BP Solutions Group (BP) began life as Biltmore Press in 1925 in Asheville's historic Biltmore Village. Robert P Williams, the founder, started with a small letterpress shop serving the community with personal stationery and business products, later expanding and moving the company into the heart of downtown Asheville. In the 1970s, his son Bob Williams took over the company exploring new markets, including mail services, print-on-demand, and fulfillment. In 1995, the business moved into its current home – a 40,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility in West Asheville. Under the leadership of Scott Cotten, who joined the company in 1992, BP has expanded into packaging, labels, and data management technologies.
He takes up the story: “The early 2000s saw a dramatic change in the commercial print market. The internet had a major effect on the music industry and educational establishments that had been important business sectors for us. There was a lot of what I would call ‘copycat’ capability in the local area, which made it clear we needed to up our game.” Upping their game resulted in an investment in a flatbed die cutter, folder-gluer, and a half-size 6-color + coater Heidelberg CD 74 offset press. This modern equipment allowed BP to specialize in short-run folding carton work, typically 500 to 100,000 sheets but often with 20 or more SKUs.
This new capability alerted Cotten to the package print market, and with the growth of local craft breweries in the Asheville area, prompted by the natural water quality, he began to research what technology was available for short-run labels. “At that stage, and after two years of careful research, I came close to ordering one of Mark Andy’s Digital One toner/flexo hybrids, only for the local breweries to switch from bottles to cans and from labels to pre-print and shrink sleeves.” He didn’t know that his research would prove invaluable a few years later when one of the company’s carton customers asked BP if they could also supply labels.
By this stage, Mark Andy had developed Digital One technology and launched Digital Pro 3, which was an even better fit for BP's needs. Digital Pro is Mark Andy’s entry to mid-market digital printing, combining flexo with digital toner capability, inline finishing, and converting capabilities for single-pass production. The press offers flexo capability before and after the 1200dpi CMYK toner engine with converting options, including die cutting, stripping, and slitting. The second flexo unit can apply a spot color or varnish, laminating or cold foiling, and is fitted with an LED/UV curing unit. The press has a small footprint, making it ideal for small or crowded print shops, no ‘click charge,’ which means a low cost-to-print, and with its 77 ft/min running speed, the DPro 3 is an excellent all-around production tool.
“It proved an eye-opener for us in many ways, coming from sheetfed offset to narrow web flexo and digital combined, there was a learning curve. But we recruited a local operator and cross-trained our existing staff and are pleased with what the DPro has added to our capabilities.” After evaluating the mechanical and technical aspects of running the DPro 3, Scott notes that it is yet another step in transitioning from a craft-based industry to a tech-based industry.
Since installing the DPro 3, BP has seen demand for labels grow consistently from its other carton customers, who all like the opportunity of a single-source supply and opening up new opportunities. “From the very first test runs we did on the DPro, we knew we could match color with our offset presses from basic files. With its capability of running a variety of substrates from paper to BOPP, PET, and PP, we can easily foresee an ROI of fewer than three years, which is excellent,” he explained, adding that Mark Andy’s wealth of knowledge and expertise in narrow web, and superb after sales support has invested in new technology a comfortable ride.
Currently, business at BP is split roughly 50:50 between commercial print and package print, with annual sales of around $6m. “I’m looking to lift that figure by $2m in the next 24 months and anticipate that labels will come to account for around 20% of that – if we add value to the company and its products, everybody wins, and in today’s competitive market, only the winners survive!” he concluded.
Photo:Company President Scott Cotten with press operator Ryan Cotten and BP Solutions’ new Mark Andy Digital Pro 3