SpectraGraphics Inc.

Any recent trip through the grocery store reveals the growth in the variety of foods over the past decade. “In the old days, maybe one or two tomato variants existed in an order of 100,000,” SpectraGraphics Inc. President Kevin Briggs observes. “Now, customers order 100,000 but with six or eight varieties included. 

“In general, orders are getting smaller, and clients are shying away from inventory programs,” Briggs continues. “They are leaning toward shorter, faster runs. That’s why I think digital printing is gaining ground to a degree. I think clients are gearing labels more for marketing channels than historically, as well. We‘ve seen more variable label information, more SKUs and fancier marketing schemes. Some clients want to track products in the marketplace a little faster. They might see some QR codes, things like that.”

Additional changes are in the amount of information that has to be on labels. “Our big niche is our expanded content lineup,” Briggs says. “We’re one of a handful of converters that can run all the expanded content options from coupons to booklets. An expanded content label is a multiple-layer label – a coupon is a simple example of that. You apply the label to something and peel the top off a two-layer label, whereas with an insert on pesticide cans or chemicals, the label itself can be a 30- or 32-page book.

“There’s also a simple, three-panel label – we call them reseals – you go to the grocery store and open this up to see cooking instructions or recipes,” Briggs explains. “That is a simple example of one. Then, if you’ve got 30 pages of information for chemical hazards, we can do that as well.” 

SpectraGraphics specializes in the food and beverage industry. “We’re probably 70 percent food and beverage, and we have been for 40 years,” Briggs says. “We’re very experienced in those market segments – not that we don’t do a lot of other things, such as petrochemical. But we tend to stay out of industries we’re inexperienced with, such as electronics and automotive, which are areas where we would just be a ‘me too’ price with no innovation.”

New Production Equipment

SpectraGraphics produces all of its labels in its 20,000-square-foot plant at its headquarters in Lenexa, Kan. Quantities per run vary from 1,000 up to millions depending on client needs. The company has six flexo presses and two blank die-cutting presses, mainly for thermal labels. The equipment can handle widths from 6-1/2 to 16 inches and print on papers, films, tags and foils. “We can print on pretty much everything except shrink film internally,” Briggs says.

Most of the printing is on pressure-sensitive labels that already have glue and liners. “The only time we lay down our own glue is when doing expanded content labels, three-layer reseals,” Briggs says. “You’re laying down a layer of silicon and glue so they peel open and can be reclosed.”

Among recent improvements to the production process at SpectraGraphics is a new servo press, which has full auto-registration and auto-impression. It has moved the average speed of 200 feet a minute up to around 600 feet a minute.

“It is ideally suited both for large runs and to compete with digital printing on the low end,” Briggs says. “Our scrap is tremendously lower and we can change over in a matter of minutes instead of hours. Because of the technology in the cylinders, our plate costs also went way down. On the old presses, we might run a label four around to maintain quality, and now we run two around, so the plate cost went in half.”

The new press also has its own closed-loop chiller system so it can run thin films. This eliminates a problem with the older presses. “When you dry conventional or ultraviolet inks, you put a lot of heat in the web to do that, and if you don’t have a liner to absorb that heat, you stretch the material,” Briggs explains. But the new closed-loop chiller solves that problem. “We can run down to 1-mil film and keep our print in registration because you’re not stretching the web,” Briggs notes. 

Color Matching

SpectraGraphics purchased its own Pantone Matching System (PMS) color mixing system seven years ago. “We do most of our own color matching and mixing internally,” Briggs says. “We bring in 14 base colors and mix them ourselves. Any PMS color can be made out of those 14 base colors. Nazdar, our main ink supplier, also does a tremendous job of helping us build and match custom color formulations.”

Mixing its own inks has improved SpectraGraphics’ color consistency and reduced downtime, along with scrap and the cost of pitching wasted inks. “Our ink room went from probably 60 feet by 20 feet to about a quarter of that now,” Briggs reports. “We stock very little in terms of already-mixed, precolored inks. The only thing the system doesn’t do is metallics. Those we have to order from suppliers.” 

Most of SpectraGraphics’ top 20 accounts have been with the company for more than 15 years, Briggs says. “One of our big strengths is when a client approaches us with a project, we don’t normally try to build the exact same product,” he says. “If you hand me a label and say, ‘Quote this,’ I’d likely give you 10 ways to save money using variants on materials, sizes or design changes to minimize setup costs, or using expanded content options. It might be that instead of putting on four labels, a client can combine all into a single expanded content layout.”

Briggs attributes the company’s success to several factors. “Experience is a very big part of it,” he says. “Those of us who own or run the company have been in the industry for 25 years apiece, as have most of our pressmen, so we bring a lot of label engineering to the table. We’re also really well-known for our customer service.” 

For the future, Briggs sees moving digital printing internally along with more servo presses. “The newer presses are so much more efficient than the older, conventional presses,” he marvels. “From a scrap, speed and setup standpoint, they are a night-and-day difference. And digital really gets us into different arenas altogether –shorter runs, more SKUs, variable information and couponing codes.” Briggs reports that SpectraGraphics’ sales have increased nearly 200 percent in the past decade. “We are rapidly growing, so I think we’re doing something right,” he says.

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