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Build Your Business: Management
AOP the ITA Way
Because it invested time into engineering proper AOP techniques, including over seams, collars and hems, ITA Printing can produce about 3,000 AOP shirts a day.
Saying that the names on its client list is impressive is a massive understatement: Dick’s Sporting Goods, The Sports Authority, Target, Kmart, Sam’s Club, Kohl’s, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and H.J. Heinz. Oh, and let’s not forget about the NFL, NHL, NBA and NCAA. And did we mention the U.S. Military?
If you’re looking for a screen printing business that can successfully play with the big boys, it’s safe to say ITA Printing is it. Located in Butler, Pa., a stone’s throw from the three rivers that flow in and around Pittsburgh, the company continues to increase its production and finished goods capacity (try more than 20% or so annually over the past few years) while consistently innovating ways to design and produce garments.
Since opening its doors in 2004, ITA Printing, a division of IbisTek LLC, has delivered thousands of products (process prints, high-density gels, glitters and foils) to retail shops throughout the United States and abroad.
The ITA Printing machine is driven by its allover printing (AOP) capabilities, which is powered, in part, by a customized, 18-color, 20-station M&R Alpha 8 (80/110) automatic screen printing press. This particular press, whose specs the ITA Printing team helped customize, is behind the garments the company designs and produces.
“We spent over a year with several different prototypes that we developed until we got the right design,” says Mark Suhadolnik, production manager for IbisTek Apparel. “Our pallets allow us to print up to 16 colors all over with perfect print registration, something that has never been done in this industry before.” Even more impressive is that ITA Printing has been doing it for more than a year and a half.
The ITA way is accomplished at a very high production rate without double indexing. The company prints with two 12-color M&R Sportsman E presses and three 8-color machines, which complement the Alpha 8.
“Our [printing] over the seams, collars and hems is unmatched in the industry, all because of the time we invested into engineering the proper printing technique,” Suhadolnik says. For example, he says it took ITA Printing more than five months to perfect the way it achieves the consistent printing capability.
Today, the ITA team can produce about 3,000 AOP shirts a day, which Suhadolnik says is a good number considering the production speed executing big prints of this type. “Of course, the press is the only Alpha 8 machine that can do this type of work,” he says. “We worked hand-in-hand with M&R to modify the press to do this type of printing. Our machine has upgraded safety features, screen and squeegee holders, as well as adjustments to the servo motors to handle the size of the pallets and screens.”
FROM DESIGN TO PRESS
ITA Printing’s ability to help manufacture its own equipment, such as pallets, flood bars, etc., has enabled it to go straight from design and prototype to press in the same day. “There is no waiting period that you would have by using an outside manufacturer,” Suhadolnik says.
Customization and forging partnerships among other suppliers are key factors in the company’s ability to stay on the cutting edge of innovation and production. For example, it worked with Shur-Loc Fabric System, Monroe, Wash., to customize the 50″ x 53″ frames and mesh panels in the specific thread counts and diameters on the press. In addition, PolyOne Corp./Wilflex, Kennesaw, Ga., has been a valued partner in developing specific ink formulas.
“All of the inks used are modified formulas not typically used in standard printing,” Suhadolnik says.
ITA Printing’s AOP business is in such high demand that the company actually turns away more orders than it produces. “We would need several presses just to keep up with the demand,” Suhadolnik says. “But when you are talking about a press that cost more than $500,000 just to get it to the point of being able to do this type of printing, that’s a huge investment to make.”
AHEAD OF THE PACK
In the ultra-competitive decorated apparel industry — one where a company can find a solid stream of success by offering good products and superior customer service — ITA Printing continues to push itself ahead of the pack.
“We don’t slow down,” Suhadolnik says. “There are times where we may revert to one shift if the job or time warrants it. On any given job, we print anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 pieces.”
Presently, Suhadolnik says the decoration services side of the business is where ITA Printing will continue to focus its efforts. “At the moment, screen printing is big enough for us now. For a company like ours, the challenges with doing jobs such as allover printing are over. Today, doing a job like that is a regular job for us.
That’s easy for Suhadolnik and the ITA team to say now. But as he recalls, the first allover print job ITA ever did was one for the books. It included a run of more than 50,000 pieces featuring eight to 10 colors.
“Having never [done] anything like this before in the production phase, we really didn’t know what type of issues we might run into,” he says. “But the job ran better than we ever thought it would and the customer was very pleased with the results. In fact, he told us that our prints were the best prints he had ever seen.”
Suhadolnik says the job and its results can redefine a company and its direction. “It is the kind of feedback that’s important to where you want your company to go,” he says. “I remember the best thing a client ever said to us: ‘This is why we work with you. We can count on you to make it happen.’”
Making it happen is something ITA Printing continues to do on daily basis, with projects and orders that only fuel the fire of a company that wants to be known as the best at what it does.
What advice would Suhadolnik offer a company today in a business climate where every job — regardless of size — matters? “You have to learn from those who do this day to day,” he says. “You have to accept that you might fail, but that you can learn from your mistakes. Some of the most successful people have failed more than once.”
More than anything else, Suhadolnik says it’s about putting your most creative — and best — foot forward. “Above all, you have to know your niche; you have to be creative,” he says. “To be creative, you have develop print applications that no one else has ever attempted before. Don’t listen to those people who may say it can’t be done. It can. We know … we’ve been there.”
Michael J. Pallerino is an award-winning writer who as written for a number of national consumer and trade publications. For more information or to comment on this article, email Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ITA Printing At A Glance
Company Name: ITA Printing
Address: 496 Pittsburgh Road
Butler, Pa. 16002
Executive Team: Tom Buckner (president), Rachel Berglund (vice president)
Decorating Methods Offered: Standard screen printing, allover printing (AOP)
Company Website: itaprinting.com
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