Documation Redefines Itself Through Lean Principles, Inkjet Technology
There are a number of ways to view a cultural change. For members of an older regime, the term could signify a purging, the result of a new ownership takeover or a management restructuring. Others can take the view that a cultural change represents an opportunity, a click of the reset button to either reinvent or re-establish the company in a different light with various new skill sets.
So how did it come to be that Documation—a 110-employee former in-plant based in America’s heartland, serving the needs of its association and publisher clientele—opted to embark on a full-blown culture change, complete with professional training on lean best practices, a logo/rebranding face lift and a bottom-up support focus?
Quite simply, there’s always a better way of doing something. And much like personal growth, establishing a lean mindset is a never-ending process. But it is a path that the Eau Claire, Wisconsin-based printer has found enlightening, enjoyable and, yes, productive.
“Two years ago, we brought in a manager well-versed in lean manufacturing, followed by a local college to help introduce lean to everyone—from the shop floors all the way to the managers,” notes Martin Aalsma, president and COO of Documation. “We knew it wasn’t going to take hold overnight, and that it will be an ongoing process. But, after a year and a half, even with a few speed bumps along the way, we’ve started to see the fruits of our efforts.”
Now in its second year, the cultural change came on the heels of a 2013 swap in ownership at Documation. Aalsma compares the process to turning an aircraft carrier 180 degrees, one that involves internal and external education, internal marketing and getting the right pieces—people and technology—into place.
For Aalsma, an industry veteran whose experiences include stints with RR Donnelley, Quad/Graphics and Western States, the ability to react to change and thrive stands as a point of differentiation.
“It’s not the biggest or strongest that survive and thrive, but the one that can adapt to change and overcome,” he says. “That’s the culture we are trying to build, an agile company that adapts and creates healthy changes. A company that overcomes challenges versus avoiding them and preserving the status quo. It is the mindset of being in competition with yourself. It doesn’t matter what others are doing; you have to push yourself to become better and better.”
A Different Way of Doing Things
After years and years of doing business in a certain way, from the top down, Jeremy Stanek, production manager, sees it as a process of trying to do things differently, then retrying them. “You have to reteach lean principles,” he notes. “You can’t just explain it to someone; they have to live it, repeatedly, to develop that mindset.”
Documation is hoping to parlay that operational face-lift into the overall reinvention of the company, and the executive team there is hoping to expand its horizons to a new customer base that may not be very familiar with the Documation name. The company debuted as an in-plant printing operation for a seminar company that focused on continuing education.
Fast-forward two decades, and you will find a sheetfed offset, cut-sheet digital and continuous-feed inkjet performer—not to mention a G7 Master Printer qualified operation—that provides (among other things) brochures, booklets, publications, direct mail (including variable data printing), list and data management, one-to-one marketing solutions and a rich bindery offering for associations and publishers.
In the past few years, Documation has grown its equipment arsenal to include a pair of HP T230 production inkjet web presses to bolster its manufacturing of book blocks for perfect binding production. Ostensibly, the company wanted to be more competitive price-wise and add capacity without losing a step from a quality standpoint. The thought, Aalsma relates, is that the presses would open up Documation to other markets in the long run.
Brad Stuckert, Documation CEO, investigated various inkjet models on the market and determined that HP’s offering and the machine’s potential from a no-boundaries standpoint was ideal for the new-look printer. Thus far, the T230s have validated that assessment.
“We are going to be a major player in the educational publishing market,” Stuckert says. “But it will be the on-demand portion of the market. Full automation will help us along with the HP T230s.”
Stanek notes that Documation has carved a niche in using HP equipment in an adventurous manner. “What separates us from others using HP equipment is that we try to print things you’re not supposed to be able to produce on an inkjet press,” he says. “We’ve had some great success with quality, particularly higher (ink) coverage, jobs. We’re printing on gloss stocks and [we’re] not ‘suped up’ on UV drying. We’ve really pushed the envelope with the capabilities. HP has been great in working with us on it and recognizing what we’re doing with that technology.”
“HP is so involved from a sales and marketing side, down to their machine support,” Aalsma adds. “We’re only a phone call away from all levels of their organization, which is fantastic.”
Other recent equipment acquisitions include Kern intelligent inserters for direct mail production, along with a pair of Standard Hunkeler slitting, cutting and stacking systems. Joe Strauch, digital printing manager, has done some modifying and customization of the gear in order to be able to fold in-line.
Among the newest pieces are a 10x8-ft. Canon Océ Arizona 660 XT UV flatbed wide-format printer and a Zünd cutter. “The Zünd is the Cadillac of wide-format cutting,” enthuses Stanek. While the wide-format gear still boasts the new-car smell, Documation executives are pleased with the very early results.
‘Print for Show, Finish for Dough’
Aalsma points out that future capex expenditures will be geared toward key finishing equipment, particularly on the direct mail roll-to-finish end. “You know what they say, ‘print for show, finish for dough,’ ” he laughs.
Documation is still a solid player in the publishing market, but subsets, including the educational space, have become more challenging with the shift in service providers, not the least of which is RR Donnelley’s acquisition of heavily-respected educational printer Courier Corp.
Aalsma has a unique perspective in that he worked at RR Donnelley for more than 10 years. He is confident that Documation can continue to play a pivotal role in the publishing space, along with its leading position serving the association landscape and its growing emphasis on the direct mail market.
As for the game plan to continue down the growth path, Aalsma cites the company’s agility in a space filled with top-heavy competitors. “In a word, we’re agile,” he says. “We can do almost anything the big boys can do, but we can move faster and do a lot of custom work.”
However, Aalsma concedes that name recognition is not one of the strengths of Documation, but he’s banking on that to change quickly. “We’re still getting our feet wet. We’ve rebuilt our site and we’re retooling our internal marketing pieces, trying to build a solid reputation.”
As the company embarks on the second half of 2015, the master plan includes continuing to focus on servicing customers, developing employees, refining Documation’s processes and growing its direct mail printing business.
“Being that we have changed to a solutions model, our success is based on our customers’ successes,” Aalsma adds. “Printing relevant and targeted content increases customer response rates and, as a result, increases their bottom lines. Success has become about stories versus metrics.”
But even with the technology advances, the lean manufacturing principles and the desire to evolve as a solutions provider, Aalsma admits that, in the end, it still comes down to old-school sensibilities. “The bottom line is that it will still be ink on paper,” he concludes. “The basic principles of printing will always apply. It’s still an art … just with GUIs and mouse clicks.”
Not to mention cultural changes. PI