2019 Best-in-Class Innovator: At Mercury, 'It’s Never Business as Usual'
Innovators don’t come to their plants in the morning saying to themselves, “Today, I’m going to innovate.” That’s not what innovation is about. It’s more a reflex than a behavior — a continuous state of mind that leads both deliberately and serendipitously to transformative results.
The printing industry’s innovators are energetic, inquisitive, and intrepid people who don’t wait for things to happen. Sometimes they strategize outcomes. At other times, facing threat or opportunity, they instinctively choose the right course of action. Either way, these relentless innovators always manage to achieve something that lifts their companies to new levels of capability, performance, and profitability.
The accounts of 12 businesses that exemplify innovation in the printing industry came together in the October issue of Printing Impressions. All of the profiles, one of which appears below, are based on interviews with the sources and on their responses to questionnaires filled out in support of their applications to be selected as Printing Impressions’ “Innovator of the Year” for 2019.
When Valerie Mannix started the company that would become Mercury Print Productions in her basement in 1969, many of the technologies it employs today would have been all but impossible for her and other printers of that era to imagine. Nor would they have been able to make much sense of the definition that Christian Schamberger, the company’s current president, gives the business: “a technology provider that offers print as an output.”
Continuously reinventing the company in response to technological change is how Schamberger, CEO John Place (Mannix’s son), and the rest of the Mercury team have made the definition stick. Through heavy spending on new capabilities and a willingness to be first to try new solutions, Mercury has become, notes Schamberger, one of the largest suppliers of digitally printed four-color products in the U.S.
Additionally, in a step that might appear regressive anywhere else, the company has made a major investment in a new web offset press — an investment it expects to be as profitable as any it has made in digital.
Publishing, commercial printing, and pharmaceuticals are Mercury’s principal markets, with publishing representing the largest and fastest growing share. Customers in these and other markets, says Schamberger, want cost-effective production in one-off quantities as well as in long runs, requiring print providers to equip for both ends of the range and everything in between.
With five Kodak Prosper inkjet web presses, the country’s first Landa S10P Nanographic sheetfed press, and an assortment of Xerox, Kodak, and HP Indigo devices at its disposal, Mercury has that capability in digital. Its offset press department, home to multiple 40˝ Heidelbergs, is making room for a 48-page manroland Goss Lithoman web press that the company expects to begin installing next February in support of its publishing business.
Schamberger says that the prospect of acquiring a high-output web offset press “almost felt like we were taking a step backward” until it became clear that installing a new, fully automated model would be the best way to take advantage of the “capacity crunch” for book work that always occurs in the spring and fall academic publishing seasons. It would have been “the wrong mentality,” he reflects, to oppose any solution promising growth in page volume.
Another way that Mercury rises to business opportunity is through its prowess in data processing. With five full-time programmers furnishing the brains, and a new 10GB Ethernet network serving as the backbone, the company has turned what used to be an online ordering system for photobooks into a custom-built e-commerce system called eMerx. Schamberger says this innovation sets Mercury apart from the competition by automating order entry and production in a workflow that enables both the company and its customers to do more with less.
A realist, Schamberger acknowledges that the general demand for printed products will continue to shrink. But within that reduction, he declares, “we will look to offer solutions that allow the print to be automated, customized, cost-effective, and dynamic.
“It’s never business as usual,” he says. “It’s how can we stay ahead of the game.”