by Donna Covannon
With a quarter century of experience in label design and production, Murrieta, California-based Label Productions of California sells into 25 industries - from wine and vitamins to cosmetics and pharma. Their robust turnkey output process enables Label Productions to live up to its 100% satisfaction guarantee.
Family started and family run today - the company was launched in 1998 as a flexographic company by Dewayne and Mary Ann Hamelback. Their son, Steve, already had 15 years in printing with Mark Andy under his belt by that point, so he joined the management of the company at its beginning. In 2002, Steve and his wife Susan, who brought a strong finance background to the company, fully purchased Label Productions of California.
The next ten years were busy for Label Productions as they kept their three flexographic presses humming – creating pressure-sensitive labels and extended content labels. In mid-2013, they saw a need to begin producing short run, high quality labels. Today, they have two digital presses - a Xeikon CX30 dry toner digital press and a Mark Andy Digital Pro 3.
Every Customer is a Valued Partner
The key to Label Productions’ success is their focus on learning the dynamics of each of their customers and understanding how they purchase. Great care is taken to review incoming files and work including legal and compliant requirements for their customers’ industries.
Instead of requiring their customers to change to fit Label Productions requirements, they tailor their services to each customer’s needs and preferences. Short deadlines and top quality output are also a component of this formula. Digital printing has been a key component in enabling their path to success.
Overcoming Challenges to Grow - A Holistic Approach
Steve describes a print industry that is changing at a faster pace than ever. He notes that “Every 5-8 years things really change, especially with digital printing. This has caused us to modify the way we think about print as a whole.” To navigate this “new” print world, Label Productions has found it essential to keep their staff relevant and up-to-date on digital changes and to be aware of the higher speeds, higher quality, and increased options available in the marketplace so that they will know when it’s time to “pull the trigger” on a new press.
Susan adds that, “Our served markets are a perfect fit for digital. We are saving money as we put out multiple runs with multiple color changes without the need to purchase plates. The newer generation of customers already knows digital, so they look to us to produce digitally.”
The Solution: Equipment and Vendor Evaluation
As they began their journey to digital in 2013, they investigated both liquid toner and inkjet presses. They started small with OKI Data dry toner presses but quickly migrated to a Xeikon 3030 press. Steve notes that “My history with flexo goes all the way back to 1983 - I love the perfect look of UV Flexo printed at 200 line screen. However, presses that could achieve that with UV inkjet were too high end for our size.”
In 2021, with the need for excellent resolution as a key driver, Label Productions turned to a Xeikon CX30. Steve acknowledges that it “prints at 1200 x 1200 - the same quality as the higher end presses.” Additional quality requirements were increased uptime and quality repeatability of color. The Xeikon CX30 dry toner press provided Label Productions with great speed, capacity, necessary color tools and a smooth workflow for Variable Data Printing (VDP). Susan adds that “Our largest customers have changed to all VDP labels and versioning so now we can offer that as a value add, or in some cases, an essential capability.”
The Xeikon CX30 integrated well with Label Productions’ finishing and converting offerings which include a Super Finisher (for wines) that acts more like a press with Hot Foil Stamping, as well as embossing, Flatbed screen, semi-rotary/flood varnish and semi-rotary die cut.
When Label Productions purchased their first Xeikon dry toner press, their son, Justin, was assigned the responsibility of learning to operate and maintain the press. Susan remembers that, “it was very easy for Justin to learn his way around the Xeikon press. He has a great trouble-shooting kind of mindset.” Since that initial ease of entry, they have hired and cross-trained operators with only months of experience in printing and none in digital – all of whom have picked up the technology quickly.
Steve adds that “Since the Mark Andy came first, most of our operators learned from that process. It was more simplistic but they soon discovered that they had more control of the job with the Xeikon scripts. Today, they prefer operating the Xeikon CX30, as they can make changes in materials and get the highest quality off of each job. We went from running really well on a lot of products to printing excellent on every product.” And he adds that most importantly, “We can count on the fact that every day our new presses will be up and running. That removes a lot of worries.”
It took only a few years for Label Productions to convert their business from 100% flexo to 70% digital/30% flexo. As they are in so many different markets, they must inventory a great number of substrates. Steve notes that “In order to keep lead times down as much as possible we often have 3-4 different materials running on the same day. With our Xeikon CX30, we can change materials and scripts and keep everything up and running.
With the acquisition of the two digital presses, Label Productions is able to meet the quality and speed requirements of customers who started small, and are now in major retail outlets with multiple SKUs. Customers like Temecula Olive Oil, Primally Pure Skin Care line and Water Filters.
A Digital Growth Curve
Almost all of the company’s growth has been digital. The applications they continue to run today on their flexo press are unique, e.g. extended content labels, so they maintain their flexo sales year over year. As a result of the speed and efficiency of the two digital presses, their capacity has doubled with the same amount of sales.
Digital is definitely the more profitable side of their business. The labels are simpler and quicker to print, die cut, rewind and ship. With flexo they must contend with 2-3 hours of setup and color matching.
Susan notes that “several of our customers require direct food contact. As food-safe labels and packaging are so important to our customers – this is a huge decision point for using the Xeikon CX30.” And recently, they have seen a much higher demand for biodegradable materials - including paper, adhesives and inks.
By July 2022, they will have replaced all their equipment, and are able to offer their customers better delivery, higher quality and faster speeds. Steve adds that “color management is another advantage for us. With the Xeikon CX30’s color management solution, we can match the color, bring it back up later and see the same color. It’s also very good at opacity and gives us a phenomenal white on the press.”
New market opportunities will open up with the Xeikon CX30 as Label Productions brings in the materials to create heat transfer labels for pouches and cosmetic webs. Steve adds that the “press is configured, we just have to switch colors of drums and finish with white.”
Advice to Converters Entering the Digital Journey
A key lesson learned by Label Productions of California is the critical importance of good machine maintenance. Steve encourages converters not to “... let the maintenance contract expire - keep it in great condition. And find an operator who treats that press like their own.”
Final Thoughts - Working with Xeikon
After purchasing their second Xeikon press, the Hamelbacks are effusive about the sales and service support they have received since 2013. Susan offers accolades to Tom Gray, their sales rep, who she says was “excellent to work with and his knowledge about the press and the print industry was phenomenal. He came in and learned about us - our needs and markets and then made sure that his suggestions were tailored to our requirements.”
Steve concludes that he “works more with service teams who are excellent. I get the answer I need, from that technician on that call and don’t have to wait for an email. The people who answer the calls know the product inside and out.“