to build the plate room without financing. Gilbert says the system would not have been built if it had to be financed. “A lot people drain their company but we’ve never financed any of our modern equipment, even when we went with imagesetters.”

Kennedy initiated this printing partnership when he called Gilbert to ask if he wanted to start a plant in Barrie. At the time, Gilbert was the part owner of a construction company. He had stepped away from the printing industry because he sold Muskoka Print, with two previous partners, to Bayweb – where he actually began his career behind a press. The deal included a non-competition agreement that precluded Gilbert from working in the Ontario market. As Bayweb ran into financial trouble, he was subsequently released from his agreement. He sold the stake in his construction company and joined forces with Kennedy.

Kennedy also began his printing career running a press, giving the partners an incredible knowledge for the marketplace. By September of 1993, the company’s growth required them to move out of their 18,000-square-foot building to a larger facility. They traded in the 8-unit Goss for a 12-unit and brought in two folders and a 6-pocket Muller Martini stitch-and-trim.

Soon after, the production floor was introduced to a second Muller machine with eight collating pockets, a cover feeder and more knives. As a result, Central Ontario can finish formats from tabloid to digest in-house. Twenty-eight printing units and three folders later, the company is now a model of production for multiple-colour configuration and large page counts and last year generated $13.5 million in revenue.

According to Gilbert, the marketplace that he has watched for years now finds itself in new era of 4-colour web offset. COW, which began with just a few weeklies, now prints more than 100 publications running from Sudbury to Peterborough to Owen Sound – and only a couple do not run with 4-colour. Gilbert says it’s getting to the point where customers almost expect sheetfed registration and colour.

“They want you to match the ad, if they supply a digital file they think you should be able print the same on the web press as what’s on the file,” he says. “With the quality in the 4-colour today, you can’t be any more than a dot out in registration or you have complaints.”

Customer demand was one of the factors used by Kennedy and Gilbert to properly time the installation of their computer-to-plate operation. Because COW was making a complete changeover from film to – for all intents and purposes – a 100 per cent CTP facility, they had to first make sure that customers were prepared. By the end of 2002, most had turned over their own processes to fit a digital workflow, with the vast majority of files arriving in Portable Document Format.

The clients have since noticed the stronger registration of their 4-colour work, because of the CTP changeover. “It doesn’t matter how accurate you pin film,” explains Gilbert. “You still have a tendency to get a wrinkle or something that tosses the registration out a bit. And the dot gain from film to plate…I never realized there was so much dot gain.”

The company is now looking at staccato, which is increasingly becoming a bandied about term in the newspaper-printing world. “We’ve tested it, but I haven’t been totally satisfied because there is a learning curve. You still get a good print job whether you use it or not,” says Gilbert, as explains how the company is always looking for competitive advantages in this tight market. He is eagerly watching if the direct-to technologies used on some of today’s sheetfed presses are transferred to web presses.

“Princing is worse now than it’s ever been. The bigger guys are out in the smaller guy’s marketplace now.” Gilbert compares this consolidation to the Wal-Mart phenomenon that in the late 1990s gobbled up smaller retail shops around the country – because they discovered there is money in printing the small stuff. “What happened is that they bought some small companies out and saw that they ran very efficiently in the small marketplace and some times there is more money on a small-run job than a big-run job. They’ve figured that out.”

But he continues to say that COW does have strong advantages because of its own positioning in the market. The company does a lot of work for small independent publishing companies that do not want to deal with the bigger firms, which often have publishing assets, most commonly magazines and newspapers, that are directly competing in their clients’ marketplace.

Lately, some of the big guys have come to Barrie to check out COW’s process. “They were impressed,” says Gilbert. “It makes our chests stick out a little bit when these guys come to a little printer like us and want to look at our equipment.”

“What happened is that they bought some small companies out and saw that they ran very efficiently in the small marketplace and some times there is more money on a small-run job than a big-run job. They’ve figured that out,” says Jim Gilbert.

Copyright Youngblood Communications Co., Ltd. Aug 2003

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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