300 Ormond Street, Rochester, NY, USA 14605
Jeff Andolora has never been afraid of taking a chance. Alongside his father in the early 1990s, the Andoloras made the prescient move to enter the label converting business, and Adflex has never looked back. Now, with the prospect of entering the digital printing market, Andolora is taking another chance – emerging as the first US converter to install the Dantex PicoColour UV inkjet digital press. So far, the move has worked.
Jeff Andolora and his father, Joseph, made their first calculated decision less than a decade into their operations. Joseph and his partner took over Adflex, previously named Ad Service Corp, in 1978. At that time, Adflex served as a flexo platemaking trade shop, producing magnesium engravings and rubber flexo plates before the days of photopolymer plates.
“It was very interesting because we were growing through most of the early-to-mid 1980s, and then we started to lose some business to shops that we were producing plates for because they started buying their own platemaking equipment,” explains Jeff Andolora. “There were about 10 label and narrow web printers locally between Rochester and Buffalo that we were servicing, and slowly but surely they all decided to make their own plates. My dad came up with the idea to compete with them, and we bought our first flexo press in 1990.”
Adflex invested in a 5-color Mark Andy press with a central impression drum. The press was not a license to make money, however. According to Andolora, Adflex struggled in its label-printing infancy. “We were putting out good work and we had a good customer base, but we just hadn’t learned how to make money yet,” he says. “Plates were still going strong, and at the time it was still our moneymaker. But we knew looking forward that we wanted to grind it out and stay in the label market – because we knew that could eventually be our area of growth.”
In 1996, Adflex recruited Fred Emler, a semi-retired industry professional who had worked in the region’s Kodak label operation. He was hired to boost the label end of the business, and grow it he did. Fast forward to today, Adflex owns six flexo presses – with the most recent acquisition being an all-UV, 8-color Nilpeter FB servo press. Mark Andy 2200s comprise the remainder of Adflex’s flexo machinery. In addition, Adflex entered the tissue paper converting market back in 2000, and Andolora has added three wide web presses meant to service that industry. Adflex now boasts nine presses, plus the newly-installed Dantex PicoColour.
“Our business has shifted, years later, from platemaking accounting for our financial stability and our growth to the total opposite,” notes Andolora. “Right now, we’re about 80% converting – between converting and narrow web and tissue printing, and about 60% of our overall business is label and narrow web converting.”
In addition to suppliers Dantex, Mark Andy and Nilpeter, Adflex relies on Kodak for its prepress and platemaking, and Rotocon for finishing. Inspection and quality assurance are also prominent with the converter. “We have our own quality program,” Andolora explains. “We have a lot of checks and balances around our shop to make sure the product goes out correctly.”
Adflex produces labels for a wide range of end-use applications, with a heavy emphasis on the food and beverage market. The company also prints labels for wines, spirits and bottled water brands, as well as sauces – barbecue and pasta, for example – and salad dressings. While not the lion’s share of Adflex’s business, the converter also prints labels in the durables, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical spaces. The addition of the Dantex PicoColour will allow Adflex to target more short-run work, too, such as in the craft beer market.
Jeff Andolora got an early start in the label converting industry. He began working at the company at the age of 14, coming in on weekends to help his dad with odd-jobs while also learning the business. Upon receiving his driver’s license, Andolora ramped up his workload, extending his hours to after school. During that time, Andolora got his feet wet making plates.
Following his high school graduation, he transitioned into a different role, however. “I was operating in a customer service role while also doing sales runs,” says Andolora. “We had a lot of customers in Buffalo that would need us to drop off and pick up work every day. So, I worked face-to-face with the customer, bringing jobs in that were complete and picking up new jobs to get going.”
Following those experiences, Andolora migrated into a management role within the company. His father semi-retired in 2000 before officially retiring in 2006. “When my father semi-retired, we were just a little bit more than half the size we are now, so we’ve grown quite a bit over the last 15 to 20 years, mostly in the label market. We have worked quite hard at it.”
Andolora’s passion for the business has served Adflex well. “I actually had the mindset that this was what I was going to do,” he explains. “When I got out of high school I tried the community college route for about six months, and I was working so much that I just couldn’t keep up with both. I put college on the backburner and worked, and Adflex grew and we did well, and I never did make it back to college.”
He has surrounded himself with like-minded people who also demonstrate that same fervor, as well. His brother, Chris, has been in the business nearly as long, and his son, Jacob, and nephew, Cory, also work at the company.
“My son is like me, where he wears many hats. He can run pretty much every piece of equipment that we have here. He also does customer service and oversees some of the reps who are newer and a little less experienced. And that’s saying a lot since he’s only 22. He oversees a lot for a young guy, but he does a great job.”
