Narrow Web Profile: GS Incorporated

By Jack Kenny | July 20, 2005

High quality labels are produced by a quiet company in rural Rhode Island.

The northwest corner of Rhode Island is a quiet place. Towns are at crossroads, trees cover the rolling hills, homes can date to colonial times. It isn't far from anywhere, but it feels like it is. It's not a big tourist attraction; you have to want to go there.

GS Incorporated, situated in Pascoag, RI, is a quiet company, but it is an attraction. Label buyers, apparently, want to go there. In the words of Rick Ferreira, an industry veteran who recently joined the firm, GS Inc. is "a technically oriented company whose customer base wants to buy here because of the service and the quality."

Now in its 17th year of operation, GS Inc. manufactures high quality labels using five flexo presses of various makes and sizes. Until recently, all operations but one had been accomplished inside the Pascoag plant. With the recent acquisition of a new platemaking system, GS Inc. now handles all manufacturing steps inside.

The low industry profile of GS Inc. is deliberate. Success has been built over the years through word of mouth, and it was only in the past few years that the owners hired Jennifer Dutson to head up the sales effort. Inside the plant is an atmosphere of seriousness and quiet intensity (as quiet as a manufacturing operation can be) that is heightened by cleanliness and order.

"People here don't really have titles," says Jason Mountford, son of Bert and Nancy Mountford, co-owners of the business. Martin Murphy is a principal in the company. Jason describes himself as the "primary graphics person", and his brother, Josh, oversees press production. Rick Ferreira is "the technical guy."

Bert Mountford's background was in patent drafting and technical illustration. In 1987 he and Nancy started the printing company in nearby Smithfield with a two-color Propheteer press. Back then, Rhode Island was the nation's largest producer of costume jewelry, and that industry provided plenty of work for GS Inc. The product line included tickets and display cards.

Eventually the company went into thermal transfer labels, producing blanks and preprinted products, as well as those with variable data. Within a couple of years, the company added a second Propheteer press, this one with four print stations, which later was expanded into a six-color press. By 1991, GS Inc. had three presses, the third a 10" Propheteer that started with two stations and grew to five.

All of this was taking place in 2,000 square feet of space. Success means growth, and GS Inc. was looking for more room. They found it in Pascoag (pronounced PAS-co), just west of Smithfield. In 1994 they acquired a new building that gave them 9,000 square feet. Not long afterward an additional 4,000 square feet were added.
Organization and cleanliness are evident
throughout the GS Inc. plant.

New markets
Around the time of the move to Pascoag in 1994, Jason says, Rhode Island's costume jewelry business began to slow (It has since moved offshore, he adds.). "We began looking into other areas," he says, "that would offer us the opportunity to do quality work. We began working with some small local food companies, and we would even design some labels for them. We tried to push the boundaries of what we were comfortable with. For example, until then we had not done four-color process, but we went into it through trial and error. We're self-taught."

"The people at this company don't know the meaning of limitations," adds Ferreira.

"We had gotten to the point where we wanted to get even higher quality work," Jason recalls, "because we had some customers who were eager for it. So in 1994 we bought a Nilpeter FA 2400." This press, an 8.5" flexo machine, has eight water base print stations and a UV station, "which we added so that we could experiment."

The company acquired another Nilpeter press, this time a 10" FA 2500, also eight-color with UV varnish. "We had gotten to the point where we were printing a lot of four-color process work for the food industry, and we need more capacity."

The most recent press acquisition, in 2002, came about because the company had begun taking on more accounts in the health and beauty markets. "We could see that the whole market was going to clear films," Jason says, "and making good use of rotary screen and foil. We want to make labels that look good — labels that we like — so we chose the Gallus press." The Gallus EM 280 has nine print stations in a platform configuration that allows interchanging of print processes. GS Inc. bought eight UV flexo heads, two screen heads, and one hot foil unit.

"We had customers who we knew would benefit from rotary screen printing," Jason adds. "We're now developing more, and also with the hot foil."

The older Propheteer presses have since been replaced by two 1000 models. The majority of the company's print production is on pressure sensitive stock, about 20-25 percent of which is film substrate.

High end plates
Jason Mountford graduated from Bryant College with a degree in business administration, and went to work at GS Inc., where he had spent much time during his school years. He increased the role of computers in the business, and taught himself everything he could about the intricacies of electronic prepress. Eventually, GS Inc. was performing all of its prepress work in-house, except for production of film and plates.

"The company worked outside for plate production," says Ferreira, "but did all of the adjustments internally before the images were sent out. Eighty percent of other flexo companies that job out their plates are not in control of their destiny as printers without prepress, but not GS."

They wanted to bring the plate work inside, but had reservations. "Imagesetting is an involved process," Jason says, "and uses very sensitive equipment. The same with plates. There's a lot of technique involved."

Last year the company made a decision to adopt DuPont's FAST plate production system, which was acquired through Pitman Company. "The FAST system was attractive to us because it requires minimal operator input," Jason says.

Rick Ferreira reparing the plate for exposure in the Cyrel unit Jason Mountford starts the Cyrel FAST processor, which produces a dry plate

FAST, introduced several years ago, produces dry plates that are ready for use immediately after processing, unlike conventional solvent or water wash plates that require long drying time. The system utilizes three large pieces of equipment. Proprietary plate material has film married to the photopolymer. The image is created on the film using a CDI Spark imaging unit from Esko-Graphics. Imaged film is then placed into a DuPont plate processing unit, which exposes the image onto the plate material using UV light, but which operates without the conventional vacuum sealing process. The final step, after exposure, takes place in the FAST unit, which utilizes a special nonwoven material to remove the film layer and all unexposed photopolymer from the plate. After a quick few minutes back in the UV chamber, the plate is ready to trim and mount.

"We didn't really consider conventional plates and film," Jason notes. "We decided that if there was a way around it we'd go that route." He adds that he and the press people "like the consistency of the plates, especially in dots and registration. The variables that you find in conventional plates aren't there in FAST."

"Now we can hold smaller reverses with confidence," adds Ferreira.

A printer first
The quiet 25-employee company continues its momentum. "We're looking at expansion now," Jason says, adding that the managers are discussing another addition to the plant. "We are loath to go to a second shift, and we're talking about expanding press capacity."

"This company wants to be a printer," observes Ferreira, "as opposed to just a marketer or a manufacturer. We keep expanding our knowledge of printing."
Jason Mountford adds: "We beat ourselves up to make our work better."

GS Incorporated
885 South Main Street
Pascoag RI 02859
Phone: 401-568-1110
Fax: 401-568-1131
Email: info@gslabels.com
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