Mark-Maker extends partnership with XSYS with new Catena-W washout unit

30 March 2023

Mark-Maker Company is a successful medium-sized commercial platemaker and trade shop, which serves a wide variety of customers with high-quality flexo plates and cutting dies for the corrugated segment. Its daily challenges are the same that are faced throughout the packaging industry; customers demand faster turnaround so they can reduce time to market while having the same high expectations in terms of quality without wanting to pay more. The solution is to maximize the OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) in the plate room by investing in platemaking equipment that delivers the best performance, highest productivity, and best quality.

Continuing partnership with XSYS

For President Aaron Pettijohn, there was no reason to start investigating solutions from other manufacturers when the company’s old washout unit at the Grand Rapid, Michigan-based facility had come to the end of its life. With an XSYS ThermoFlexX imager, a nyloflex® Xpress Thermal Processor, and Woodpecker surface screening technology already a part of the workflow, he knew there could be only one choice: the ThermoFlexX Catena-W washout unit.

“Mark-Maker has been partnering with XSYS – and previously as Flint Group – with great success since the early 1990s when our first 50 x 80” flexo sheet system went in and we’ve always used nyloflex® plates,” said Aaron. “The XSYS team gives us the best support and a service that is second to none, as well as providing us with superior products, so naturally we turned to them for advice.” He added, “It quickly became clear that the Catena-W would not only offer superior quality but also make a really big difference in terms of automated plate handling, a reduction in washout solution usage, and improvement in overall efficiency. And I’m pleased to say that it has more than lived up to expectations.”  

A company with decades of experience

Mark-Maker Company was formed in 1970 when Robert Stout, who was a graphic artist by trade, set up the business to provide hand-engraved and rubber printing plates to the printing industry. In 1979, Robert Pettijohn was brought in to help the small family business expand into steel rule cutting dies. He soon expanded the customer base, selling plates and dies to corrugated manufacturers.

On the plate side, Mark-Maker began making liquid photopolymer plates for flexo printing in the 1980s, and in the early 1990s, it added sheet plates with the installation of one of the first large format systems in the country. This was also around the time Pettijohn took over running the company as President, and

his son, Aaron, joined the business. When Robert retired in 2018 after, 40 years in the company (25 of which he was at the helm), the reins were passed to Aaron.   

Today, the family-owned Company operates three sites in the US Midwest.  State of the art equipment is used to produce flexo plates and cutting dies at the main plant in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where 55 people are employed.  Its locations in Glendale Heights, Illinois and Neenah, Wisconsin produce cutting dies where another 35 people are employed.  The company uses the latest and highest quality equipment and technology to ensure products exceed the expectations of their customers.  “Investing in facilities, equipment, and people is the key to our continued success in this product segment,” states Aaron, “We must continuously look for improvements within our company to meet the quality and service expectations of our customers.”

Improving quality and speed, reducing consumption

The ThermoFlexX Catena-W washout unit from XSYS operates with several features that guarantee plate quality and high throughput as well as minimal operator intervention. Its unique plate alignment technology avoids plate skew during transport, while the advanced plate queuing limits the distance between plates to 20 inches (50 cm) for maximum productivity. Furthermore, the system uses three hands-free, internal pin bars to transport plates through the process, making plate punching a thing of the past.

At Mark-Maker, the Catena-W works in unison with a ThermoFlexX 80 imager installed in 2017 and a nyloflex® Xpress Thermal Processor from 2019 to provide large flexo printing plates in sizes up to 50 x 80”. Pre-Press Manager, Jason Sikkema, was full of praise for the new Catena-W unit and the XSYS team, describing the integration as “seamless” and the improvement in plate quality as “perfect.”

He also highlighted the savings the company has seen. “The small, precise measure that the machine uses for each plate has allowed us to reduce washout solution consumption by as much as 50% and the energy needed for the distillation system, so that is obviously a huge advantage in terms of lower costs and environmental impact. The machine itself also consumes less energy and there has been an improvement in our working environment thanks to the fully enclosed operation,” he said.

Another big selling point for Mark-Maker was the remote servicing capabilities of the washer, which speeds up the resolution of any issues, meaning the company can achieve maximum uptime. With Catena-W, the system has newest web service connectivity to monitor and report motor current, controllers, operating conditions, and working temperatures with logs for warnings and maintenance. “We save so much time with the constant monitoring and remote service. Issues can be resolved before they become a problem and there is a lot less waiting around for an engineer to come out,” stated Aaron.

Continued investment to stay ahead of the curve

With automation as the key driver in flexo plate production, the Catena-W washout unit has been built for seamless integration with other ThermoFlexX modules to form the fully automated Catena+ end-to-end platemaking line. This capability was another important decision-making aspect for Mark-Maker, as the company intends to extend its product offering and geographical reach.

“We wanted a washer that would futureproof our investment, should we decide to build up to fully automated platemaking. The innovative Catena+ line is very enticing, and it would certainly fit well with our ambitious growth plans and our goal to always be ahead of the curve, so we can provide our customers with fast and reliable service of the best flexo plates in the market,” concluded Aaron when asked about the company’s future.

Sales Director National Accounts for North America, Dan Rosen, who has worked with the company for a long time, commented, “The team at Mark-Maker has been at the forefront of flexo sheet platemaking developments since the early 1990s and continues to be among the very first to invest in every one of the XSYS product categories. That really shows the dedication they have to their customers and their vision when it comes to innovation.”