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ATLANTIC & HASTINGS PRINTERS -- Ironing Out a Schedule

June 2002
Brian Twilley is a man on a mission, of sorts. Since acquiring Atlantic & Hastings Printers LLC from his father in 1994, Twilley has been transforming this small printer "in the hinterlands" into a professional powerhouse that can go toe-to-toe with big-city printers. "We're the only printer of our size within 60 miles," notes the CEO of this Salisbury, MD-based printer, "and we've grown the business to the point where we've been bumping heads with shops in the surrounding cities for about two years now."

Twilley describes his operation as a half-size sheetfed shop with five-color capability and an in-house bindery that can handle all of the basic finishing processes. It currently occupies a 25,000-square-foot facility and employs about 30 people.

Considering the capital investments required to keep a printer competitive in today's business environment, Twilley believes small- to mid-size operations like Atlantic & Hastings need to grow in order to succeed over the long term. "As painful as it is to say, we have to think of ourselves as manufacturers and should be moving toward operating on a 24/7 basis," he advises.

In the early days of its current growth program, Twilley says the printer followed the traditional path. "You try to get as much work as you can and throw it into the pipeline, then hope something falls out the back end," he explains. "You can't operate that way any longer if you're going to be an $8 to $10 million—or maybe even $20 million—printer. You must have your operation under control."

Atlantic & Hastings' leadership is now taking a systematic approach to growth and managing the business, Twilley reveals. Recently, it has been concentrating on implementing a computer-to-plate solution to establish a completely digital prepress workflow. "We went digital in order to expand our market and to be able to do more work. It also helps with turnaround, which is our main business challenge today."

Another area of growth is what Twilley classifies as corporate fulfillment services, as opposed to consumer fulfillment. "We don't want to do the latter," he says. "We have a Web-based system that enables a company's brokers to order sales literature directly and to manage inventories online."

The fulfillment system is an extension of Atlantic & Hastings' Printcafe Hagen OA print management system. "We have moved very aggressively in adopting a computer-based management system as an underpinning for the company," Twilley says.

"We're using it to differentiate us in the market. The concept is a hard thing to sell directly but, when properly applied, it shows in your price and service structures."

The company started down this road two years ago by installing a full-blown Hagen OA package. It recently expanded the system by integrating an add-on software product from Printcafe, what Twilley calls a "dynamic" scheduling solution, Printcafe PrintFlow.

"Our average job is in the low $1,000s, which is still relatively small for our size. As a result, we process a lot of work. That makes it very easy to miss a date and have something fall through the cracks," Twilley explains. "Properly applied, PrintFlow plugs up lots of holes."

What makes it a "dynamic" scheduling system is the way the display automatically changes as work gets done on a job, he says. The schedule is updated based on information from the shop-floor data collection system the printer already was using as part of the Hagen OA system. PrintFlow also integrates with other leading print management systems.

PrintFlow has been developed around the Theory of Global Optimization (TGO). Based upon Dr. Eli Goldratt's Theory of Constraints, TGO was adapted specifically for the printing industry by Udi Arieli, Printcafe's PrintFlow product manager. According to Arieli, the key insight of TGO is that a manufacturing operation is a chain of inter-dependent links, and that only a few constraints control throughput, on-time delivery and cost of the entire manufacturing operation. Recognizing this interdependence helps companies solve complex manufacturing problems and optimize performance of the entire plant.

Twilley says he was sold on the TGO theory after hearing it explained at a Printcafe conference last summer. One of the key points he took away was the short-sightedness of the industry practice of scheduling around a shop's presses.

"It's a standard practice to assume your presses are the critical work centers—perhaps rightly so—and then schedule work to them," he explains. "But even if jobs are backed up in the pressroom, you may not want to spend overtime on them if that ultimately is not going to get the work out the door any faster. You could just be creating a backup at the cutter, folder or some other operation downstream. PrintFlow will show you that, so you know ahead of time and can respond accordingly. It optimizes the workflow and shows you where and when best to run a job relative to other work in the plant."

"PrintFlow's strength is that it optimizes the entire plant, including equipment and employees, to obtain the best production possible," adds Wayne Fried, plant manager and a partner in the business. "The system evaluates every job and informs us of the status of each one. It enables CSRs and sales reps to be proactive, rather than reactive, with clients."

The real payoff comes from conveying accurate, timely scheduling information to everybody in the plant, according to Twilley. "We've always had a 'Today's Schedule' button on the shop floor units, but that feature never got used because the constantly changing status of work in the plant made the information meaningless. Now everyone has to use it."

Because of this past experience, the printer did have to work through a learning and acceptance curve with its staff. If work got backed up, operators had been conditioned to know they couldn't go by the schedule handed out that morning, he says. "The PrintFlow system now has proved itself to be useful and reliable.

"It's as important as a new press or other equipment," adds Twilley. "Many companies would be surprised by the significant impact that TGO and PrintFlow can have on the success of a company. It would be difficult for me to achieve my production goals without PrintFlow."

While Atlantic & Hastings currently only allows access internally to its computer-based management system, Twilley sees giving customers direct access to some job information online as the next logical step in the plan. "There is a trend in America toward building closer ties between buyers and vendors," he concludes. "Ultimately, our industry is going to have to move in that direction."
 

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