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COPY CONCEPTS -- Going Near-line

September 2002
When PhilL Shirley and Brian Stone founded Copy Concepts in 1991, it appeared that another run-of-the mill copy center would dot the retail landscape outside Dallas. But the business plan crafted by the 21-year-old entrepreneurs focused on creating a distinct niche as a digital pioneer—not competing as a traditional offset printer.

Copy Concepts principals (from the left) Phil Shirley and Brian Stone, along with graphic arts dealer Pat Mallams of Bindery Systems, review output of their Standard Hunkeler unwinder, Oce printers and rotary cutter and stacker.
From the beginning, Copy Concepts has operated in an ink-free, toner-based world, and it has recognized the need to invest in top-of-the-line, print-on-demand (POD) technology. Yet in the last few years, the shop has also realized that its digital journey wouldn't be complete until it crossed into the final frontier of on-demand finishing.

Catching the just-developing POD wave in the early '90s, Copy Concepts made its first major investment—one of the first Xerox DocuTechs sold to a quick print shop.

"Since our inception, we wanted to keep pace with the latest advancements in digital technology," says Stone. "Just as important, we believed that educating our customers to new print-on-demand solutions would be critical to our success."

So, what started as a routine copy center with three employees in 2,500 square feet of retail space, has evolved into a 90-employee, full-service POD leader in a 23,000-square-foot facility in Irving, TX, that meets the quality and fast-turnaround demands of more than 1,000 business accounts. Customers now include local, as well as national companies, thanks to a merger in 2000 between Copy Concepts and Rochester, NY-based PlanetPrint Inc.

On-demand Finishing

A key turning point for Copy Concepts occurred three years before its merger. "To meet the rising expectations of our growing business accounts, we needed to complement our prepress desktop capabilities and our seven digital print engines," recalls Stone.

Building on its existing tabletop finishing equipment—including popular mechanical binding systems—Copy Concepts resolved it would establish a state-of-the-art bindery and keep jobs in-house.

"We always wanted to control our destiny," says Shirley. "But, as it turned out, when we started our postpress operations, we outsourced most of our jobs to a trade bindery anyway. So even though we had expanded our capabilities, we remained hostage, compromising our ability to control quality and turnaround time."

Creating an in-house bindery and new profit center seemed like a good strategic plan. However, the shop's first investments in bookletmaking and perfect binding didn't live up to its high standards of productivity, reliability and service.

"With the Xerox DocuTechs, we knew we had the best-engineered digital printers in the business," says Stone. "What we lacked, after making some trial-and-error investments, was equally reliable equipment to finish the job."

To determine what key new investments were needed, Copy Concepts considered the "mission critical" nature of many of their customers, including accounts in healthcare, aviation, high technology and publishing.

"In these industries, business needs and specs change quickly," adds Stone, "and the pressure is on to produce material on time, within budget and error-free."

Facing "make or break decisions," Copy Concepts sought guidance from its local graphic arts equipment dealer, Bindery Systems in Dallas. It became clear that the shop's next generation of postpress equipment would have to feature high reliability, quick setup and changeover, maximum set integrity, minimum waste and ease of operation.

The next question was whether Copy Concepts would opt for an in-line or off-line route to the finish line.

"We needed maximum productivity and flexibility," notes Stone, "and we didn't want to tie any one printer to one finishing system. We believed the answer was to set up the proper workflow, with easy-to-operate saddlestitchers and perfect binders in close proximity to the print engines. We also recognized the importance of quality pre- and post-paper handling systems that would allow us to deliver the imaged documents from the printers in ready-to-finish form. In short, we knew we were 'on the line' for our customers, and we determined that the 'near-line' approach was the best choice."

For the industry's most advanced finishing-on-demand solutions, Terry Sinderson and Pat Mallams, both of Bindery Systems, advised Copy Concepts to hook up with Standard Finishing Systems, the supplier of Horizon and Hunkeler equipment.

The shop's first major purchase was the Standard Horizon SpeedVAC 100 system, consisting of two collating towers connected to a Standard Horizon SPF/FC-20 stitcher/folder/trimmer and ST-40 stacker. According to Shirley, the automated suction-feed SpeedVAC, producing more than 4,000 booklets per hour, has lived up to its reputation. Applications include software manuals and benefits brochures of 80 pages or less; typical run lengths are 100 to 2,500.

In addition to saddle stitching, the shop had a growing need for high-end perfect binding, especially to support its book manufacturing customers. Copy Concepts purchased two Standard Horizon BQ-340 perfect binders, one of which was originally in-line with a DocuTech.

"Our customers expect a clean, professional look, and that starts with a consistently square spine," contends Stone. He reports that the perfect binders have drastically slashed the shop's waste and have helped customers virtually eliminate obsolescence.

With business volume increasing, Copy Concepts decided to upgrade its perfect binding by purchasing a four-clamp Standard Horizon BQ-460, which it uses for longer run lengths. The shop then decided to expand the BQ-460 into a complete perfect binding and trimming system by adding a Standard Horizon HT-70 three-knife trimmer and SL-40 cooling conveyor.

"We discovered the hard way that manual, off-line trimming was a time-consuming, tedious process," says Shirley. "The BQ-460/HT-70 combination produces consistently high quality, and the books exit the system ready to box and ship. Also, with four clamps, we have much higher production capacity. Our first job was a clean run of 7,000, and we've been cranking virtually around the clock since then."

Added Finishing Capacity

In addition to Xerox and Horizon, Copy Concepts has put its faith in two other suppliers to round out its bindery—Océ (for continuous-feed printing) and Hunkeler (distributed by Standard). Recently, Copy Concepts purchased an Océ DemandStream 8090 twin digital print engine equipped with Standard Hunkeler UW4 unwinder, WB4 web buffer and CS4 wide cutter/stacker.

On the front end, the Standard Hunkeler UW-4 unwinder at Copy Concepts unwinds the paper roll and feeds it into the continuous feed, pinless Océ printer. On the back end, the CS4 wide rotary cutter and stacker deliver three-up stacks for off-line perfect binding.

As with the Horizon equipment, Hunkeler is known for quick and easy changeovers, taking just a few seconds to reconfigure the job for maximum uptime. In addition, Stone says that the near-perfect offset stack quality exiting the cutter is an asset for fast, near-line finishing.

The bottom line? Since making these major postpress investments, business at Copy Concepts has tripled. Recently, Copy Concepts took another leap into the future by merging with PlanetPrint, a national Internet business services provider led by Keith Nickoloff. "We can now help customers manage every step of their document's lifecycle, from creation to delivery to electronic archival," concludes Shirley.


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