Rod & Staff Puts RMGT 38-inch Sheetfed Perfector to the Daily Test

SOLON, OH – April 17, 2024 – Graphco, the Midwest distributor for RMGT, installed a full-size RMGT 970PF four-color, perfector at Rod & Staff Publishers, Inc. in late 2021. Situated in the mountainous, Appalachia region of eastern Kentucky, the Christian publishing company supplies Bible-based, educational textbooks and workbooks – for first- through tenth-grade students and their teachers – to Mennonite and Amish parochial schools throughout America and internationally as well as to parents who home-school their children.

The highly automated RMGT printing press, which replaced a 29-year-old, manual model, printed some 4.7 million sheets in 2023.

“We use a tractor-trailer load or more of paper per month,” notes Luke Miller, Production Manager of the 15,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that has been operating in Crockett, KY, since 1960.

Two-over-two-color textbooks account for nearly half of the nonprofit organization’s $4.4 million in annual sales. “Using black ink, with correct answers highlighted in a Pantone, spot color, works best for the teaching manuals,” Miller says.

This faith-based publisher offers more than 400 educational titles via a printed catalog, which it updates annually and mails to some 27,000 recipients in 40 countries. Running a single shift, five days per week, Rod & Staff’s 35 full-time employees also reproduce curriculum aids and materials for Bible studies. (Periodicals and Spanish-language versions are produced at a smaller plant in Wisconsin.)


“Most of our private-school customers are very small, with only 30 to 40 students total,” reports Miller. “And now, approximately three of every four books we print go to the home-schooling market, which has become very popular. In our busy season, we may receive as many as 200 calls per day.” The number of U.S. home-schooled students tripled during the COVID-19 pandemic and has sustained impressive growth since – rising by an average of 51% in several states, according to the Washington Post – from rural areas to large metropolitan cities. (Parts of New York City have seen a 300% expansion!)

Nationally, between 2 million and 2.5 million students presently are being schooled at home, according to Post analyses conducted in late 2023. That number far outpaces the rate at private (+7%) and public (-4%) schools. Kentucky has 19 school districts where there was at least one home-schooled child for every 10 enrolled in the public school system during the 2021-22 school year. There were 48 such districts in Arkansas and 46 in California, according to The Post. In Knox County, KY, public school enrollment has declined 16% during the last six years while its number of home-schooled students grew 80%.

Waste not, want not


First printings for new publications typically vary somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500 copies. “When we reprint books, we usually run a two-year supply,” Miller says, adding that with the new, more efficient technology from RMGT, time spent on press for rerun makereadies has been cut by nearly one-third.

On a typical day, Rod & Staff runs the press between 10,000 to 12,000 sheets per hour, “Much of our work is perfecting – printing the inside pages of our textbooks on offset paper,” notes press foreman Sidney Sensenig. “We also like this press for our 23×29-inch, 12-pt. C1S [coated on one side] printed greeting cards; 9,000 per hour is our typical speed for these jobs.” The crew prints an increasing amount of straight run, four-color work, too, he adds, using an EZ-pile turner to invert paper stacks and running them through the press a second time.

Machine dimensions played a large role in Rod & Staff’s purchasing decision. “The standard, 40-inch size on the used market was larger than we needed for most of our work,” Sensenig explains. “We generally use 35-inch sheets or smaller, so the 970’s size is a perfect fit for our operation: Just big enough to run our 25×38-inch work, but also efficient for the main jobs we do using 31.5 x 22.5-inch sheets – to create 16-page signatures for school textbooks.”

At first, however, Rod & Staff did not think it could use this press to print 32-page signatures for 6×9-inch, full-bleed textbooks. “Sidney and his team were able to make this work by reducing the folding margins from a normal 26×38-inch sheet to fit a 25.5 x 37.5-inch sheet,” explains Gary Greis, territory sales manager for Graphco. “They are printing to the very edge of the blanket, but it’s working fine.” The customer even has run quite a bit of 40-pound paper stock on the RMGT press with good success, Greis adds: “One job was 25×38 [inch] size on a 40# sheet, and it fed and printed great!”

The press crew reports a very small amount of waste sheets, according to Sensenig, “often less than 50 sheets upon startup.” On reprint jobs, Miller has calculated 21% less spoilage. “Manually adjusting ink keys is basically unheard of on this press,” Sensenig continues. “Just pull a sheet and place it under the scanner. After scanning, touch the feedback button and, immediately, precise ink key adjustments are made to the whole press!” Ink control is another big plus, per Sensenig: “The ink settings are downloaded from prepress.”

Chill performance


Chilled ink rollers have been well worth the cost, too, he continues, “even though we use conventional ink. With this cooling system, there is very little adjustment to the dampening. On cool mornings, the temperature controller even heats the rollers, keeping them at a steady 80 degrees [Fahrenheit] all day long for optimum ink viscosity,” says Sensenig.

“In past years, printing with a Miller 104, it was at times difficult to keep up with the demand of our clientele, sometimes needing to farm work out to other shops,” he points out. “Since using this RMGT press, we have steadily been gaining on our inventory, even as sales continue to climb. Now, instead of the pressroom being the bottleneck of the operation, we have the agility to take on many more jobs.

“We looked for presses in the used market, but many of those were nearly half price of this new 970,” concludes Sensenig. “Luke asked this question: ‘What do we gain by buying a half-worn out press for half the money?’ After more than two years of running nearly wide open every day, [there’s] no question: This was the right decision to go with a new RMGT 970.”

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