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Steckel Printing--Adapting and Innovating

September 1998
Many analysts believe that successful businesses go through regular transformations or grow stagnant and die—a philosophy that makes sense to those comprising the array of talent at Steckel Printing.

A manufacturer of high-end, six-color commercial work, Steckel has undergone several company-wide changes over the past dozen years. "All of which have made us stronger and more responsive to our clients," says Steckel President Faye Givler, who has been a part of the company for 22 years. "You have to step up and step forward. Hold tight to your strengths, but keep adapting."

Company Profile
Name: Steckel Printing
Location: Lancaster, PA
Employees: 100
Annual Sales: $12 million
Key Markets: high-quality corporate identity materials, marketing communications
In late April, Steckel completed its most recent transformation by expanding into a 33,000-square-foot facility addition. The new space houses a remodeled prepress department in a clean-room environment and a larger pressroom featuring the company's third Heidelberg press, a 40˝ six-color Speedmaster CD with in-line coating capabilities. New space is also devoted to expanded bindery facilities and additional space for storage and warehousing.

Room to Grow
"This gives us the room we need now and for future growth," points out Pressroom Supervisor Craig Keener. "Our workflow is much more efficient because of the new staging area for incoming paper. And the new Heidelberg fits perfectly, adding flexibility."

"Increased in-house bindery capabilities ups our value to the client," adds Postpress Supervisor Randy Hilbert. "Bringing off-site storage inside and adding two more dock doors allows us to be more responsive."

The addition of space, equipment and capabilities is a direct result of the success of Steckel's earlier transformations. Prior to 1986, Steckel outsourced all of its prepress requirements, including color separations. But it quickly became evident that prepress needed to be brought in-house due to increased deadline demands.

Once the decision was made, the company committed itself to finding the brightest people possible for front-end work.

"It was a necessary step," says Joe O'Connor, Steckel's COO/CFO, "and the influx of new staff proved to be a real catalyst. We hired the best people from wherever we could find them, giving us a tremendous mesh of styles, backgrounds and experience. They came together with existing staff and spurred forward the entrepreneurial aims of the company."

A year later, Steckel had grown so quickly that it required additional space and moved to its current address. Four months later, the company's first six-color 40˝ Heidelberg press was installed and, just a year after that, renovations were begun to provide still more space. The company's digital prepress system, one of the first built around an open-architecture concept, was established in 1992.

The same year also witnessed the start of what Givler and O'Connor both consider the most important component of Steckel's current success. "We turned to our own people for solutions," Givler says, referring to the company's continuous improvement program begun in 1992 by her late husband and Steckel's former owner, Henry G. Givler.

"Henry believed in quality service and the people who work here," she says. "Many firms of our size at that time, about $9 million annually, weren't able or willing to make the financial commitment to put a quality management process in place. But Henry knew it was necessary."

O'Connor agrees. "Henry understood fully that a company has to move forward," he says, "and he counted on the talents and ideas of his workers. He took 24 people to a four-day, very intense series of sessions and workshops put on by 3M in June of '92.

Quality Theories
"We learned about systems used by major corporations and the theories of Philip Crosby and Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Then we came home and set up our own in-house program, complete with handbook, vision and mission statements, everything. Basically, we plotted the future for this company and did so with every person's involvement."

What Steckel employees developed is called the Excel Continuous Quality Improvement Process. Excel works by making each individual a process manager with the responsibility and authority to search for better work solutions in each step of his or her job. When employees have an idea for progress, they present it to the Excel Steering Team.

If the idea is viable, a project team is organized to research it further and, if approved, oversee its implementation.

The project team defines the situation, collects and analyzes data, and collaborates on the best methods to employ. The team continues to meet after the change is in effect to evaluate success and offer continual fine-tuning.

"People are always going to talk about what they do, what works and what doesn't," says Cassandra Ord, a customer service rep at Steckel and a member of the Excel Steering Team. "So why not structure their input to benefit everyone, including our clients?

"And it doesn't really seem to take up that much time. The time is just more focused."

Other employees agree. Lead Estimator Dave Lehr worked on a team addressing pressroom efficiency, the results of which prompted a 75 percent drop in spoilage and thereby made Lehr's task of estimating an easier one. Ord led a team tackling the need for faster die production, and Hilbert found that team's solution to be both economical and efficient.

"This is about knowing that every printing company can buy the equipment, but other companies don't have us—the people who make the difference," Keener says.

Gradual Acceptance
"Initial buy-in wasn't immediate," O'Connor notes, "but in three years time the process has been accepted company-wide and proven incredibly worthwhile. We now have an on-time delivery rate of 95 percent, and our rework, more than 4 percent at one point, is now less than 2 percent."

Faye Givler points out other benefits. "The Excel Process has facilitated a culture shift," she says. "Our objective of zero defects is everyone's now, with higher expectations of work and craft coming not only from management but from the workers themselves.

"The sense of being a cohesive team has pervaded the plant, and that's worth every penny."

She believes the Excel Process situates Steckel nicely for the future as well. "I want this to be a place you want to work all your life," she says.

"I know we'll make other transformations, doing whatever it takes to hit the next plateau in sales. We'll probably add more cylinders, continue to develop our product capabilities to include heavier substrates and increase our ever-expanding postpress capabilities.

"We'll be doing things we haven't even thought of yet. Regardless, it's the staff who will make those transitions smooth and successful, as they have in the past. They just don't come any better than the people at Steckel."

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