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Modern Litho-Print : Pushing the Limits

November 2010
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One of the most difficult things for people to accept is that while they may have unquestionable talents and strengths, it may be even more important for them to recognize their limitations. The same may be true for printing companies, to an extent. 

At any given point in time, a company’s success is tempered by its capabilities and capacity. But time is not static, and growth is dictated by a commitment from management and employees to accomplish as much as possible within the aforementioned constraints (which, as you may have noticed, have been continuously hampered by a plodding economy).

In a thriving economy, throwing money at a deficiency is hardly a business panacea and route to success. Similarly, hiding your checkbook in a lock box during a recession isn’t a survival enabler. The manufacturing equivalent of curling up in a ball has been proven an effective method of going out of business moreso than the intended consequences.

Unafraid to Improve

Take Modern Litho-Print, a 73-year-old establishment based in Jefferson City, MO. The 100-employee shop is not planning on taking delivery of a Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105 (of which it has one) before the year is out, but Modern isn’t blowing all of its capex at the local Staples store, either.

In fact, notes Jim Tomblinson, the firm’s plant superintendent, Modern Litho-Print hasn’t been afraid to make critical software investments during the economic downturn, or to look internally at ways of making the general commercial shop leaner and meaner.

One of the ways that Modern Litho has achieved this end was by acquiring EFI’s Monarch Planner and PrintFlow software packages. It became the first printer in the United States to integrate the prepress interface from Kodak Prinergy to Planner. Modern Litho has also installed EFI Auto-Count for shop floor data collection, and PrinterSite Internal to simplify the quoting and order placement system for its sales team and office staff.

“During the last two years, we’ve turned our company upside down, looked at everything—every machine speed—to program it into the software so that this package knows every piece of equipment, every employee, every speed that we need,” Tomblinson says. 

“It’s all in there. We have committed a great deal to the software and the Monarch suite, along with Prinergy automation, to prepare and ramp up for growth. And we will be ready for that without having to increase our staff. We’ll be able to take on more volume of work because of automation.” 

Increasing the workload can be a challenge for a general commercial printer, but Tomblinson believes Modern Litho is primed for the task due to its vertically and geographically diverse client list, which touches 40-plus states coast-to-coast and is supported by a sales team of 14 representatives. 

Led by president Darrell Moore, Modern Litho specializes in publications, journals and directories. The company also produces newsletters, conference programs, and a significant amount of direct mail in addition to the traditional general commercial products (manuals, booklets, catalogs, sell sheets, brochures, letterhead, envelopes, business cards and postcards). 

The organizaton consists of a holding company, Covenant Graphics, and its two operating subsidiaries, Modern Litho and Brown Printing. Modern Litho handles the large-format work, while sister firm Brown Printing is equipped to produce small-format and digital printing jobs. Boasting $16.5 million in annual sales, Covenant has demonstrated a commitment to invest in capabilities and efficiency, having spent more than $13 million in bolstering its printing technology during the past 10 years.

Eliminating Delays

“For years we specialized in full layout work and built a very good business handling membership directories and smaller run publications. Though we’ve seen some erosion in the directory niche to electronic and customer internal publishing, our business is strong,” Tomblinson remarks. “We now work with clients to help them generate high-res, print-ready PDFs and do very few layouts from scratch.”

Though publications and directories represent Modern Litho’s sweet spot, the printer is not beholden to any small cluster of clients. A sad and common tale for commercial printers is the lost primary customer that prompts a closure. According to Tomblinson, the company has skated through the recession without having to lay off workers or send people home early.

It’s never been the work, but rather the processes, that Modern Litho felt could be improved after Tomblinson attended the EFI Connect conference three years ago. The company still did its job tickets by hand and, because of the efficiency provided by Kodak Prinergy, the jobs were landing on the plates before the tickets could be finalized. The disconnect between customer service and prepress created delays in jobs due to incomplete information.

Tomblinson saw the value of integrating Prinergy with Planner and worked with developers at both companies, becoming a beta tester in the process. “It’s been 18 months of a lot of work getting this entire suite fully functional and being the only printer in the entire country that is able to push from the EFI Monarch MIS system to plate imaging through Prinergy,” he says. “So, now we are bi-directional with instructions and scheduling to the production equipment and data back to the MIS system. Three years ago, people were talking about closed-loop JDF, but nobody could back it up with their vendors, because everybody was doing their own thing.

“There are significant advantages to partnering with Heidelberg, Kodak and EFI. Customers can now upload jobs online, view and approve a proof, while providing us with the impositions from Planner to push to Prinergy and print directly from the system. We can move jobs so much faster now, and have eliminated touch points, eliminated a lot of redundancy of people entering data two or three times. Now, it flows once through the system.”

While the company is generally happy with its product and service menu, Tomblinson says that integrated marketing tools such as the Kodak Insite Campaign Manager may prove valuable to the customer base. And, as the economy improves, Modern Litho may welcome another Heidelberg XL 105.

“We’re also looking to improve our mailing system,” he says. “We have two inkjet lines and we’re looking to add small pieces of equipment to the lines to make us more efficient and help us be able to run our mailing system better.”

In fact, one of the measuring sticks for success at Modern Litho-Print is the forging of strong relationships with partners such as EFI, Kodak and Heidelberg. Tomblinson would be glad to have Modern Litho-Print judged by the company that it keeps.

“These companies are leaders in their fields and they’re great at what they do,” he adds. “It meant a lot to work with these organizations as they have greatly helped us improve our operations.” PI



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