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Ames On Demand -- Still Rolling On

April 2003
Ames On Demand (AOD) is the digital printing division of Ames Safety Envelope Co. in Somerville, MA. Chances are if you've had an X-ray or have been in the hospital, your health history was stored in a color-coded medical record file folder produced by Ames Safety Envelope, which was founded in 1919.

The company continued to develop new product lines and produced the first color-coded file for Massachusetts General Hospital in 1960. Today the firm has about 40 percent of that market nationwide. Ames has created a number of successful spin-offs, including Ames Specialty Packaging in 1985, and AOD in 1998—both located in the company's 300,000-square-foot headquarters in the Boston suburb.

"We've always tried to stay on the cutting edge of technology. Digital printing continues to evolve and provide new opportunities for the future," says Michael Shea, Ames' senior vice president of manufacturing.

AOD is a full-service printer specializing in digital and sheetfed printing, binding, as well as fulfillment and distribution. Its 20 DocuTech and bindery employees use the latest prepress equipment and four Xerox DocuTech 6180s to produce digital black-and-white short-run books, customized manuals and textbooks for various financial, publishing and educational institutions.

Using the company's BookBuild technology, professors and instructors can select from thousands of modules and custom-build their particular book or course of instruction over the Internet. Then, they can print 25 books or hundreds, whatever they need.

To maximize its DocuTechs' cost-effectiveness, operators print the majority of books two-up on 11x17˝ paper. Those pages are then guillotined to an 8.5x11˝ size and either plastic coiled or perfect bound.

While this system was efficient using plain paper, it wasn't economical when AOD tried to duplicate it for an educational client's request for lab workbooks with perforated tear-out sheets.

Paper Problems

"We couldn't buy 11x17˝ sheets with twin perforations—we could only buy perforated 8.5x11˝ paper, which was very costly," Shea recalls. "This also meant losing the usage charge advantage of printing on 11x17s. So, we knew that we would have to find a converting device in order to do the job cost-effectively."

Ironically, he didn't have to look far to find a solution. Roll Systems, in nearby Burlington, MA, manufactures the DocuSheeter DT roll feed system with running perforator option. The DocuSheeter produces up to 50,000 11x17˝ sheets from a roll (or up to 200,000 duplex 8.5x11˝ images) to continuously feed a DocuTech.

"The DocuSheeter allowed us to maximize our productivity and, at the same time, control our paper costs significantly for this job," adds Shea. "Like many printers we are facing very tight margins, so the savings we experienced cutting and perforating our own sheets on the DocuSheeter allowed us to remain profitable."

Plain 11x17˝ sheets cut off a roll and perforated by the DocuSheeter cost $8.55 per thousand, versus $9.90 per thousand for 8.5x11˝ pre-perforated sheets. Plus, even for non-perforated applications, rolls saved $1.65 per thousand compared to buying 11x17˝ sheets.

The DocuSheeter's running perforator option is also very simple to use. Its perf wheels resemble pizza cutters that perforate the paper before it's sheeted and fed into the printer. "The setup takes only minutes, and you can quickly lower the perf wheels into position; and if you don't need them, you just lift them up," explains Shea.

Since the DocuSheeter DT was installed, AOD has experienced other benefits, as well. For starters, since sheets are fed one at a time to the DocuTech, with no pulling a sheet off a stack, the DocuSheeter significantly lessens paper jams.

"The manufacturer said the printer would jam less," Shea says. "I admit, in the beginning, I thought this was a little bit of an over-promise, but it's not. The printer with the DocuSheeter never jams and it runs longer."

The DocuSheeter also improved overall productivity, especially during the company's peak demand period, from July through September, including a huge crunch in August due to the beginning of the college season.

"The DocuSheeter, with its 20 hours or so between roll changes, allowed us to handle the workload during our busy season without adding labor for that printer," Shea reveals.

"It's a beautiful thing," confirms Jose Colon, AOD's DocuTech lead. While the lab workbooks started out as a small piece of business, they're now a significant part of the company's ongoing workload, resulting in several million impressions per year.

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