A Look at Five Commercial Printers That Have Taken an 'Innovative' Approach
All printers innovate. Given everything that has happened to the graphic arts industry since the turn of the millennium, no printing company faring well in 2017 would have come this far without having reinvented itself in some way as a business. For printers, innovation and adaptation are the same thing — a creative survival instinct that underpins all that they do for the enterprises they have built and the customers they serve.
Innovation often involves a willingness to invest in new technology. Seldom heard in the industry any more are clichés about bleeding edges and the hazards of being an early adopter. When they learn of advancements promising improvements in product quality and production efficiency, printers put risk aversion aside and focus on seizing the opportunities that these emerging solutions offer them.
This is why success with new technology keynotes four of the five portraits of innovation that follow. But, innovation isn’t something that happens only because of new equipment. One of the portraits is about a company-sponsored initiative on behalf of employee health and well-being — an endeavor in which the need for inventive approaches couldn’t be greater.
Perhaps the surest sign of a company’s penchant for innovation is its ability to go on innovating day in and day out as new solutions point to new ways of getting the job done better. This sums up what has been happening for the last 30 years at Compu-Mail Direct Marketing, a Grand Island, N.Y.-based provider of data-driven marketing and business printing services.
Michael L. Vitch, president, says that the company has been doing variable data printing since its early days as a source of data management services for financial institutions, not-for-profits and other customers. His tools of the trade then were line printers for addressing greenbar paper and laser printers for letter work.
“I owned the lasers before I owned an offset press,” Vitch says.
He believes that digital printing has finally caught up with the kind of variable-data printing (VDP) he has been engaged in since 1988. His principal VDP methodology now is production inkjet as delivered by a pair of Xerox Rialto roll-to-sheet inkjet presses and a Canon Océ VarioPrint i300 sheetfed inkjet color press.
These devices have been at work for only a few months, but they are already helping Vitch get closer to his goal of achieving a white paper-in, full-color and VDP-out workflow for at least 80% of what Compu-Mail produces.
Aiding the task is the creative use the company makes of XMPie personalization software, which Vitch has been experimenting with since the days before the technology belonged to Xerox. The software lets Compu-Mail link website traffic to direct mail response so that, for example, a customer who fails to complete a purchase gets a personalized, follow-up postcard offering a discount on the merchandise.
A Compu-Mail e-book called “Achieving Personalization Through Variable Data Print” spells out the advantages of the variable imaging techniques that Vitch and his team never stop trying to take to the next level.
“If it works, we keep going,” he says.
A shop that transitions from conventional to digital printing has to make the same kind of transition in finishing — otherwise, the advantages of speed and flexibility offered by digital production will be lost. At Fenske Media, where 90% of the volume consists of digitally printed direct mail, a pair of Kodak Prosper 6000 continuous-feed production inkjet presses can turn out work in volumes from 50,000 copies all the way to 5 million. With this kind of capacity, explains Dave Fenske, president of the Rapid City, S.D., company, it’s crucial to have a two-step, print-then-finish workflow that is both continuous and touch-free.
He achieves it with the help of modular finishing equipment from MBO and its subsidiary Herzog + Heymann. “Modular” means that the components can be moved into place on the finishing line to suit the specific requirements of the job being processed. As jobs change, devices can be swapped out to meet the finishing parameters of whatever is next in the queue.
In this way, says Fenske, he can take a printed roll, unwind and sheet it and then give the sheets the “origami” they need: perforating, diecutting, foiling, folding and gluing in a complete sequence that commences as soon as the roll starts to unwind — with one operator controlling all of the finishing steps.
What’s innovative about this customizable, 1:1 postpress workflow is the way it puts finishing on the same level as the inkjet printing in terms of value-adding digital efficiency. Fenske adds that by compressing the time frame from print to finished, mail-ready product, Fenske Media improves its ability to deliver personalized combinations of data, images and text at the precise “consumer moments” that his customers want to take advantage of.
Marketing with data-driven direct mail, he notes, is “like picking a pear:” the personalized content, like the fruit, is time-sensitive and doesn’t stay appealing for long. A finishing workflow that’s as nimble as the presswork helps to ensure that the timing will be right and the result will be a productive response from a pleased recipient.
Matrix Imaging Solutions
Located near Niagara Falls in Sanborn, N.Y., Matrix Imaging Solutions puts up to 150 million pieces into the mailstream every year in a 60/40 volume split between transactional documents and promotional direct mail. Alan Olivero, CEO, reckons that the company has mailed more than one billion pieces over the past 30 years — a period during which he has been waiting patiently for a solution that makes variable printing in color affordable, as well as efficient.
He believes he has found it in production inkjet, and his goal is to move three-quarters of Matrix’s volume to the technology as he phases out his dependence on overprinting static offset shells with variable data from laser devices — once the only workable option for documents and direct mail needing individualized content. Matrix still does some work of this type, but Olivero says that innovations in inkjet printing have brought the situation to a point where shells “don’t make any sense” for much of what his customers require.
Increasingly, inkjet does. A recently acquired Xerox Brenva HD cut-sheet inkjet press will be joined by a second Brenva now being installed, and these machines will share the workload with an Océ VarioPrint i300 sheetfed inkjet press from Canon Solutions America in the company’s digital press department. Olivero says that the Brenvas are affordable, very fast in simplex mode, and “forgiving and tolerant” of various kinds of stocks. He especially likes the Océ VarioPrint i300 for its integrated perforating unit and for its efficiency in high-volume duplex runs.
