2019 Best-in-Class Innovator: Direct Edge Media Evolves with Technology and Challenges the Norm
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 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.
By itself, an equipment list doesn’t prove that the possessor is innovative. But, when the list is as varied and extensive as the one proffered by Direct Edge Media, it’s an excellent place to start looking for deeper clues.
Co-founded by Ryan Brueckner and Ryan Clark, Direct Edge Media has a lineup of digital, wide-format, offset, and postpress equipment that could be mistaken for a roster of exhibits at a printing trade show. But as Brueckner explains, the point of having almost 25 production presses of nearly every major type isn’t the panoply of the hardware. It’s the risk-reward opportunity that the hardware and its supporting technologies represent.
“Direct Edge prides itself in taking risks, whether it’s an investment in new technology, or conducting extensive research and development to find how we can discover unique and never-created printing applications,” he explains. “We believe pushing innovation like this allows you the ability to build a product that is unique to the industry.”
The company’s principal line of business is wide-format graphics, which it offers to clients in the retail, quick service restaurant, grocery, consumer packaged goods, and corporate markets. Processes include grand-/large-format, flatbed/rigid, and dye-sublimation printing, supported by a battery of suitably sized machines for digital diecutting, guillotine cutting, and finishing.
The company’s “top press” for flatbed, says Brueckner, is its automated, 63x126˝ Inca Onset X3 UV device. He adds that, thanks to Direct Edge’s complement of grand-/wide-format presses from Fujifilm, together with their ink, “we are capable of printing faster and in higher quality than most printers on the market.”
With three current production locations and more planned, coordination of effort and resources is a major priority for Brueckner and his team. He says that with the help of its automated, proprietary, Web-to-print workflow, Direct Edge can ship orders the same day from three different internal departments, managing everything from printing to custom packing and delivery to a specified location.
“The logistics of this sounds easy, but when you receive an average of 200 orders per day — all variable elements with about 30% of those orders requesting same-day shipping — any refinements throughout this order process can have substantial impact in time to market, and ultimately price,” Brueckner comments.
Another step in the same direction is a rules-based MIS system that connects the company’s digital devices and lets the team monitor all parameters of a job, enabling them to see where process improvements can be made. The system, according to Brueckner, can “integrate any device in any state, and be up and running in a matter of weeks instead of months.”
Innovation at Direct Edge Media doesn’t stop with data processing. The company also takes pride, for example, in a 3D printing technology that reproduces dimensional paintings with realistic surfaces that are identical in height and texture to the original artwork.
“Being innovative today means staying curious, evolving with technology, and challenging the norm to create progressive, unique solutions for our business clients,” Brueckner declares. “Technology is used to drive our presses. It’s only natural to have it drive our business.”