“We can do it in a matter of days with equipment we have now. And we can do it economically with the Indigos right through our wide-format equipment.”
RockTenn Merchandising Displays
Based in Winston-Salem, NC, this company’s short-run facility has been in place for two years, and has been doing prototyping all that time, says Matt Neuhoff, general manager of the short-run manufacturing and assembly facility.
In addition to serving some external clients, the facility produces a number of prototypes for an internal customer; that being the RockTenn Folding Carton Division. “Our primary business is secondary or tertiary packaging display prototypes, where we’re taking already produced packages and creating display prototypes that hold those packages,” Neuhoff reports.
RockTenn relies heavily on Inca S40 single-pass, wide-format digital UV printing equipment, Neuhoff says. Other important pieces of equipment include a Fuji Acuity wide-format digital printer and Zund high-speed CAD cutters. “We produce temporary and permanent displays for Fortune 100 consumer product companies,” Neuhoff says.
“It’s part of doing business for us. We design the displays, and prototype them prior to production, so the clients can kick the tires, so to speak. Once they finalize their structural and graphical design preferences, the job will go to more conventional printing methods and more analog production.”
As for the pros and cons of prototyping, Neuhoff says, “It’s a great means to an end, if the end is getting a larger order from a customer. But I wouldn’t get involved in this business or recommend this business as a stand-alone business. I wouldn’t recommend people go out and make a living producing package prototypes without there being larger prices—that being the actual production run. It’s not anything we decided would become a revenue stream. It’s something we do to get the work from our customers.”
That said, the digital printing capabilities RockTenn Merchandising Displays was able to begin offering when it acquired the aforementioned digital printing equipment has been a boon to business. “For us, having digital printing capabilities allows us to sell to customers we wouldn’t otherwise have worked with because the run didn’t represent enough volume [to be profitable]. Getting that equipment has opened up new markets,” he adds.
This nearly 30-year-old Durham, NC printing company specializes in commercial printing, but got started in package prototyping when it acquired a Roland DGA printer about 18 months ago. “It provides more of a finished look for a well-developed prototype,” says color technician Hughes Grogan.
That Roland LEC 330, also known as a VersaUV, uses UV inks, he adds. “It does rolls and flat stock, and we use it mainly for flat stock. It’s primarily designed for roll media, but more than half our business is doing cards on foil substrates. We also have a flexo press that we use for packaging as well—primarily with rainbow foil, tinsel, cracked ice, and other unique substrates.”
When it began offering package prototyping, PBM Graphics made some key additions to staff, Grogan adds. “We brought in salespeople whose specialty is packaging, and knew how to sell package prototyping,” he says. “Packaging is one of those things that’s growing, as opposed to newspapers and phone books, and that’s the reason we brought in the equipment and personnel.”
Making the transition to package prototype provider includes mastering a learning curve, Grogan says. In addition, it can be time consuming (“The Roland printer is not exactly fast,” he says), with proofs taking up to two hours to make. As well, some proofs require multiple passes, which takes more time. Finally, prototypes often have to be CAD cut. “The Roland has a cutter as part of the equipment, but we do CAD cutting for greater precision,” he notes.
However, Grogan is happy PBM Graphics got the Roland. Often, clients will bring in different substrates to see if they can be used in a prototype. The Roland printer will print on all of them. “We can print packaging designs on a wide variety of materials, like clear acetate and cardboard materials…I keep a little sample case in the office to showcase what the machine can do.”