Andolora has built the company up over the years. Today, Adflex has 42 employees that operate out of a 34,000 square-foot facility in Rochester. “It’s been a steady rate of growth,” he says. “We grow at an average of 3-4% annually, historically adding an employee per year. It wasn’t too long ago – about 10 years – that our employee number was in the low 30s. I’m actually looking for one to two more now.”
Going digital with Dantex
To accommodate the growing demand for short-run jobs, Jeff Andolora knew that he would need to invest in a digital production press in a big way. Before acquiring a digital press, he had some experience in the digital market, as the company purchased an Allen Datagraph digital tabletop printer about 5-6 years ago. The 4-color printer was 8" wide and came equipped with a plotter/cutter tool that could cut any shape or size.
The Allen Datagraph printer functions best with runs of 500 to 1,000 labels, but any intricate diecut shapes required a considerable amount of time. The printer set a base for Andolora, though.
“That got our feet wet in the digital world,” he notes. “We actually still use that machine quite a bit today because it’s nice to have the option of the cutter for small runs without having to purchase a die. But we know going forward that we were going to have to do something different and bigger.”
That journey began at Labelexpo Americas 2018, as Andolora sent Ross Thibault, general manager, and Adam Toates, digital press operator, to scope out the industry’s latest and greatest technology. The event gave the Adflex team the opportunity to spend time with digital press manufacturers, learning the nuances of the various presses.
Adflex decided to go with the Dantex PicoColour UV inkjet digital press, becoming the first adopter in the US.
“We went with Dantex for a couple of big reasons,” says Andolora. “Price was a big one, and the PicoColour was more affordable, but my biggest drivers were the capability of the machine and the company we were dealing with.”
While many companies might look at being “the first” in any aspect of business as a gamble, Andolora and his crew took a different viewpoint. “When taking into account the competition, we aren’t a very large company, and they are,” he explains. “We didn’t want to just be a number. We wanted a company that we could deal with, that would be right there when we needed them. The only potential hiccup that we saw was that we were the first US installation, as the rest are in Europe. But from what we heard and what we saw at the show, Dantex has a very good track record.
“We love the machine, and it does great work,” he adds. “We’re having very good luck with it. It’s pretty much filled up one shift already. Our thoughts are, ‘When do we take the time to do the training to get another shift on the press?’”
The PicoColour has allowed Adflex to target more work that was once unattainable with its previous capabilities, or not practical to run on flexo.
“We’ve used the Dantex press to expand markets and extend our capabilities,” says Andolora. “We also use it to take the short, tedious, time-taking runs that are 90% setup and 10% running off the flexo presses and move them to digital. And that’s freed up time on the flexo presses to take care of the longer runs.”
Dantex has also excelled with customer service, helping Adflex get up and running with its digital department. Previously, Andolora had positive experiences with the company when buying plate material from Dantex during its RBCOR days. “Any concerns we had with Dantex being based in England, in regards to service and support, actually haven’t been an issue,” Andolora states. “They’ve made themselves very accessible, so we’re very happy with the experience so far.”
Flexo and the future
With six flexo presses and a positive experience with Nilpeter, digital is not going to take over Adflex. While Andolora conceded that he might invest in another digital unit in 2021, the company is firmly entrenched in flexo.
In fact, Andolora acquired his most recent flexo press – the Nilpeter FB-Line – in 2016, and Adflex has enjoyed considerable success with the Cincinnati, OH-based Nilpeter USA.
“Nilpeter has been great,” says Andolora. “We use it for a combination of water-based and UV printing. We use the UV for some specialty items and a lot of whites. When we’re running 4-color process on the machine, we actually don’t use the UV, we use water-based instead.”
The 8-color, full UV Nilpeter press comes stocked with a corona treater and cold foil capabilities, and Andolora was swayed during an open house at the Danish press manufacturer’s North American facility.
“I went to Cincinnati that year for an open house and learned a lot more about their equipment and actually watched it being built,” he says. “There were a bunch of reasons that year that I went with Nilpeter. They looked like they were very well built – and they are.”
Both flexo and digital will play a role in Adflex’s operations heading into the future. While Andolora anticipates further equipment additions, many of those decisions will be dictated by customer demand. As the company expands its pharmaceutical label offerings, extended content labels will become more prominent. Andolora adds, too, that the company will explore shrink sleeves, even though demand among his customers has not risen, as of yet.
The decisions at Adflex are primarily centered around the customer and how to improve their experience.
“Our three biggest drivers are service, quality and price,” says Andolora. “I have customers that have two-week lead times and then I have customers where we have three-day lead times. I always preach to my team, ‘Always be there for the customer; don’t leave them hanging.’ In the digital world today, most every communication now is an email and there are not as many phone calls anymore. I let my team know that I would like them to answer emails in a timely fashion. Don’t wait half the day. At least get back to your customer and let them know that you’re working on their request, even if it’s going to take you a while. And don’t always email. There is a time and place to pick up a phone, because sometimes it’s hard to convey what you’re asking or looking for.”