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You gotta live it every day.
Let the broken hearts stand
As the price you've gotta pay.
We'll keep pushin' till it's understood
And these badlands start treating us good.
-- Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
South Dakota's Badlands, renown for their rocky-rough terrain back in pioneering days, have treated the Fenske family pretty well for the past 55 years. One of the most striking facts about Fenske Media Corp.'s immaculate, 90,000-square-foot printing plant is that it only employs 40 people. That means the four brothers who co-own the highly automated operation represent 10 percent of the firm's workforce in Rapid City, SD. They run one shift (10 to 12 hours), five days per week, and the building features an on-site US Post Office due to the massive volume of direct-to-consumer marketing mail produced daily for banks, financial institutions, non-profit organizations, and other vertical market clients. These printed products include a lot billing statements, transactional-promotional mailings, self-mailers, and direct mail.
Perhaps even more striking, however, is the 650-fpm speed at which its one-year-old Prosper 5000XL inkjet web press hums. Using a micro-milled ink formulation developed by Eastman Kodak Co., its print heads can reproduce six to 10 times faster than piezoelectric drop-on-demand (DOD) inkjet devices, according to Bill Schweinfurth, market development manager within the Kodak's Graphic Communications Group (GCG). The 5000XL model is a full-color digital press that offers four-over-four perfecting with a print width of up to 24.5 inches. Depending on job requirements, Fenske often runs rolls as narrow as 18 inches. The Fenske-Kodak relationship dates back at least 20 years, to when the printer started purchasing printing plates from the supplier.
Kodak is betting the farm, so to speak, on its "game-changing" Stream Inkjet Technology—an appropriate metaphor given the agrarian area surrounding Fenske's facility near the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. Prosper is the most productive inkjet web press available today, Kodak said, with a duty cycle of 120 million A4 or US letter pages per month. Indeed, digital print is the "growth engine" of Kodak, Greg Gresock, GCG marketing director for digital printers and presses, told a gathering of 26 print industry media and analyst representatives who toured Fenske in early December, 2011. Business managers and engineers at the 130-year-old Kodak view inkjet (IJ) production print as fledgling technology: "Its growth is just beginning," Gresock noted, citing statistics that only about one percent of the 64 trillion pages printed annually are produced digitally. The margins are enticing, as digital print represents some nine percent of the total $68.3 billion retail value, he continued.
Schweinfurth reported that, year over year, there are now twice the number of Prosper systems installed, compared with 2010. As IJ technology matures, Stream print head life is increasing, too—up to 1,000 hours per head, which Kodak contends is six to eight times more than their DOD cousins.
Welcome to Planet Fenco
At what the Fenskes and their employees call "Planet Fenco," everything orbits around a centralized database management strategy. "Our business is about computers combining with print to deliver information to consumers," said Dave Fenske, who runs the business with his progressive-thinking siblings: Brian, John, and Tom. It's a marketing model, not a production model, Dave stressed, adding that Fenske Media's scope extends far beyond printing—a transformation that began as far back as the 1980s. Today, whatever the vertical market, data is the commonality for all of Fenske's customers, he added. "We typically deal with lists of 25,000 to 50,000 people."