Competing with China

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:37 pm

A new printing press is improving production for Grafton-based Philipp Lithographing Co. At the end of last year, the $7 million printing machine was shipped piece by piece from Germany to Grafton. The machine, a KBA Rapida 205, is 14 feet high and 95 feet long and prints 9,000 59 by 81-inch sheets per hour, making it one of the world’s largest and fastest sheet-fed presses. The machine replaces the company’s last 1960s printing press, a printer that took up to four hours to make ready and even longer to accurately print just 1,000 sheets because of its manually operated components.

“Everything we did in one day on the old press we can do in one shift on this press,” said Philipp Lithographing Co. president and chief executive officer Peter Buening, who joined his father in the company in 1971. Philipp Lithographing specializes in point-of-purchase displays and packaging printing on corrugated sheets for about 250 local and national companies.

The new Rapida press can adorn sheets with up to six colors. A specialized chemical treatment and light heating process quickly dries and sets the ink. The densities of color are managed electronically, cutting down on preparation and turnaround times by as much as four hours and increasing accuracy and production exponentially. A scanner and the human eye, added by a high-powered, specialized magnifying glass, carefully double-check sheets to ensure near printing perfection.

“People like working on the new presses,” Buening said. “The quality is better, the turnaround time is faster and we’re more economical because of it.”

The machine is being paid off in installments but was made possible by Philipp’s continual growth. That growth is reflected in two expansions and large-scale purchases in the last five years.

Philipp made expansions to its plant in 2001 and 2005. A 15,000-square-foot addition in 2001 houses a Rapida 162A printer, with a $4 million price tag, that produces 14,000 64-inch sheets per hour. A 7,500-square-foot addition to the plant was completed last December to house the new press and gives Philipp a leg up in the printing industry.

“Almost every commercial printer has a 40-inch press,” Buening said. “But our niche is now in large-format printing.”

With the addition in 2001 for the 64-inch printer, the company had a 12 percent jump in sales.

Philipp’s first quarter growth this year is already up by 4 percent, a number Buening expects to increase to 15 percent by the year’s end.

“If we hadn’t made the investment in that 64-inch press, we wouldn’t be nearly as successful,” Buening said. “You have to keep up with technology. That’s extremely important in the printing industry.”

Buening works with many Fortune 500 companies like Pepsi, Nabisco, Kraft and Proctor and Gamble, as well as many regional corrugated companies.

“We have a one-day turnaround because of our digital front-end technology,” Buening said.

The company is entirely digitized from the information it’s given to create and modify specs for a given point of purchase display or packaging product to its computerized control of the actual printing. The images to be printed are burned into a plate by a laser, a contrast to the former practice of hard-pressing a plate, and then chemically processed for preservation and sharpness.

Because of work being outsourced to China, Buening’s packaging business has taken a hit. Philipp, however, makes up the difference in point-of-purchase displays.

“The point-of-purchase advertising really has given us a leg up,” Buening said. “A lot of the manufacturing clients we used to provide services to stopped manufacturing here and started in China.

“What saves us is our fast turnaround time,” Buening said. In a pinch, companies can’t rely on production in China because of the amount of time inherent in overseas production.”

Clients utilize Philipp the first time around because of its just-in-time production, Buening said. Subsequent printing that is needed months out is outsourced, however.

“We’re getting the first run because we can react fast,” Buening said.

Phillip Lithographing Co.

Address: 1960 Wisconsin Ave., Grafton
Industry: Printing
Employees: 48
Founded: 1913
2005 Growth: 17 percent

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display