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Lebanon’s Fujifilm Dimatix Expanding, Adding Workers

  • Dressed in white coveralls, booties and surgical masks, employees with Fujifilm Dimatix work to assemble print heads in a filtered clean room on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, at the facility on Etna Road in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jeff Horten, vice president of operations at Fujifilm Dimatix, stands in the facility in Lebanon, N.H., on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. Horten said that he expects the company will hire more employees at the Lebanon facility to keep up with growth due to demand for the company’s industrial ink jet cartridges. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Keith Castellano, of Plymouth, Vt., scans metal parts for printing heads that he cut to size on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, at the Fujifilm Dimatix facility on Etna Road in Lebanon, N.H. Castellano said he has been working at the facility for seven years and took an in-house internship that paid for his schooling and allowed him to get a better position with the company. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Shana McGregor, of Canaan, N.H., tests a printing head on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, at the Fujifilm Dimatix facility on Etna Road in Lebanon, N.H. McGregor said she has been working with Fujifilm for about four and a half years and has developed a sharp eye to notice discrepancies in the test strips that she uses, which might be thinner than the average hair. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nick Sarantopoulos, of Meriden, N.H., gets ready for his work shift on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, at the Fujifilm Dimatix facility on Etna Road in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Business Writer
Saturday, December 09, 2017

Lebanon — It may be a tiny inkjet, but it’s making a mighty impression.

Literally and figuratively.

Fujifilm Dimatix is embarking on a $2.5 million expansion project as the Lebanon maker of industrial printheads experiences rising demand from companies around the world for its high-tech products.

The nearly 10,000-square-foot expansion at its Etna Road campus comes in anticipation of the need to hire hundreds of additional workers in the coming years, according to company executives, as the result of rapid growth in demand for the company’s industrial inkjet cartridges that print everything from the patterns on decorative ceramic tiles to billboard-size advertisements and the tiny lettering on pills and M&M’s candies.

“We’re experiencing significant growth and bursting at the seams,” said Jeff Horten, vice president of operations at Fujifilm Dimatix.

Preparation for construction began last week and the company hopes to have the building completed by the spring. “We’re looking to double our ability to grow in the next five years,” Horten said. The company last year spent $1.6 million building a high-tech “clean room” to manufacture a smaller, new-generation printhead the size of a Matchbox car.

The company, which has already added 150 workers over the past two years, now employs nearly 500 people in Lebanon, Horten said, of which about 275 work in manufacturing across three, eight-hour shifts. It’s now the city’s second largest manufacturer behind Hypertherm, which has slightly more than 1,400 employees.

The surge in employees at Fujifilm Dimatix in recent years has led to hallways doubling as storage areas and employees lodged cheek-to-jowl in cramped working spaces.

Just last week, Fujifilm Dimatix brought on an additional six employees on top of 21 workers it hired in November to staff a new two-day, 20-hour weekend production shift.

The company is seeking to fill a total of 40 positions for the 20-hour, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekend shifts that start at $13 per hour and include medical and other benefits, according to company officials.

Launched in the 1980s by engineers at Hanover engineering research and development firm Creare LLC, Fujifilm Dimatix’s campus now spans four buildings totaling 98,300 square feet on Etna Road. The company recently relocated 60 employees to a building on Commerce Avenue near the Lebanon Municipal Airport to relieve crowding at its Etna Road complex.

The $2.5 million expansion at 101 Etna Road will be funded by Hanover Investment Corp., the owner of the property. Horten said he expects Fujifilm Dimatix will invest $5 million to $10 million more in automated manufacturing equipment “over the next several years” to make the new generation of printheads.

A far cry from the gear-and-belt manufacturers that once lined the Connecticut River Valley, Fujifilm Dimatix’s production increasingly occurs behind 2-foot-thick walls in nano-filtered clean rooms where employees dressed in white coveralls, booties and surgical face masks type commands on laptops to operate automated manufacturing robots that assemble the printheads.

“No makeup is allowed,” said Andrew Hanson, senior facilities manager. “People come out cleaner than they went in.”

Fujifilm Dimatix also has a manufacturing plant in Santa Clara, Calif., where 250 people work to design and produce the silicon wafers used in the company’s printheads. Horten said Fujifilm Dimatix is “driving toward 1,000 employees” with the majority of the new jobs expected to be filled in Lebanon.

At the current rate of expansion, the company’s Lebanon workforce “could easily grow to 700 to 800 people over the next five years, especially if printing on textiles and packaging pops like we expect,” Horten said. Fujifilm Dimatix sees textiles and packaging as the next big markets that will adopt digital printing technology in the coming years.

Currently, only 2 percent of the textile industry and only 1 percent of the packaging industry utilizes digital inkjet printing. But Fujifilm Dimatix executives are looking to the example of the tile industry, where inkjet printing designs and patterns on tiles did not exist 10 years ago, but today is utilized in 75 percent of all tile manufacturing.

“We have technologies that are of keen interest in a lot of the emerging markets and we’re bringing new products to market to meet those opportunities,” Horten said.

Most of Fujifilm Dimatix’s competitors are in Japan, such as Kyocera, Konica Minolta and Seiko Epson, and Inca Digital in the United Kingdom.

Fujifilm Dimatix has managed to stay ahead of the technology curve because it did not limit its horizons by looking at itself merely as a company that makes printing heads for the graphics industry in which it has its roots, said Dave Zwang, a Danbury, Conn., printing industry consultant. He points out Fujifilm Dimatix’s inkjet printheads are now being adapted to jet pharmaceuticals and conductive solutions onto substrates for the drug and electronics industries. “This isn’t your father’s printer company,” he said.

Originally named Spectra Inc. and later renamed Dimatix after it was acquired by Keene’s Markem Corp., Dimatix was sold a second time to Fujifilm Holdings Corp. of Japan in 2006.

Since then growth has been exponential.

Annual revenues now exceed $300 million — from $15 million in 1998 — with 70 percent of its sales now coming from outside the U.S., according to Horten. With more than 800 patents, Fujifilm Dimatix is today one of the world’s leading makers of inkjet printheads, selling hundreds of thousands of them annually, with prices ranging from $400 to more than $1,000 each, depending on the model.

But Fujifilm Dimatix’s inkjets aren’t the kind commonly sold in Staples for use in office and home printers. And the “ink” they use isn’t the kind that fills a fountain pen.

The printing heads that Fujifilm Dimatix specializes in making are typically about the size of a mobile phone and have hundreds of microscopic holes in them through which inks and other substances are pumped — or “jetted” — onto surfaces.

The heads, anywhere from one to several hundred, are fitted onto machines that print surfaces that can be as small as pills and as big as a billboard. And virtually any material can be printed, from a flat, hard surface like cardboard for packaging to soft, squishy surfaces such as baby diapers and even food items such as the snack food Pringles.

Fujifilm Dimatix targets four primary markets in which its printing heads are used to imprint images, information or designs on surface materials: ceramic tiles; advertising (billboards, movie posters, vehicle wraps, displays); textiles (clothing, carpeting, draperies, ties); and packaging. The company is the world leader in printing heads for tile producers.

Printing heads for advertising still account for about 25 percent to 30 percent of Fujifilm Ditamix’s business, although in the 1990s it accounted for 90 percent of the company’s sales.

While Fujifilm Dimatix is successful, the pressure from management is relentless. Each year management sets a goal to cut costs by 6 percent, which requires continually scrutinizing the supply chain and manufacturing process to squeeze out ever greater efficiencies. The annual exercise puts everything under a lens — from reducing scrap to switching to lower-cost markets such as China to source materials and parts.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.