by Amy Bauer, Plastics Decorating
Over the 21 years that Roddy Zukowski has owned and operated industrial printer Diamond Screen Process, Inc., the business has twice had to double its square footage to accommodate company growth. Today, Zukowski again is in search of additional square footage to serve the customers he sees in Diamond Screen Process’s future.
Located in the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove Village, IL, Diamond Screen Process specializes in single- and multi-color printing of plastic, metal, glass and paper. The company serves the injection molding and metal stamping sectors; cosmetic, fragrance, beverage and pharmaceutical manufacturers; sign companies; and point-of-purchase display manufacturers, among others. It has presses for screen printing, pad printing, hot foil stamping, painting and coating, plus roll-to-roll and flatbed digital printing. The company also offers finishing and light assembly services.
Looking to expand… again
For the past 10 years, Zukowski said, about 35 percent of Diamond Screen Process’s production has been for the cosmetics and fragrance industries, from small orders of 100 pieces to full-scale production runs involving hundreds of thousands of pieces. Another 30 percent of production is dedicated to smaller-format plastic components for injection molding companies, 15 percent to 20 percent of production is devoted to printing and finishing for the metal sector, and 10 percent of production is for the point-of-purchase sector.
The company is in a 10,000-square-foot facility in the Elk Grove Business Park, the largest industrial park in North America and close to O’Hare International Airport and multiple major highways. Zukowski’s goal is to locate a new, larger space either in Elk Grove or the greater Chicago area. “We plan to move to a minimum 25,000-square-foot facility with more open floor space and more storage space to handle larger-volume production,” he explained.
In addition to opening the door for larger-volume production, Zukowski said at the new facility he plans to add new and upgraded paint and powder coat lines, as well as a faster and larger flatbed printing press and routing table to support the growing demand for full-color graphics in the point-of-purchase sector.
Diamond Screen Process has its own prepress department, which offers everything from artwork design to conversion of CAD files. The company maintains high quality standards with an in-house quality control department, Zukowski said. It works with many ISO 9000-certified companies and is working to achieve that certification itself for the new facility.
Screen printing stands the test of time
Roughly 60 percent of Diamond Screen Process’s business involves screen printing, and it is the only decorating process that the company has offered consistently since Zukowski took over the company as owner in 1993.
The company uses flatbed screen printing presses for sheet stacks up to 46×86″ and smaller format semi-automatic screen printing presses for smaller parts – under 10×18″. The smaller presses offer higher speeds up to about 1,000 impressions per hour.
“We also have a high-speed semi-automatic rotary table screen printing press for small-format plastic and metal parts that can output a minimum of 10,000 pieces daily on a single shift,” Zukowski said. “It also can be configured for single-color cylindrical printing, which is ideal for small plastic covers, plates, switches, buttons and brackets.” Of the company’s 12 production employees, half are dedicated to screen printing, though all are cross-trained in the processes to step in when necessary.
Zukowski noted that industrial screen printing applications are the most challenging and that proper ink selection is key. “Even though it often is specified by the customer, we still have to run all of the tests for proper ink selection and make sure it works for the application,” he said. Military contracts, for example, always have specifications included, but those chosen may not always make the most sense for the particular application. So, working with clients is key.
“Screen printing is one of the oldest and best industrial decorating methods available on the market today,” Zukowski said. “The technology has not changed in years – it still is pushing the ink through the screen to form an image. Everything around us has changed – mesh, emulsions, squares, inks, drying methods – but the printing press did not change in 100 years.
“The look, feel, appearance of a properly screen printed image is unbelievable, and no other printing method available on the market can come close – maybe pad printing a little,” Zukowski said. “That is why the best products in the cosmetic industry, plastic decorating and electronics still are screen printed and will be screen printed in years to come. Some say that the digital method will take over all other printing methods in coming years. Maybe yes, but I would strongly disagree. One look at a properly screen printed control panel – metal or plastic – or a glass perfume bottle, will tell you everything.”
Years of growth
Company records show that Diamond Screen Process dates to 1949, when it was first incorporated in the state of Illinois. One of its first and biggest clients was the city of Chicago, for which Diamond Screen Process printed such items as the labels for the police cars, fire engines and garbage trucks.
