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Cooperative Printing--Full Speed Ahead

September 1998
In today's fiercely competitive, price-sensitive commercial printing market, printers have two options: Make it or break it.

Minneapolis-based Cooperative Printing came face to face with that decision in 1992, when the company's executives were forced to re-evaluate their then-struggling, 60-year-old printing operation. To keep up with competitive shops in the Twin Cities, Cooperative Printing decided to embrace technology and install an automated pressroom with equipment designed to meet buyers' demands for quality, turnaround and cost-effectiveness.

"Changing market trends required us to automate our manufacturing process to remain profitable," says Cooperative Printing General Manager Dennis Hanson."The PlateMaster 72/hdp (computer-to-plate and halftone digital proof system) eliminates the necessity for film and delivers laser-imaged, digital color, contract proofs and plates in less than half an hour."

Shifting into high gear, the midsize sheetfed operation invested heavily in digital prepress and pressroom technologies. This investment included a two-color, 28˝ Sakurai 272EPIIH perfector acquired in 1995; a five-color, 28˝ Sakurai 572EDII sheetfed press, equipped with an in-line aqueous tower coater; as well as Sakurai's direct-to-plate PlateMaster 72/hdp system and DPS (Digital Pre-Set) technologies.

Right on
"The DPS links our Sakurai presses directly to the PlateMaster," Hanson explains. "From there, ink key profiles are automatically transferred to the Sakurai color console to preset the press ink keys. The result: Our color is right on—right away."

To round out its purchases, Cooperative Printing invested in various digital prepress technologies, including an ICG drum scanner. The company also maintains a full-service bindery department.

"We're building the printing company of the future," Hanson enthuses. "Sakurai's press automation streamlines production and increases our throughput."

To achieve these automation goals, the printer has worked closely with Best Graphics, Sakurai USA's dealer serving Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

In addition, this locally owned and operated "cooperative" is in the process of a merger with a small printer. When the merger is complete next month, Cooperative Printing will be operating out of its newly expanded, 25,000-square-foot shop.

Cooperative Printing's facility has been functioning as a beta site for Imation's Matchprint Laser Proofer since early 1998. The company has also been selected recently by Hagen Systems to serve as a beta site for a Y2K compliance information system.

"Building the team and being committed to your employees is as important as investing in machinery," says Hanson. "Cooperative Printing has maintained a union status since first opening its doors in 1937. In that time, Cooperative Printing has never experienced a strike or even a work slowdown."

Hanson emphasizes that the company first invested in equipment, then capitalized on those investments through extensive employee training.

"Training staff for new processes entails partnering with key suppliers," adds Plant Manager Chuck Long. "We have a great relationship with our vendors and we understand their vision, just as they do ours."

The bottom line is getting vendors involved with employees. "After all," Long stresses, "who's more qualified to teach employees how to be technological experts than the manufacturers of that technology?"

Hanson notes that all of Cooperative Printing's workers participated in focus and/or development groups to help select the proper equipment. In fact, employee committees were tasked with researching and evaluating equipment before any purchasing decisions were made. Hanson explains one committee was involved with press purchases, another participated with prepress and desktop publishing, and still another selected a marketing communications agency to help promote the new and improved company.

Team Work
These are not the only examples of team staff participation at Cooperative Printing. Employees attend a Total Quality Management (TQM) workshop annually, as well as participate in seminars on industry trends and new technologies. Hanson claims that 70 percent of his production staff has attended outside training and schooling.

Now, with highly trained workers running modern equipment and veteran printing executives running the business, Senior Account Executive Tim Salwei believes the $6.5 million business is poised for continued growth. Everyone throughout the organization is committed to building strong employee/customer relationships that grow into solid business partnerships.

"It's not only a matter of having the equipment tie together," says Salwei. "It's having the goals, commitment and personnel to make it all work."

Wearing the Union Label Proudly

For more than six decades, Cooperative Printing's union employees have never issued a slowdown or strike. The Minneapolis-based printing company owes this success to providing opportunity and flexibility for its members consistently, as well as the corporation for which its members work.

"From the very beginning, Cooperative Printing management has been working with Upper Midwest Local 1M to create and maintain a relationship built on communication and mutual respect," contends Jim Shannon, Local 1M's executive vice president. "The key is to keep that relationship evolving along with the business itself."

For example, when Cooperative Printing opted to adopt digital workflows, Upper Midwest Local 1M restructured its approach to adapt to the new digital technologies.

Realizing that today's unions must be less restrictive of a company's need to compete, Upper Midwest Local 1M has been receptive to working with Cooperative Printing to either find or create the skilled labor base it needs, according to General Manager Dennis Hanson. Thus, the printer and union have been successful at negotiating issues such as wages, equipment staffing and employee training to create a customer-driven organization.

"In fact," Shannon says, "the high level of technical innovation Cooperative Printing achieved was accomplished with union assistance. The union's willingness to restructure wages and become more customer-sensitive gave this company the fighting chance it needed." Shannon emphasizes that a reciprocal level of respect and confidence was required of both parties.

Negotiations and, ultimately, the technological transformation were successful due to Cooperative Printing's confidence in the leadership capabilities of Upper Midwest Local 1M, as well as Local 1M's confidence in Cooperative Printing to provide continued job security, training and a positive work environment.

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