Narrow Web Profile: Sekuworks

By Jack Kenny | September 7, 2005

Security printing - like nowhere else.

Above: Robert Sherwood, Joe Schutte and Richard McElyea at Sekuworks' first Intaweb Press

The Italians give us the verb intagliare - to engrave or carve. From there comes intaglio (in-TAL-yo), a sunken or depressed engraving or carving. It is an ancient, perhaps the oldest, form of picture printing. Early intaglio prints were produced using blocks of wood into which the image had been carved in reverse. That was followed by engravings in copper plates. With the rise of printed currency and security documents in recent centuries, intaglio was found to be the process that produced the best images. The printer, however, could get only a few thousand impressions from a wood or copper plate, until early 19th Century minds managed to make them of steel (historians attribute the invention both to US inventor Jacob Perkins and to Britain's Thomas Lupton).

Intaglio resembles gravure in that images are engraved into plates and ink is transferred from the carved recesses onto the substrate. The principal difference, however, is that intaglio involves extreme pressure, so that the paper fibers are pushed with great force into the ink-filled recesses to absorb the tint. The result is paper whose surface retains the pattern of those impressions. If you move your finger tips across a new currency note you will understand the intaglio effect.

Robert Sherwood at the Intaweb I.

It's not a printing process that shows up on the narrow web radar screen these days, anywhere. Except in Harrison, OH, USA, where a company called Sekuworks opened its doors last year to offer the highest in brand protection for labels and packaging. Sekuworks operates out of a 41,000 square foot building with no name out in front. Visitors sign non-disclosure agreements. Parts of the presses are draped with curtains to inhibit viewing. Access to parts of the plant is restricted even to some employees.

Despite the security, the top people at Sekuworks are voluble, eager to share the story of how they came into being and what they offer to brand owners.

"Security, as well as printing, is now required on many more items today than in the past," says Robert Sherwood, Sekuworks' vice president of sales and marketing. "Our business is brand protection, and we have introduced intaglio printing into the narrow web market in a non-traditional way."

Sekuworks blends covert and overt technologies into its printed products. Sherwood notes that there are thousands of covert (hidden) technologies available to lend protection today, "but very few overt technologies. Holograms used to be a preferred overt security device, but today it's hard to determine if a hologram is real because they have become so easy to copy.

"Intaglio is overt technology, and we are putting it into new usage," he adds. "The intaglio process, through the pressure that it requires, produces much finer lines than can be achieved with gravure printing. And that pressure is 3,000 to 5,000 pounds per linear inch - the effect it creates is tactile. A consumer can relate more from the touchy-feely standpoint."

Sekuworks keeps materials and plates in an 18,000 cubic foot Class 5 vault.

The US Department of Homeland Security, Sherwood adds, "thinks that intaglio is second only to putting security features actually into a product."

With its proprietary, patented equipment, Sekuworks has the capability of incorporating multiple layers of security features into a printed product. "The word on the street is multi-level, multi-layer," says Sherwood. "We are working with technology partners to bring features in house that conceivably can place 20 to 25 security levels into a label."

Sekuworks envisions itself as a "brand protection company", Sherwood adds. It is working with partners to provide comprehensive brand tracking services, exploring security processes as well as products.

The targets are obvious: ethical pharmaceutical companies, over-the-counter drug makers, manufacturers of automobile parts, cosmetics, apparel, soap, tea.

Soap? Tea? According to Sherwood, teas and soaps are popular victims of counterfeiters worldwide. Legitimate producers of those and other commodities are now spending millions more on secure packaging to authenticate their valuable products.

Problems abound in validating security issues, Sherwood acknowledges. "Companies don't want to publicly acknowledge that their products have been counterfeited, because if they do the problem could become more widespread, and their competitors could use it against them. The problems keep getting worse, and there are more solutions, but many of them are simple technological solutions. People are confused as to what they should do, and they don't want to pay anything until they get empirical data about the savings they will achieve by adding security."

To make a secure label, he adds, "you have to do something to it. It's the print part of the solution."

Everyone can see overt security devices, "but covert constructions are known only to the company. They can train their team people to identify the products out in the field. There are covert devices that only company investigators can look for, and that might require a proprietary reader. There are covert constructions that only the brand protection people inside the company know about. And finally, we might put something into the label that only we know about. That way we are certain that it's our product."

