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Progress Printing -- Boom, Not Gloom

November 2003

Stable of Presses

"Our MAN Roland ROTOMAN has been a truly valiant workhorse day in and day out, around the clock," Thornton says. "The second web will be the icing on the cake of productivity, throughput and turnaround."

The company was founded in 1962 by Thomas (T.D.) Thornton—father of the current president—and the late R.L. McGee. The pair initially laid ink on paper with a pair of rebuilt, one-color ATF Chief presses and a Kenro vertical camera. Sales from the first year of operation totaled $87,000, and growth was slow but steady. Today, an assortment of four-, six- and eight-color, 41˝ MAN Roland 700 perfectors with coaters and two- and six-color, 40˝ Heidelbergs constitute its sheetfed press arsenal.

A $35 million capital improvement initiative in the 1990s propelled sales growth and bolstered capacity. Progress Printing now features 210,000 square feet of space at its Lynchburg home base and a 28,000-square-foot, full-service, sheetfed facility in Richmond, VA.

Progress Printing services customers in 40 regions, with a focus on the South Atlantic and Mid-Atlantic states. It manufactures, among other products, booklets, brochures, catalogs, magazines, periodicals, calendars and annual reports. Soft packaging (backed by a fleet of six sheetfed presses) and carton printing are another specialty for Progress. Among its markets are educational, travel and tourism, banking and financial, pharmaceutical and real estate.

After years of running eight-page half-webs, the move to a 16-page full web was a natural progression, according to Stan Smith, the company's general manager in charge of manufacturing.

Press operators make real-time adjustments to a job in progress on the five-color MAN Roland ROTOMAN press.
Smith is impressed with a number of the new web presses' features: AC shaftless drives, Power Plate Loading functions, PECOM job setup, CIP3 capabilities and QTI closed-loop color control.

"All that technology and the automation we've been able to purchase was the driving force behind acquiring the MAN Roland presses," Smith says. "This equipment, with the same press crews, allows us to do higher volume work more efficiently."

Sims adds that a major thrust for Progress Printing was to provide clients with what he calls "on-demand web printing," allowing for enough press capacity to satisfy quick turnarounds on jobs. "We want to be ready and able to service a customer if he or she needs a big job done on the web two or three days from now," Sims remarks. "Our goal is not to max out press time on our second ROTOMAN; it's to streamline our internal efficiencies through fewer make-readies and getting product to the bindery better."

The addition of the newest ROTOMAN and added volume has steered Progress Printing further into the realm of computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM), according to David Baldree, general manager in charge of Progress' customer support services. This will include an evolving integration of digital workflows throughout the sales and production cycle, from front to back.

CIM Journey

"I like to call it central intelligence management—being able to communicate, execute and control everything from within at the workstation and network level," Baldree says.

From the customer support perspective, Baldree sees CIM as providing CSRs with the tools to "all questions, help make decisions and then execute, instead of chasing around the plant and running down projects. Centralized information will allow them to better serve customers from a communications standpoint, as well as provide the real-time information that we need to help run our facility."

Among other recent hardware acquisitions for Progress Printing is an eight-pocket Muller Martini Prima-SB saddle stitcher with automated cover feeder, card feeder, stacker, mail sorter, bundler and three-knife trimmer. The stitcher also boasts inside/outside ink-jetting capabilities for personalized mail.

Progress Printing's eProgress Fulfillment Center, founded in 1997, is a Web-based commerce system founded on the SMA-ProMail system and geared toward "speed-of-business" transactions. It offers solutions from Web-based promotion and order entry to picking, warehousing, inventory control and shipping.

In 2000 and 2001, Progress Printing rolled out ProgressXpress, a wholly-owned, independent quick printing operation; the Progress Packaging division; and Progress Sublimation, which provides thermal dye sublimation products and services nationwide.

In the near future, Progress Printing is looking to add another high-speed stitcher and a perfect binder, along with an automated PDF workflow.

How 2003 evolved into an incredibly successful year is not a mystery as much as it is an adherence to the company's "Doing the Right Things Right," motto, according to Thornton. This, he says, is reflected by Progress Printing's ISO 9001-compliant quality system, upgrades to its Printcafe/Programmed Solutions print management system, a strong marketing effort and systematic prospecting activities by the sales force.

Further, Thornton is convinced that his company's success also reveals a brightening economic outlook on the whole.

"In a word, we have been blessed," Thornton says. "It was not an easy year—just like everybody else, we've had to dig in and plow hard. But a lot of great customers, great team members and great equipment all converged to allow us to achieve the highest sales in our 40-year history. We are seeing very encouraging signs that the printing market is picking up steam as the economy improves."

Maintaining the quality and high level of service for the overall package enables Progress Printing to poke its head out of the commercial printing crowd, according to Thornton.

"Our challenge is to ensure that customers have a rewarding, professional experience with Progress Printing," Thornton says. "To accomplish that, we must keep our promises, deliver the quality customers expect, get their products delivered on time, and make the entire print cycle as smooth, easy and reassuring as possible. It takes everyone working together towards a common goal of customer satisfaction from all perspectives. We also differentiate ourselves by having some of the best talent and technology available within a corporate culture that prizes integrity, reliability and going the extra mile."

Choosing customer relationships carefully and following measures to take care of clientele are vitally important from the printer's end, Smith remarks. It makes for a genuine partnership backed by a two-way commitment.

"We're always seeking better ways to service our customers," he says. "We're always looking to streamline our processes and make purchases from the equipment side that automate processes, ensure throughput and secure quality for our customers. Pricing pressure, admittedly, has been fierce throughout 2003. Even so, we've maintained the same philosophy we've followed for the past 40 years."


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