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Flint Ink Corporation


25111 Glendale Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48239

Telephone: (313) 538-6800
Fax: (313) 538-6800

Private Company
Incorporated: 1920 as Howard Flint Ink Company
Employees: 2,600
Sales: $550 million
SICs: 2893 Printing Ink

Company History:

Flint Ink Corporation is the largest American-owned manufacturer of printing inks for newspaper, magazine packaging, commercial, and screen printing applications. The company is the third-largest ink producer in the world and the tenth-largest privately held corporation in Michigan. The corporation's CDR Pigments and Dispersions unit and David M Company are leading manufacturers of pigments/dispersions and offset printing blankets, respectively. Flint Ink operates 69 facilities in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, employing nearly 2,500 people. The Flint Ink Research Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, provides state-of-the-art product research, environmental testing, and support.

Flint Ink Corporation was founded in 1920 in Detroit by H. Howard Flint as the Howard Flint Ink Company. From its earliest years, the company utilized quality control methods to test raw materials and finished products, and was the first ink company to do so. The year 1922 saw the company's first tanker truck delivery of letterpress news ink. In 1926 Flint Ink opened its first branch in Indianapolis, which was followed by the opening of four additional branches over the next decade. The company acquired Temple Inks Company of Denver in 1936--the same year its sales hit the $1 million mark.

By the 1940s, Flint Ink had equipped all of its branches with full quality control and formulation labs and established rigid product specifications. One of its subsidiaries, California Ink Company (Cal/Ink), became the first U.S. company to make and market lithol red pigments. In 1950 Cal/Ink developed the nation's first magnetic inks for check imprinting. Seven years later, the company changed its name to Flint Ink Corporation. Within three years, the company had expanded into the publication gravure business, a process used by publishers desiring the highest quality color reproductions for long run applications.

In 1966 H. Howard Flint's son, Edgar B. Flint, succeeded his father as chief operating officer. Two years later, Flint Ink made the first tanker delivery of offset news ink, and in 1969 the company introduced the use of alkaline fountain solutions for newspaper printing. In 1975 Flint Ink acquired Cal/Ink and opened a state-of-the-art gravure facility in New Albany, Indiana. A joint venture between Flint Ink and Sun-Fast Color in 1977 made Flint Mexicana, S.A., de C.V. the second-largest ink manufacturer in Mexico. The next year Flint Ink pioneered the use of conductivity to monitor the concentration of fountain solution, and in 1979 the company made its first tanker delivery of offset color news inks.

Chromatic Color, another subsidiary, was incorporated in 1980 and began producing dry and flushed color. Two years later, Robert H. Flint succeeded his brother Edgar as president and CEO. Flint Ink acquired Drew Graphics, Inc., a manufacturer of water dispersions for the ink, paper, paint, and coatings industries in 1984. The following year marked the completion of the company's second varnish plant, furthering Flint Ink's move toward vertical integration. Flint Ink acquired Capitol Printing Ink Company in 1986, providing a larger presence on the East Coast. In 1987 Robert H. Flint was elected chairman and CEO and H. Howard Flint II was elected president and COO, ushering in the third generation of managerial Flints. That same year Flint Ink was a majority participant in a leveraged buyout of the Sinclair & Valentine Division of Allied-Signal. The acquisition provided Flint Ink with ownership of the fourth-largest manufacturer in the commercial and packaging printing ink segments. The Sinclair & Valentine Division included David M, Ridgway Color, the S & V Canadian unit, and S & V Screen Inks.

Another important milestone reached in 1987 was the completion of the Flint Ink Research Center, a 72,000-square-foot research facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The research center was established to develop new technology to confront the challenges faced by the printing industry, including the availability and cost of raw materials, environmental protection, and the computerization of press-side and pre-press operations. Researchers are seeking to develop proprietary raw materials that offer greater performance as well as environmental and economic value. Chemists at the center are investigating new inks with the characteristics necessary for optimum performance on new substrates, on higher-speed computerized presses, and with developing press and plate chemistry. Extensive research has led to "environmentally friendly" alternatives in ink technology, utilizing vegetable oils or water in place of traditional petroleum or solvent ingredients.

Building upon the company's history of quality control and quality assurance methods, Flint Ink embarked on "The Flint Ink Quality Journey" in 1987. The journey employed the principles and techniques of continuous quality improvement, and re-emphasized long-term quality partnerships with customers and suppliers. A comprehensive training program was begun to provide managers and employees alike with problem-solving techniques, testing procedures, and statistical methods. Milestones along the journey have included the following: statistical methods were used to monitor ink batch specifications; product quality certification procedures were put in place; computerized color matching in branch sites insured that every custom match was completed quickly and accurately; improvements in delivery methods and scheduling permitted just-in-time delivery to minimize inventories; and quality partnerships were established with both customers and suppliers to increase awareness of needs, define common goals, set specifications, improve communications, and resolve problems.

Flint Ink was reorganized in 1991, consolidating several subsidiary firms under the Flint Ink umbrella. S & V Printing Ink, Capitol Printing Ink, and Cal/Ink began operating under the Flint Ink Corporation name. Chromatic Color, Ridgway Color, and Drew Graphics began operating as CDR Pigments & Dispersions. S & V Screen of Canada became Flint Ink Corporation of Canada, and S & V Screen Inks became Summit Screen Inks. In addition, LeMaster Litho Supply was acquired.