Multiple processes

Sekuworks manufactures printed products using two very large, custom built in-line presses. Known as Intaweb I and Intaweb II, they are hybrid creations that exceed 100 feet each. Capabilities include:

  • Intaglio: custom design three-color fine line printing, including latent images and microlines;
  • Flexography: up to 10 print stations of standard and security inks, including invisible UV, thermochromic, solvent reactive, erasable, color shifting, and taggant application;
  • Rotary screen: two-color printing, including color shifting and IR invisible;
  • Holographic: stripe or targeted application;
  • Numbering and coding; document and label numbering and bar coding; and
  • Finishing: diecutting, punching, rolls, sheets, and fanfolding.

The flexo part of Intaweb I started life as a Comco press; this is the machine that includes the intaglio printing system. The base of the Intaweb II, which went into production recently, is a 16" Gallus Arsoma.

Joe Schutte, president of Sekuworks

The person behind the creation of the company and the construction of the Intaweb machines is Joe Schutte, president of Sekuworks. "We chose the Gallus/Arsoma as a base to build the second Intaweb brand press because it keeps tremendous registration, producing a high quality product. Our proprietary software builds on that capability and controls any additional technologies we add to the system. It won't be long before we insert an intaglio print unit, allowing us to provide our Intaweb II customers with all the benefits our Intaweb I provides."

Schutte is a machinery man, a software brain, an entrepreneur. He's a veteran designer and manufacturer of printing equipment and operating system software, and has worked for Integrated Research Labs and Stevens International, both in Ohio, and with the US division of Ashton-Potter in Williamsville, NY. In these positions, he worked on the development of innovations in anti-counterfeiting devices, turnkey security printing systems and motion control systems.

Branching out on his own some years back, Schutte launched Industrial Light & Motion, a company that refurbishes printing presses. Three years ago he began developing the plan for Sekuworks, which officially was launched a year ago. Over that year he and his colleagues have been marketing and selling, as well as exploring technological opportunities.

"We're an integrator," Schutte says. "We bring together technologies that a company wants to utilize. We have learned the specifics of more than 15 technologies that have a 'chain of custody', and there are 25 more that we are aware of that are interesting to us. And we are looking to develop a number of products that we can sell."

Schutte emphasizes that a main selling point of Sekuworks is the capability and experience of its people. High on that list is Richard McElyea, vice president of manufacturing. McElyea has 34 years of product and process development in the security printing industry. He has worked with Midwest Bank Note in Michigan and with Northern Bank Note in Illinois. He has managed production, facilities and new product development, including development of intaglio plates and printing equipment.

Robert Sherwood has devoted the past two decades to founding and leading successful enterprises that manufacture, market and sell anti-counterfeiting products for products, packaging and other applications. As president of Holoshape Products in Charlottesville, VA, he developed product specifications, procedures and processes for the manufacture of washable hologram authentication labels.

Inspecting an intaglio plate

Sekuworks is marketing its talents and capabilities to converters as well as to end users and to government. "We are selling something that, from an intaglio standpoint, nobody ever sold in that way before. So it's a bit of an education curve here," says Sherwood.

To anchor its presence in various industries it has joined the Tag & Label Manufacturing Association, the Business Forms Manufacturing Association, and the Document Security Alliance (which was formed by the Secret Service).

Recently the company became a member of the North American Security Products Organization. "Joining NASPO and applying for Class I Security Certification underscores how serious we are about providing high quality security services to our clients," Sherwood says.

Sekuworks is preparing for an audit by NASPO in the near future, and must make certain that its plant and procedures conform to rigid specifications. Already the plant has round-the-clock monitoring; motion, microwave and infrared detection, closed circuit surveillance, an interlock door system; restricted access production and storage areas, and electronic archived card access controls. All personnel movements are electronically tracked and histories are kept in archives.

The company is young, but its investment is large, its commitment substantial and its talent pool impressive. Joe Schutte is certain about what can and cannot - yet - be accomplished by the Sekuworks team:

"We are clear about what we can do, what we think we can do, and what's an R&D project."

9487 Dry Fork Road
Harrison, OH 45030 USA