Waterless Printing Finds a Welcome Home in Small Pennsylvania Town
Bob Walker of Walker Printing readily admits his firm is a small printer located in a sparsely populated area. When we telephoned, Bob said he did not think his waterless printing company was worthy of a Currents newsletter article, especially compared to the much larger firms we have featured in other articles. Yet Walker Printing has been a member of the Waterless Printing Association for 11 years and now boasts a 6-color waterless printing press.
In 1804 the county in which Kane is located was created and named after Thomas McKean, the second Governor of the State of Pennsylvania. At the time, there was only one known resident in the county. Today the population of the 1,000 square mile (2,590 square kilometers) county is around 50,000 people. The natural beauty of Allegheny National Forest surrounds Kane on three sides.
Located in the north central part of Pennsylvania, USA, the city with its population of around 5,000 people, is a classic example of the American rural small town. Kane was founded in 1863 by American Civil War General Thomas L. Kane.
The area’s glory days began in the 1850s when oil started to be extracted from the earth and sold to consumers for use in fuel oil burning lamps and for medicinal purposes. But the oil windfall did not last as the supply dwindled by the early part of the 20th century.
As a resident of Kane, Walker Printing draws most of its printing business from the immediate area surrounding the company. Pennsylvania’s major markets like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia or Erie are from 2 to 5 hours away by car. So how did this small printer, located in a rural area come to discover, and then flourish using waterless printing? In Bob’s case the story goes back to his father who founded a small letterpress shop in 1952. By the time Bob took over the business from his father, it was time to begin a long struggle with the dampening systems of conventional offset presses.
According to Bob Walker, for 20 years the firm endured the misery associated with finding the critical combination of chemicals blended with water. The struggle drove the pressmen to near despair and prevented the firm from achieving the quality and consistency it sought to deliver its customers.
Despite the nagging offset dampening problems, Walker Printing sales increased as it took on new customers. Then Walker Printing’s perseverance paid off when Bob saw something that could put an end to all the troubles. At a printing equipment exhibition in 1992, Bob saw a new press that was advertised as being capable of easily switching back and forth between conventionally dampened offset and the then new and radical concept of waterless printing. It was almost as if the press manufacturer was saying, yes to waterless printing while holding conventional offset in reserve if the waterless process did not work out. Follow the manufacturer’s advice, Bob Walker decided to take on the new machine with an eye toward the probability that they would indeed switch back and forth between conventional offset and waterless printing.
Walker purchased a 2-color version of the press. But after about 6 months of bouncing back and forth between the two printing methods, conventional dampening problems persisted. As a result Walker decided to dedicate the machine to waterless printing.
For the next 4 years the 2-color waterless press performed admirably as it enabled Walker to take on new multicolor business. Soon 4-color process printing jobs were assigned to the press that gave the firm a printing capability that was unique among all the other printers in their market area.
But 4-color process produced on a 2-color machine soon proved to be too disruptive and labor intensive. At the same time Bob Walker could see that the future of the firm was in full color printing. Since the current machine had proven very capable, Walker decided to shop for a multicolor machine from the same printing press manufacturer.
Today a 6-color half size press purchased in 2001, joins the 2-color machine. Other Walker equipment reflects the nature of jobs that come from the firm’s 30 customers. These include a 2-color envelope press, offset duplicators, and a very well-equipped bindery with mailing equipment.
Walker Printing does business with one of the largest banks in the state of Pennsylvania. The bank’s relationship with Walker Printing dates back to 1976 when Bob Walker promised that his firm could print better quality envelopes. Soon better envelope printing led to the printing of a variety of brochures. And over the years the business grew from simple single color to full color printing.
It is true that most of the IWPA’s waterless printer members around the world are located in or very near major metropolitan areas. In this regard Walker Printing is unique. Walker is also unusual because it uses waterless printing technology in such a small market.
Despite Walker’s small size and remote location, the company is a shinning example of success in waterless printing. As a result, we think Walker is worthy of this feature in the IWPA website
(Photo to come)
At Walker Printing in the small town of Kane, Pennsylvania, this colorful pressroom proclaims the 6-color capability of the company headed by Bob Walker. Walker’s waterless journey began modestly with a 2-color machine and later grew to include this machine.