When Kevin and Greg Wichman launched Pro Label with Brian Hermann back in 1992, they could not have imagined the company would grow to become one of the top US label converters and be the first to install a Mark Andy Digital Series iQ hybrid press. The DSiQ, which is based on the Mark Andy servo-driven Evolution Series platform, is a joint development with Domino, which supplies the N610i digital inkjet engine. The result is a production tool that uses well-proven flexo and digital technology from two of the world’s leading printing press manufacturers.
To find out what led Pro Label to invest in this state-of-the-art hybrid technology, we need to look at the stages of company growth. Founded initially to supply labels to the window and construction market, Pro Label quickly moved into flexo technology to develop prime label business for the food and beverage sectors. At the same time, using the knowledge and expertise it had acquired, the company developed its own technology to supply solutions to the ice cream novelty market. Expanding demand for the company’s high-quality work led it to invest in wider flexo presses with servo drives, and eventually, in 2021, to install the new DSiQ hybrid.
Speaking for Pro Label, VP Sales Doug Thielen commented: “One of Pro Labels’ great strengths is the close working partnerships we build with our customers, and this gives us real-time feedback on what market trends are developing. By 2020 it was obvious that digital/flexo hybrid technology was the way forward to best serve certain market sectors and the changes in demand that we were experiencing.” After researching what the inkjet and toner press manufacturers had to offer, Pro Label was convinced that a hybrid solution offered the flexibility needed for its product portfolio.
Mark Andy’s Ted Bright (left) and Andy Schmitz (right) with Pro Label’s
Tony Simmer and Brian Hermann and the company’s new DSiQ hybrid press
“The DSiQ allows us to run stock widths that fit the product with the material on hand, and the flexo element provides added value in terms of coatings, varnishes, metallic colors, and a variety of finishing options. It’s the best of both worlds!” he added. With the company’s long-term relationship with Mark Andy as a press supplier – its three most recent flexo lines are Performance Series P7s – the choice of supplier for the hybrid press was never really in doubt. “When you are embarking on a new project with different technology you need to be confident in the support you’ll receive from the supplier, and we have built a good relationship with Mark Andy people over the years. But in all fairness, cost was a consideration to, so the fact that the DSiQ was competitively priced, made the decision easier.”
With a pressing need to hit the ground running, the DSiQ was instantly put to work on producing prime PS labels for the food, beverage, spirits, and OEM sectors, as well as pouches and flexible packaging for the beauty and cosmetics industries, where its variable data capability proves invaluable. In the short time it’s been in production, the new hybrid press has shown a significant reduction in waste when running multiple SKUs, as well as offering quicker turnaround on jobs, some of which are now delivered same day if required. It has also freed up capacity on the company’s seven 20” flexo presses, which have up to 10-color capacity, and are better suited to longer run work.
As far as Pro Label is concerned, the addition of the DSiQ has had a significant impact on the company’s production capability and efficiency, which in turn has allowed it to serve and develop new market sectors that were previously outside the scope of its flexo presses. “We can now fulfil a larger volume of business where many SKUs are involved at one end of the scale as well as offering high-quality short run work on jobs where the cost of flexo plates would make the job unviable. In fact, we’re only just starting to appreciate the scale of diversification that the new hybrid press offers us in markets we didn’t know existed!” he added.
With 130 staff generating sales of around $25m a year, Pro Label has come a very long way from its small beginnings. Now, with BRC, FSC, and GMI accreditation for packaging safety and SMETA audited for Ethical Trade practice, the company can quantify is reputation for top quality work produced under the highest independent scrutiny. But there’s more to Pro Label than just printing and converting, because the company is heavily involved in its local community in Appleton, WI, where community support includes a ‘Wellness Program’ that actively encourages a healthy lifestyle for employees and their families. The concept is that by making life fun in a healthy workplace, all parties benefit – and the fact that one of the original employees is still with the company after 30 years indicates that it works!
As Doug Thielen concluded: “We’re a bunch of hardworking, family focused individuals who care for one another and the community we’re surrounded by. And this makes Team Pro Label committed to exceeding our customers’ expectations with every order produced in our plant.”
Responding for Mark Andy, Digital Sales Manager Ted Bright commented: “We are honored to be working with such a high-quality company as Pro Label and delighted that it was the first to install our new DSiQ hybrid press – this will make a great showcase for Mark Andy technology and I’m confident it will continue to open new opportunities for Pro Label.”