Olivero says that with the equipment he has now, he is already producing about 50% of his volume via production inkjet. There are no plans to decommission the company’s offset and flexo presses, but the outlook for conventional production, Olivero says, becomes “dimmer and dimmer all the time” as inkjet gets faster, better in quality and more economical to operate.
Matrix Imaging Solutions innovates in a different way by manufacturing its own envelopes — a practice that’s uncommon among direct mailers, according to Olivero. He made the decision about four and a half years ago after consolidations and shutdowns in the envelope segment left him feeling uneasy about future sources of supply.
Today, with the help of equipment from Winkler+Dünnebier, Matrix can make as many envelopes as it needs at speeds up to 1,400 pieces/hr. Olivero plans to sell his excess capacity to other envelope users in the region.
“Anything commercial” is what Tom Bennett, production manager at Premier Printing (Winnipeg, Manitoba), says this 55-year-old lithographic business is prepared to produce. But, as customers grew more insistent in their demands for faster delivery, it became clear that even the high running speeds of the shop’s Heidelberg long perfectors weren’t enough to shorten turnaround times. The bottleneck was sheet drying. The innovation that broke the bottleneck and transformed the pressroom was in-line LED-UV curing.
Bennett says that the company asked AMS Spectral UV to install XP Series LED-UV curing systems ahead of the perfecting unit and in the delivery of two sheetfed offset presses — a 10-color Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105 and an eight-color Speedmaster SM 74. With drying taking place instantly on both sides of the sheet, the tempo of production changed dramatically.
Stocks with hard-to-dry finishes like matte and silk no longer needed to sit for up to 48 hours before being sent to postpress. Now, says Bennett, everything coming off the Speedmasters “moves to the folder almost immediately” because the curing units can dry the ink as rapidly as the presses can lay it down.
“We run them wide open,” he says.
This means that if it has to, the shop can print, bind and deliver saddle-stitched books within a day of getting approval. But the dividend is in more than just increased speed of throughput. Bennett says that what used to be “an absolute sea” of skids of wet paper clogging the pressroom has vanished. There is no more “work in progress” — just a string of jobs proceeding swiftly, one after another, to completion. As Bennett puts it, the pressroom floor is now so wide open that “it looks like we’re not doing anything.”
Besides the satisfaction of getting their work done faster, customers also like the improved color fidelity and rub resistance that UV curing provides. Bennett says that although LED-UV inks are expensive, the shop has found ways to avoid passing along the added cost to its clients.
At Premier Printing, LED-UV curing has proven to be the proverbial gift that keeps on giving. The company realized that with the LED-UV systems replacing conventional drying, there would be no more offset spray powder in the air — and no reason not to move the platesetter into the pressroom, where plate logistics would be greatly improved as a result.
This was done, Bennett says, over the vociferous objections of the CTP device’s manufacturer. But, the unit has been at work press-side without problems for more than a year. In keeping with Premier Printing’s commitment to Lean manufacturing, the press crews double as platemaker operators.
It goes without saying that innovation has helped to propel Quad/Graphics, headquartered in Sussex, Wis., to the No. 2 spot on the Printing Impressions 400 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian printing companies. Quad’s dedication to technical innovation is second to none. In its unique approach to providing workplace health care, the company leads not only its own industry, but offers a model for the U.S. manufacturing sector as a whole.
This is the legacy of QuadMed, first envisioned by Quad/Graphics founder Harry V. Quadracci in 1990. A year later, he opened the first of what is today a network of 100 on-site clinics in 22 states serving more than 350,000 employees and family members — everyone who works for Quad/Graphics, as well as employees of companies including General Mills, Dow Chemical, Huntington Ingalls and Miller Coors.
Joel Quadracci, the current chairman, president and CEO of Quad/Graphics, explains that QuadMed is a self-insured health care program that situates primary care, preventative care and occupational health and wellness services in the workplace, where employees can access them most readily. In the clinics, doctors and other health care professionals spend ample time getting to know their patients and giving them the resources they need to take better care of themselves.
The clinics also serve as alternatives to emergency rooms when something goes wrong with an insured member: “If you’re sick, we’ll treat that, too,” Quadracci says.
He notes that the emphasis is on prevention and wellness because the sicker people become, the more expensive it is to care for them. Paying for part of their coverage, employees in the QuadMed network stay well by consulting “fully engaged primary care physicians” who supplement their care with laboratory testing, dentistry, OB-GYN assistance and other services within the confines of the clinics. Managing health care in this way, Quadracci reveals, is what keeps QuadMed’s per-person cost of coverage 10% to 40% lower than the national average.
A concentration of about 700 employees and their family members is needed to establish a QuadMed on-site clinic; companies employing fewer people can share facilities. School districts and local governments in places where QuadMed operates also have come under its umbrella. “The more people you have, the more services you can bring to bear,” Quadracci says.
He wants QuadMed to keep on growing because he’s convinced that corporations must be part of the solution for delivering high-quality, affordable health care. He adds that the ever-tightening labor market in which the printing industry operates compels printing employers to offer competitive health care coverage to people they want to attract and retain.
In an op-ed piece that appeared recently in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Quadracci wrote, “The success of Quad/Graphics’ health care story began with the ... assumption that a healthier workforce would result in lower health care costs, and happier employees would result in greater productivity.”
It has worked out largely that way for QuadMed and the many thousands of people the program covers. Against the backdrop of the nation’s ongoing struggle to provide health care coverage to everyone who needs it, Harry V. Quadracci’s compassionate initiative seems more innovative and relevant than ever.