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Merrick Makes a Connection With Digital Printing

September 1998
LOUISVILLE, KY—As the home of the Kentucky Derby, Louisville is accustomed to long shots. And in 1994, Merrick Printing bet on one of the longest shots of all: digital printing.

Despite all of the hoopla surrounding digital printing, this technology does not ensure higher profit margins—as many hapless printers have discovered. Merrick Printing, however, has discovered differently, hitting the jackpot with its digital on-demand services.

Digital Print Impressions (DPI), Merrick's digital division, recently moved from a 5,000-square-foot facility to a new 30,000-square-foot home located within the same business park.

The larger location provides plenty of room for DPI's six Xerox DocuTechs, two DocuColors and a DocuPrint—equipment that has added $3 million in work to Merrick's total sales of $16 million.

Why has Merrick Printing succeeded with digital printing when so many other printing companies have failed? Attitude, according to President David Merrick.

"Most people look at DocuTechs like big copiers," he says. "We don't, and we never have."

Rather than train copier operators to run the Xerox digital printing systems, Merrick trained highly skilled—and highly paid—electronics professionals. Also, before Merrick introduced digital printing services to the market, it showed customers how digital printing could provide quality comparable to offset output for certain jobs.

The majority of DPI's work comes from Merrick Printing itself, located three miles away in a separate 62,000-square-foot plant. In the past, a T-1 line tied Merrick and DPI together, but at a rate speed of 1.5MB per second, this transmission method was unsuitable for large PostScript files. So when DPI began its expansion, Merrick opted to switch to a new fiber optic connection: NMLI (native mode LAN interconnect).

Transmitting at 10MB per second, NMLI can make digital jobs move faster than the thoroughbreds that tear up the track at Churchill Downs. Unfortunately, only a mile of the necessary fiber optic cable was in place. Merrick needed another two miles to make the connection complete.

Bell South normally requires two to three months to bury that much cable. Merrick didn't have two to three months. DPI's new facility was scheduled to begin production in a month, so Merrick needed the line laid in four weeks.

"We could not afford to go live with a T-1 connection," says Matt Merrick, vice president of information and technology.

By working out a four-year agreement with Bell South worth $100,000, Merrick got the cable buried in time. "We put them under the gun, and they came through," Matt adds. "We really needed that access."

During the DPI expansion, Merrick also invested in its main facility, spending $500,000 on a Muller Martini saddle stitcher and $2 million on a six-color KBA-Planeta Rapida. The Rapida is Merrick's third six-color press and ninth press overall.

Counting the DPI expansion and the recent equipment installations, Merrick has invested more than $6 million in the past 24 months. This has enhanced the company's overall capacity, allowing it to meet even more conventional and digital printing needs. And with the installation of the NMLI, Merrick Printing and DPI can work together to turn jobs around more quickly.

"Whether our customers have conventional ink-based print jobs or on-demand toner-based projects, or a combination of the two, our account and production staff can seamlessly—and even more quickly—handle the full scope of a project to the customer's satisfaction," David says.

By Jerry Janda

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