While Toppan Printing Co. Ltd. is celebrating the preservation of traditional printing practices back home in Japan, the company’s two Georgia subsidiaries are using the latest technologies to drive growth at a time of uncertainty.
Toppan recently reopened its Printing Museum in Tokyo, which focuses on the history of printing, from early woodblocks to the latest digital methods.
The museum on Oct. 7 reopened its main exhibit hall after a renovation, marking its 20th year providing insight into techniques that company officials were concerned would be lost to posterity in an age of rapid digitalization. At the same time, it launched a new academic research initiative and published a book, “The History of Japanese Printing Culture.”
But Toppan’s Georgia connections were established even before the museum, when Toppan Interamerica put its first plant in McDonough, Ga., just south of Atlanta, in 1988.
TIA, as it’s known, produces decorative papers and films for commercial and residential surfaces like floors, countertops, cabinets, furnitures, fixtures and even walls. The material can be printed and embossed to give it the appearance and texture of hardwood, stone and other finishes. It’s then affixed to MDF, wood or other substrates. The plant now employs 161 people.
Toppan USA would come along later, manufacturing plastic films for food and beverage packaging after a $100 million investment within a Griffin industrial park that has been a magnet for eco-conscious Japanese firms. More than 80 people now work at the company, which was established in 2014. The plant commenced operations two years later.
The combined workforces of the two plants make up a small proportion of Toppan Printing’s 50,000-strong team worldwide, but they are a vital beachhead for the global giant as it continues to innovate in one of its most important markets.
Adapting to COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has made that prospect particularly tough. Squeezed by a tight labor market even before COVID-19, Toppan Interamerica lost less than 10 percent of its workforce compared with before the pandemic. Bringing people back into the plant has proven a challenge.
“We currently have six full-time openings for hourly workers. It has been a massive struggle to hire and maintain new manufacturing workers under the current circumstances,” President and COO Bob Kolar told Global Atlanta.
Toppan Interamerica never fully shut down during the early days of Georgia’s stay-at-home orders in April. Designated an essential supplier by Gov. Brian Kemp, the company quickly implemented safety protocols on the factory floor and sent office workers home.
Now, the plant features the standard precautions against COVID-19 — masks, temperature checks, quarantines after exposure, social distancing, physical barriers, constant disinfecting and more, even though the company was already a low-risk environment, given the distance employees are able to maintain when they’re operating the machinery.
“We are fortunate that, according to OSHA, we fall into the lowest-risk category for COVID. Most of our workers are well separated from one another while doing their job tasks and we have no interaction with the general public,” Mr. Kolar said.
Moving away from public meetings has also taken an adjustment: Toppan Interamerica prides itself on the realistic nature of its finishes, something that customers would previously come into a physical showroom to peruse. TIA even works with customers to create custom finishes.
These days, product pitches have gone all digital as part of a broader drive to reduce paperwork and streamline processes during a work-from-home era that has been tough for some Japanese-based firms to embrace.
“Overall, I am very proud of how all of our employees have adjusted their paradigms to successfully deal with the effects of a pandemic,” Mr. Kolar said. “TIA is optimistic about the future as we feel we have developed the muscles to successfully deal with both the certainty and uncertainty ahead.”
Still Ramping Up in Griffin
Meanwhile, just over 20 miles down the road in Griffin, Toppan USA is continuing to hire amid a gradual ramp-up to full capacity since the opening four years ago. Most of the Japanese expatriates who came to commission the plant have gone home, leaving key positions in the hands of Georgians.
Like some other sectors, films have seen rising demand in the era of COVID-19.
“Our film business for food and medical/pharma packaging has been strong even under COVID-19 situation, we are very proud of being a part of the essential business for people’s life and safety,” said President and CEO Masa Tatewaki. “We see more strong demand for sustainability and recyclable-grade films from the market; we will keep growing and expect further expansion of our facility in the future.”
Back home in Japan, Toppan continues to build on its legacy of innovation to provide products suited for a world marked by a pandemic.
Most recently, Toppan worked with RIKEN and Suntory liquors to design a face shield suitable for use while eating in restaurants. Its electronics division, born decades ago as a diversity play based on its printing expertise, also recently released a flat-panel aerial touch display where an image with a number pad floats above the hardware, enabling contactless entry of codes on ATMs, MRI machines and access keypads.
Toppan Printing can be found at https://www.toppan.com/en/
Visit the Printing Museum’s website at https://www.printing-museum.org/en/.