Swift Printing & Communications, based on Bridge Street NW in Grand Rapids since 1954, acquired a smaller Wyoming company in July and put online in August a new state-of-the-art digital press.
Exact Graphics was acquired by Swift for an undisclosed amount, bringing several new employees to the Grand Rapids printer started by Walter Gutowski Sr. in 1950 in Muskegon. That brings the production employee count today to about a dozen, according to owner Walt Gutowski Jr.
George Shough, the previous owner of Exact Graphics and “a long-time craftsman here in town,” is now “working with us on an interim basis,” according to Gutowski.
Gutowski said that with the addition of the Exact Graphics business, Swift revenues are expected to reach about $2.5 million a year.
Swift also added new technology this summer: a Xerox iGen4 EXP digital press using matte dry ink.
Gutowski said the matte dry ink results in “a very good match” to the quality of printing by an offset press.
“Offset quality is the benchmark by which print is measured” today, said Gutowski.
Digital printing is rapidly replacing offset because offset is not as cost effective as digital, which can permit very small press runs at less cost to the customer. Digital printing also allows changes to be made more easily and frequently, providing customized printed products that would be cost-prohibitive on an offset press.
Digital printing has been around for 20 years and is constantly being improved, said Gutowski.
The iGen4 EXP color digital press now at Swift — actually, they have two — offers the fastest speed and best quality available and can produce printed sheets up to 26 inches in length, the largest digital cut sheet in the industry, according to a Swift spokesperson.
It is also said to be the “greenest” option in the graphic industry market today.
Gutowski said the pair of iGen4 EXP presses represent an investment of more than $800,000. They replace the Xerox iGen 90 digital press technology at Swift, which the company says was the first put into service in the world when it debuted at Swift in 2006.
A market segment that is growing in the printing industry is packaging, according to Gutowski.
To maintain a competitive edge, Swift is working to automate its technology and processes. That includes a major long-term project to implement MIS (Management Information System) software that will enable a customer to send a file to Swift with everything the press, cutter and bindery must do spelled out in full-detail.
Gutowski said he was told that when that MIS is online “we would be the first (in the region) to have ‘lights-out’ technology,” which means “full automation.”
“Everything we do has to be automated,” he said, in order to remain competitive.
Swift is also expanding its capabilities in another direction. Gutowski said the company is increasing its letterpress technology — “the really old printing” method once used universally. Swift is working with a longtime expert die-maker who is teaching them how to make dies for letterpress, which is used for printing specialized, high-end projects such as embossed business cards and embossed or engraved stationery.
When asked where Swift ranks among other printing companies in West Michigan, Gutowski joked, “We’re not one of the largest but we’re number one.”
Actually, 15 or 20 years ago, Grand Rapids was about the sixth largest region for printing, but since then, Gutowski noted, “many places have gone out of business,” so he is not sure where it ranks in size now.
The booming local furniture industry long ago led to a major printing industry in Grand Rapids because residential furniture traditionally required a great deal of printed material for its sales functions, according to Gutowski.
“At one point, Grand Rapids was the largest area, per capita, in the world for printers,” he said.