Zukowski immigrated from Poland at age 20 and went to work for Diamond Screen Process in 1990. He had a passion for graphic design and a mechanical engineering background and began in an entry-level position as a screen printing press operator. About two years later, the owner passed away and his widow took over operations. In the summer of 1993, she announced the company would close its doors. Zukowski stepped up and offered to buy the company, becoming the owner in September 1993. At the time, it operated out of a 2,500 square foot building in Des Plaines, IL, another Chicago suburb. Zukowski purchased the name – though not the corporation – the space, the equipment and the customer base, some of whom remain customers to this day.
When Zukowski took over, the company specialized in printing paper products, signs, binders and just a small percentage of metal and plastic components. “When I analyzed the market, I noticed the great potential of these two sectors, overlooked by the previous owners,” he said.
He targeted his marketing focus on metal stamping and injection molding manufacturers and over the next several years, the company grew so fast that it had to make its first move – to a 5,000-square-foot building in the industrial park in nearby Elk Grove Village. It also expanded from two production employees to six and added the first semi-automatic presses and some automation.
The company was re-incorporated in 1997, and Zukowski said the late 1990s was one of the strongest periods for the company thanks to rapid growth of the electronic industry and strong demand for metal and plastic components. Once again the company doubled in size, moving to its current 10,000-square-foot facility in 2000. The extra space again allowed for new equipment – automatic and fully automatic, multi-color screen and pad printing equipment. “The addition of the pad printing process to our services opened another door to even larger production volumes and more demanding customers, especially in the injection molding sector,” Zukowski said.
As the economic downturn of 2002 and 2003 hit the plastic and metal sectors, with many large electronics manufacturers sending their production work offshore, Diamond Screen Process felt the squeeze. Once again Zukowski refocused on new sectors, such as the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries, which at the time were still manufacturing their products mainly in the US. The addition of large clients from the pharmaceutical sector – such as Rogan Medical, Cardinal Health and Gendex – created another round of growth for Diamond Screen Process. The company added more full-color pad printing equipment and additional employees to accommodate the new clients.
Cosmetics sector moves the company forward
The fragrance and cosmetics industries similarly have been strong sectors for Diamond Screen Process. “By the end of the 2010s, there was a strong demand for decorating of plastic and glass containers, especially in shorter runs – 5,000 to 10,000 pieces – with quick turnaround,” Zukowski said. The sector has proved lucrative in part because there is so much change and demand for new and repackaged products each season, up to four times yearly. “This sector gave Diamond Screen Process an opportunity to really show what it can do,” he said. “Our company, equipment and highly trained employees were a perfect fit to fulfill those needs.”
The company offers finishing processes for this sector including both flat and rotary screen printing for cylindrical products; pad printing for flat, round or odd-shaped containers; single- to full-color printing with white base or additional clear coatings. Equipment accommodates small-format single-color processes to five-color, fully automatic systems that are customer-configured for full-scale production.
The cosmetics and fragrance industries are pushing the envelope with more challenging designs and color configurations from year to year, Zukowski noted, in both plastic and glass containers. Designs combine not only printed screen or pad printed color, but also liquid overspray or gradient color coating, hot foil stamping finishes and even engraving or laser marking options. This keeps Diamond Screen Process’s employees on their toes, constantly working on new processes and innovating themselves to offer new options to customers.
For example, one of Diamond Screen Process’s customers manufactures in the teen fragrance market, which is highly competitive. New designs, packaging and product names are frequent in this sector, Zukowski notes, to capture attention on store shelves. “This sector is especially interesting because in the last few years we have had a huge increase in new prospect customers from the private sector – new, small start-up companies coming up on the market with their own product and looking for a finishing company like Diamond Screen Process to fulfill their decorating needs,” he described. Though in some cases the costs are prohibitive for these small start-ups – the per-piece costs particularly for four-color designs on smaller orders being higher than longer runs – Diamond Screen Process has gained some new clients in this sector.
Zukowski anticipates that the new decorating line he envisions in the new facility will provide lower startup costs, reducing the per-piece rate and converting more of these prospects into long-term customers.
“At some point, they may turn into bigger companies,” he said. “We’re very happy to have those start-up companies, with the hope that they grow and we grow with them.”