By Olivia Cahoon
Print service providers (PSPs) often find ways to bring in new business while simultaneously cutting costs. Implementing newer machinery is sometimes preferential, depending on the print provider’s needs. Automated flatbed cutters are an excellent example of technology leveraged to improve productivity and achieve profit gains. Manual finishing can lead to costly errors. When dealing with large format graphics, these concerns are greater.
Above: AlphaGraphics Elkhart/South Bend acquired a Colex Sharpcut SX1732 flatbed cutter in November 2019 to automate tasks and projects that were originally completed manually.
Get Noticed, Get Business
AlphaGraphics is a franchised chain of over 270 independently owned and operated marketing service providers with full-service print shops. Founded in 2003, the South Bend, IN location started as a print, sign, and marketing provider—expanding its business in 2007 to 30 minutes East in Elkhart, IN.
In November 2017, AlphaGraphics Elkhart/South Bend experienced new ownership. With one part time and seven full time employees, it underwent six months of transition. “When I bought the business in 2017, there was a staff in place, but as a new owner, there will always be some level of transition,” shares Erik Shultz, owner/president, AlphaGraphics Elkhart/South Bend. If 2020 goes as planned, the business expects to close the year with one part time and nine full time staff members.
Since the new ownership, print service offerings have not changed. The business sells more specific solutions than what was offered in the past. At the moment, one of the company’s largest growing sellable solutions is window and security film. “We have been lucky to have a few customers where it fit directly into their business models,” offers Shultz.
As part of a 19 percent growth in 2019, over $100K in anti-graffiti, security, and energy-efficient film was installed. This growth is a factor in the franchisee purchasing a Colex Finishing, Inc. Sharpcut Pro Standard Flatbed SX1732 cutter in November 2019. The goal of the acquisition was to automate tasks and projects originally completed manually.
Retaining a sales office in South Bend, the main production facility is located in Elkhart. It includes over 4,500 square feet of office space and houses the entire print operation. With the space, the PSP is able to serve an array of neighboring cities and Southern MI. There are plans to expand the production footprint in the second quarter of 2020 to gain another few hundred square feet.
Digital Meets Finishing
When it comes to digital printing, AlphaGraphics Elkhart/South Bend is a full-service print facility that handles many digitally printed applications. Its design and print shop offers a multitude of products and services such as ADA signage, aluminum graphics, corporate logo design, event posters, floor graphics, menu boards, real estate signage, trade show graphics, vehicle wraps, wayfinding signs, and window graphics. This extensive line of service requires reliable finishing.
Before purchasing the Colex Sharpcut SX1732, offline die-cutting technology was used. Shultz considered purchasing a flatbed router/cutter for about 14 to 16 months before making a decision. “I have never been the type of owner that buys new equipment because it was shiny and fast. We need to offer specialized products in quantities that businesses can use and reorder at a price point that makes sense.”
For the PSP, the vendor’s reputation for reliable service plays just as much of a role as the physical machine’s capabilities. Shultz spoke with colleagues in the AlphaGraphics franchise network, other vendors, and a variety of salespeople. “I felt that Colex had our back from the first day.”
A major selling point was the device being delivered in one piece directly from Colex. As a result, there was little to install once onsite. All of the moving parts are composed of solid steel, which Shultz believes makes it an attractive machine when in action.
With its flatbed cutter, the PSP offers custom cutting services and the shop expanded its market share by introducing only one piece of technology that serves many purposes. “Everyone that has a digital printer has a cutter, a folder, and a scoring machine. These are the items of the basic recipe when printing digitally,” explains Shultz.
The print business can now, for example, print small run posters with a custom throughcut for a special effect. The Colex Sharpcut SX1732 produces small quantities of custom kiss-cut and throughcut solutions that can be printed directly inline with digital equipment at no extra cost. Also, time-consuming metal dies are eliminated.
AlphaGraphics Elkhart/South Bend also employs a Graphic Whizard PT Series full-bleed finisher. The system substitutes the shop’s regular paper cutter and binding equipment for its ease of use, pile feed, and ability to run without an operator.
As with any new machine there are moments in training when the staff needs guidance. Colex provided out-of-the-box instruction that was tailor fit to AlphaGraphics Elkhart/South Bend’s staff and customers. According to Shultz, the only downside of new equipment training is not knowing what you don’t know. In the first 60 days, another specialist was recruited to follow up on the learning progress and to teach staff about additional items the business hopes to offer in the future.
“The Colex was purchased knowing the staff could fill two to four hours of machine time almost every day,” says Shultz. With this amount of work already in house, the learning curve was minimal and occurred at a small cost. “When you break consumables like blades and router bits, you realize there is a cost associated with that. We have been lucky enough to qualify for account credit with Colex right from the beginning, so we stocked up on some consumables for those mistakes and learning curves,” he explains.
In fact, Shultz purchased another cutting mat to prevent a possible emergency situation, such as waiting for UPS to get a new one from NJ to IN.
AlphaGraphics Elkhart/South Bend uses a number of different digital printing products. For narrow format, it works with Ricoh USA, Inc. monochrome and color devices. In the wide format space, an HP Inc. Latex roll-to-roll printer is powered by an Onyx Graphics, Inc. RIP.
60 days after installing the Colex Sharpcut SX1732, the PSP used the device to cut graphics printed on the HP Latex—processing window film for custom buildings and vehicle installations while breaking down substrates for a variety of customer jobs. Currently the shop uses the HP Latex printer for 15 to 20 percent of its digital output and nearly 50 to 60 percent of its large format output.
When it comes to media, the shop uses high-end material. For roll-based media, it prefers Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions followed by 3M Commercial Solutions.
For years the shop focused on digital sheetfed and large format roll printing, but with the Colex Sharpcut SX1732 the business now takes advantage of more substrate solutions for its customers. This includes coroplast, sintra, and polymetal.
The Colex Sharpcut SX1732 cutter is a solid investment for AlphaGraphics Elkhart/South Bend. With the ability to cut a variety of materials inline with digital equipment, the company saves time and offers higher valued finishing capabilities.
Apr2020, Digital Output