Flint Ink continued to be a leader in the area of environmentally friendly products, including low-rub, soy oil-based newspaper inks. In 1991 the firm introduced AGRI-TEK vegetable-oil based inks for commercial sheetfed and folding carton applications. The company by that time had a fully staffed Environmental Services Department that evaluated and addressed regulatory issues as they affected Flint Ink products and customer applications. A 1992 article in Crain's Detroit Business, "Flint Ink's Future Is Printed in Soybeans," reported that the company was producing soy- and water-based inks in anticipation that the use of traditional petroleum-based inks would diminish under environmental pressures. Chairman/CEO Robert Flint predicted that mounting environmental regulations for air quality, pollution, and hazardous waste would spur the shift away from petroleum toward alternative materials, noting, "I think, maybe, by the turn of the century, we're going to see the end of petroleum inks."

H. Howard Flint II was named chairman and CEO in 1992, while four directors were added to the board from outside the family. Two years later a fifth non-family-member was elected to the board, bringing the membership to 11. In 1994 Flint Ink opened its first offices overseas, including a sales office in Singapore to explore entry into Pacific Rim markets. CDR Pigments & Dispersions established CDR International and opened a sales office in Brussels to expand into the European market. The company also acquired outstanding shares of Flint Mexicana, assuming full ownership.

In 1994 the corporation also acquired Rendic International, a Miami-based distributor of graphic arts supplies, in order to strengthen the ink manufacturer's position in South America and the Far East. Rendic International had marketed printing inks, blankets, and printing presses outside of the United States for Flint Ink Corporation and Rockwell International for more than a decade. The company's president, Jerko E. Rendik, was asked to stay on to help Flint Ink continue to expand its export business. Rendic noted that he believed his company's familiarity with South America and the Pacific Rim made it a good fit with Flint Ink's plan for growth in the world market.

In another major initiative, Flint Ink completed the purchase of North American Printing Ink Company, with plants in Elgin and Salem, Illinois. According to Flint Ink Chairman Howard Flint II, the move was expected to enhance the company's ability to service large heatset publication printers. NAPIC had specialized in the manufacture of heatset inks for use in magazine printing. Since its founding in 1978, the company had achieved a major position as a supplier to publication printing plants throughout the United States. Under the terms of the agreement, NAPIC remained a separate business unit, operating within Flint Ink's Publication Ink Group.

Flint Ink of Canada purchased Lester Ink and Coatings Company in 1994 to provide Flint Ink with much-needed sheetfed manufacturing capacity. Flint Ink of Canada president Dan Keough stated that Lester's well-established reputation for excellent quality in the products it manufactures and the company's leadership in the commercial sheetfed market will give Flint Ink added presence in that important market segment. Lester Inks and Coatings had sales offices in Montreal, Vancouver, and Calgary, in addition to its 60,000-square-foot manufacturing site in Toronto.

Flint Ink was named the winner of the 1994 Distribution/Nasstrac LTL Shipper of the Year Award, according to an article in Distribution magazine. "By helping its more than 70 LTL carriers improve their operations, the Detroit-based manufacturer of printing inks has actively spread the quality message among carrier and shipper channels," the article stated. "Flint Ink has simplified its shipping process for field supervisors by creating a routing software package; centralized its traffic function to coordinate transportation operations for its manufacturing locations; hired certified hazardous materials instructors to train staff; developed its own rate base to insure fair bidding; implemented contracts with all its TL and LTL carriers; and developed quality programs that are compatible with ISO 9000 standards."

In the company's ongoing quest to develop environmentally friendly processes, Flint Ink announced in 1995 an exclusive distribution agreement with Unichema International to market Unichema's PRIFER 3303+ low-VOC, non-volatile roller and blanket wash for sheetfed lithographic inks. The agreement was reached after testing by Flint Ink showed the vegetable-based wash to combine environmental benefits, commercial practicality, and effective cleaning capabilities. According to Leonard Walle, Flink Ink's director of marketing, pressure has increased to reduce emissions in order to avoid operating permit requirements. "One of the most significant areas for potential reduction is the chemicals used for cleaning press rollers and blankets--chemicals which have traditionally been petroleum-based and very high in VOCs," he stated. Walle noted that control technique guidelines for offset lithographic printers set forth by the EPA in September 1993 recommended the use of cleaning solutions that do not contain any hazardous air pollutants and have less than 30 percent VOC by weight in their useable form.

In an effort to help customers achieve lower emissions, Flint Ink tested a number of environmentally friendly press washes to determine which offered reduced VOCs while at the same time giving cleaning results comparable to conventional cleaners. Extensive testing settled upon a product that was cost-effective, safe, and non-volatile. With Flint Ink's continued leadership in promoting environmental awareness, investment in research, commitment to quality, and steady growth, the company was well positioned for success into the 21st century.

Further Reading:

King, Angela, "Flint Ink's Future Is Printed in Soybeans," Crain's Detroit Business, August 31, 1992, p. 3 (2).
Thomas, Jim, "The Color of Excellence," Distribution, September 1994, pp. 42ff.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 13. St. James Press, 1996.

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