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Technology Leads Filmet to Fortune

(May 2007) posted on Wed May 16, 2007

Disastrous property damage, loss of key customers, and evaporating markets would spell the end for most companies, but for graphics producer Filmet, these trials marked turning points that would lead the company to prosper. Read on to find out how th

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By Ben P. Rosenfield

“It was becoming apparent that digital was not going to be cheap enough, fast enough, or good enough to compete with screen printing, so we started looking at ways to get into screen printing,” Bachelder says. “We now have flatbed PressVus, a 3360, two FabriVus—which are dye-sub to fabric—and eight HPs, and what we saw missing in our portfolio was good old traditional screen printing.”


But perhaps the biggest motivator for bringing screen printing in house was the time when a large account, as a result of its expansion, made demands that Filmet couldn’t accommodate. According to Bachelder, the client gave Filmet a six-figure job every October. That company had grown by 50%, so the digital job that normally took Filmet four weeks to finish had become 50% larger. To make matters worse, the buyer cut the deadline for completion in half. Bachelder had to walk away from the job.


Afterwards, he decided that customer needs would never outgrow Filmet’s ability to keep up. “When you have to tell a customer ‘you have to change because I have limitations,’ then that opens the door for someone else to
come in,” he says.


Filmet’s first foray into screen printing was with the purchase of a one-color clamshell press the shop used to put white ink on a black substrate to facilitate printing on the PressVu. Once Bachelder determined that project wouldn’t recur, he decided to remove as many variables from the process as he could in order to extend the equipment’s value and make it a regular part of production. For Bachelder, that meant skipping all of the manual equipment he was told everyone starts with and going straight to an automatic screen coater and automatic presses.


“Why should you [buy manual equipment] if you don’t have to? If I can make that a constant, then I have much more predictable output. We started with all of those pieces at the same time. I believe it was the right way to go,” he says.


Bachelder studied the fundamentals of the screen-printing process and toured several facilities before investing in an M&R Insignia six-color inline press. He also faced the task of explaining the shop’s addition of screen printing to customers who only knew the company for taking the leading edge in imaging technology. Bachelder says customers scratched their heads and asked, “Are you nuts?” He educates clients by de-
scribing the value of screen printing, such as allowing Filmet to screen print a large graphic and then use a wide-format inkjet to add custom elements (Figure 2),
and he takes great care in pointing out some of the other advantages screen-printing equipment has brought to his company.


“We just had a job that we quoted with our two VUTEk printers that would take us 194 hours to print vs. screen. From the time when we make the screen, print, and clean up, we’re down to 18 hours,” he says. “And when I add the film, emulsion, mesh, ink, and substrate—compared to digital—it is actually cheaper on screen. But the thing that really opened our eyes was that the text was sharper and the colors were purer. And the biggest surprise was all of these specialties that the screen industry takes for granted—things that you can’t do digitally.”


Filmet markets its screen capabilities as a durable printing technique—an approach that can be a tough sell when dealing with clients who are used to litho and other methods. Bachelder explains that screen printing is a better process when it comes to the lifespan of a finished graphic and tells customers that the litho prints they order—the ones that fade within weeks of being displayed—are simply not representative of what he considers durable printing. So he’ll discuss the definition of image quality with buyers and find out what they expect in terms of colorfastness, viewing distance, and other aspects of the print.


“We’re still learning what works and what doesn’t with screen,” he notes. “You have different vendors that make ink and different mesh. The good news is you have a lot of options. The bad news is you have a lot of options.”


Filmet continues to invest in screen-printing equipment. The shop’s most recent purchase was a 52 x 84-in. M&R Patriot. Bachelder suspects the acquisition will set the company up to buy a five- or six-color inline screen-printing press in the 60 x 103-in. range sometime in the not-so-distant future.


Weaving in a new capability

Filmet’s two EFI-VUTEk FabriVu wide-format dye-sublimation printers helped Bachelder develop the company’s latest specialty: graphics printed directly to fabrics. He says imaging on fabric has become a major part of what Filmet does, and he finds that many retailers are looking to fabrics as the statement pieces around which they build the rest of the P-O-P kit.


“It’s one of the things that has customers really excited. The dye-sub process also has advantages that are environmental and some advantages that are fire-code-related, but the biggest one is bold, bright colors,” he explains. “The hand of the material stays soft and flexible. If you do it on solvent, the coatings on the material make it really stiff. Even UV digital has a stiffness. The dye-sub just stays soft, and you can wash it.”


Fabric also has allowed Filmet to simplify product packing and reduce the cost of fulfillment. For example, a recent job called for Filmet to print a 40 x 90-ft graphic. Using fabric meant the staff could fold the graphic, box it, and ship it via FedEx. When the shipment reached its destination, the customer only had to unfold the fabric and hang it.


The same holds true for a project Filmet completed for Pittsburgh, PA-based Davison Inventegration, a company that prepares new product ideas for presentation to corporations for possible licensing. The job consisted of printing 82 fabric panels, each measuring 10 x 20 ft, in full color. Davison used the printed fabrics as wall coverings (Figure 3) in its InventionLand, a 60,000-sq-ft workspace situated inside the company’s warehouse. InventionLand is equipped with moats, waterfalls, and offices in a cave, a castle, and on a pirate ship’s deck. The company’s CEO works from a tree house in the facility.


“Fabric has always been the most premium of premiums,” Bachelder says. “The technology we have now has brought that from being a huge three to four times more than everything else in price down to where it’s much more aligned with the other imaging technologies. It’s still more expensive, but the difference is not as large as it used to be.”


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