Behind the scenes: Family-owned press brings news, stories to St. Paul people

News | June 8, 2016

As with any business that stands the test of time, there’s new technology and emerging ways to improve quality and make processes more efficient. But in the printing world, one thing has and will always remain: that absolutely gorgeous aroma of ink on a page.

This particular print shop, Union-Hoermann Press in Dubuque, happens to be small-but-mighty business that prints some of the most-recognized pieces that St. Paul people receive in the mail, hold in their hands. The Journey magazine publishes on one of the newest, high-tech presses at Union-Hoermann. The weekly Connections newsletter gets its blue color from a two-color press at the shop. And the Glance, an introduction piece for people new to St. Paul, also prints here.

“I have ink in my veins,” said Randy Sigman, the fourth generation to lead the company.

William Steuck founded Union Printing Company in 1894. The company moved throughout the years as it grew, and Allan Sigman took over from his father-in-law in 1937. His son, Jim, joined the company in 1949. A merger with Hoermann Press in the mid-1900s started a time of growth, and Jim’s sons, Randy and Brian, started with the business in the 1980s.

Recently, Pat Ehlinger, who keeps tabs on St. Paul’s publications for Union-Hoermann, led a tour of the machines and equipment – and most importantly, the people – that make it all happen.

After the St. Paul communications department sends a file for print, Ron Ryan starts the process to transform the file into a plates for the presses. The process has changed dramatically over the years, one that used to use cameras and film, light tables, and a dark room. Today, laser technology allows for a faster and more precise process that sends the pages straight to be imprinted onto the aluminum plates. Then, the plates go back to one of the four Heidelburg presses. Orchestrating it all is production manager Kevin Hancock.

The press that Journey runs on is just a few years old, operated by Carl Roling. The area that it and the other presses are located are kept the same temperature (68 degrees) and humidity (45 percent) year round. Each full-color page has four plates – CMYK, or cyan, magenta, yellow, black – that combine forces to print the endless range of colors that a human eye can see. The plates are placed on rollers, and the press can run approximately 14,000 sheets an hour.

Press operators like Ryan Reeg and Kirk Folks spend time carefully judging and adjusting color and ensuring the plates are set just right. With the help of technology, operators use their years of on-the-job experience to print vibrant color. In the printing world, including at this shop, employees often have decades in the profession, starting from the bottom and moving up.

With Journey, the pages are coated at the end of the press run to prevent marking. The sheets are sent to a different part of the plant to be saddle stitched (look for the small metallic strips on the left-hand fold of the magazine – that’s saddle stitching), folded, and trimmed. Then off to a mail house they go, to be printed with mailing labels and bagged for the post office. They are loaded into a van, and delivered to Davenport by Ron Leick – one box to St. Paul to be distributed at the Info Center and kept for the archives. The rest is taken to the post office loading dock along River Drive near Centennial Park for delivery, which usually takes one or two days, depending on location.

From sending the final Journey file to arrival in St. Paul homes, the process usually takes about a week to 10 days.

And if you hold it really close, you might just be able to breathe in the smell of the ink.


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