Springfield, Tennessee-based Whittenburg Inc. is making a growing and lucrative business out of retrofitting older Heidelberg letterpresses to handle die-cutting.
"The main thing they’re being used for is die-cutting of pocket folders and suchlike, and also some foil stamping," explained company founder Walt Whittenburg.
Whittenburg said his 10-person facility strips the older Heidelberg presses down to the metal before rebuilding them, usually without the ink unit. The cost of these retro-fits can range from as little as $6,500, to as much as $70,000.
"It takes about three months to completely rebuild," he said, adding the company does about 20 to 25 retrofits annually, making it among the largest in the world. "Most of our customers are bigger commercial printers who want to keep all the production in house."
One recent customer was MA-based Braintree Printing, which will be using a converted Heidelberg primarily to make 9inx12in pocket folders, though the maximum sheet-size is 21inx28in.
"The converted Heidelberg on our plant floor gives a nod to the printing industry’s rich history," said Braintree Printing president Jim Corliss. "This old printing press now looks and runs like new – with a second life as a die cutter."
Graeme Smith, a Heidelberg cylinder engineer who was recruited from the U.K. by Whittenburg and now lives and works in Tennessee, noted a portion of the Heidelberg presses the company retrofits are actually still being used for actual printing, including some for runs of up to 20,000 pieces.
"In the US, letterpress printing is simply exploding," he said, adding that the company’s clients range from serious hobbyists who want to do their own printing, to large commercial printers with literally dozens of Heidelbergs on the shop floor. "We have customers that have letterpresses right alongside their digital machines.
Whittenburg’s business is primarily in the US, although the company does have some Canadian customers and has sold parts to printers as far away as Dubai.
While it’s difficult to know how many Heidelberg letterpresses are still in operation in North America, Whittenburg predicted, "Based on what I see, we feel we can still have a business 20 to 30 years down the road."Tweet
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