Direct Mail Printer MSP Transforms From Offset to All-Inkjet Web Printing Process
The digital transformation is now complete at MSP, located in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, culminating in the installation of a high-definition inkjet web press that has eliminated the need for offset equipment in the direct mail printer’s processes. “We are out of offset,” according to Doug Wright, MSP’s COO, “and it’s been like a light switch going off. We are now strictly roll-fed digital.”
While the concept of digital transformation is not new, recent developments in high-speed inkjet printing technology — including production speed, substrate versatility, and faster drying — have “cracked the code” on high-production viability, and significantly expanded the possibilities of what digital printing can do.
MSP, which was founded in 1953, is a privately held, 350 employee company that primarily focuses on direct mail marketing for nonprofit organizations. It commonly runs jobs from as little as 1,500 pieces, to as large as 500,000. In addition to printing, The company also operates a full-service mailing facility designed to handle large volumes.
Wright explains that the current, guiding principle of the company is to, “become an all-digital space. We want to print one-and-done, with no inventory. It’s more cost-effective.” This effort by MSP includes minimizing production space by no longer leasing a production location in Freedom, Pennsylvania, and instead consolidating production in its own facility in Bloomsburg.
White Paper in, Full-Color Printed Product Out
According to Mark Schlimme, VP of marketing at SCREEN Americas — whose high-definition Truepress Jet 5220HD AD inkjet web press was the critical, final component in MSP’s digital transformation — the previously-existing need for the company to use offset was for the printing of full-color shells. Those analog printed, color components were then printed digitally — a two-step process necessitated by the need for strong color and print quality.
This was done, Schlimme adds, because MSP “wants to be a full white-paper factory, where white paper goes in and finished product goes out.” With the new press, he says, MSP “is able to eliminate all the challenges and inventory of shells.”
Wright points out that the move away from preprinted shells and toward full-color digital production has opened avenues of possibility for customers and designers to bring color into the core of direct mail messaging. As examples, he says a financial institution might use color to highlight an attractive interest rate; a not-for-profit might use it to make its messaging more visual.
For direct mail printers like MSP, changes in the nature of the market — where the use of data allows for a deeper, more granular marketing approach — production inkjet printing provides the key linkage
between concept and execution. Full-color, cost-effective short runs, and the ability to integrate variable data into printed output, mean not just printing differently, but doing it differently.
The changes high-speed digital production has delivered to direct mail producers extends beyond the elimination of shells. Wright says one of the biggest benefits is in “speed-to-press,” and the elimination of process touches. Further, customers and designers can be trained to “think in digital,” and take advantage of the deeper value digital output can deliver. Wright, as an example, presents the concept of an animal rescue organization customizing direct mail communications, based on knowledge of individual prospects, featuring the type of animal that person is most passionate about.
Wright says the new acquisition is the fourth SCREEN inkjet press for the company, so MSP is quite aware of what digital printing can bring to its customers. This includes the ability to do one-to-one work, bringing additional value to its customers. MSP’s focus on inkjet is driven by speed and material choice, says Wright, who sees toner-based digital systems as being “old school and not cost-effective.”
In addition to bringing customer value, MSP’s complete move to digital printing brings other tangible benefits: “When you look at the real estate,” he says, referencing the floor space required for the digital units, “I can get two presses in the space where I previously had one.” While the speed of the inkjet printers does not match the speed of a lithographic press line, he says, there is more to the value calculation than just speed. “There are cost savings, labor reductions, and no racking or storage requirements. The print is a bit more expensive, but with the savings factored in, you’re about even with litho.”
What’s Driving the Inkjet Opportunity?
What has changed to improve inkjet technology is now directly affecting the verticals it can be used to serve. With inkjet, Schlimme says, “people were accustomed to lower quality for transactional, direct mail, and some publishing; the quality wasn’t really there for high-end work.”
Since that time, he notes, developments in print quality and the ability to print on standard coated and uncoated offset printing stocks — no need for a primer or premium paper — have changed the game. Further, new drying technologies have helped maximize inkjet productivity by enabling faster production speeds and eliminating drying time prior to finishing.
Inkjet systems, like the SCREEN press installed by MSP, can be game changers, not just for specific companies, but for whole segments. Schlimme says direct mail is becoming increasingly customized, and that even online businesses are finding its value. “The look is traditional, but can be customized, regionalized,” he says.
Added Envelope Production Capability
In keeping with MSP’s “white paper factory” approach, MSP is adding a roll-fed Winkler+Dünnebier (W+D) 410 Combi envelope converting system, partially to gain additional process control, and to create a lower-cost, higher-reliability solution for its envelope supply. That system, coupled with an inkjet-driven envelope printing system, will enable MSP to convert and print (in full-color) as many as 33,000 envelopes/hr. Staffing will also be increased beyond MSP’s existing 350 employees, according to Wright, to accommodate the new envelope portion of MSP’s business.
The recent developments at MSP, Schlimme says, are indicative of a larger trend in the commercial printing space. The ongoing convergence of direct mail and other commercial segments is being driven by a confluence of changes in the labor pool, instability in the paper supply chain, and a changing marketing playing field. Increasingly, he hears commercial printers say, “I’ve bought my last offset press.”
The benefits of MSP’s transformation are profound. In addition to eliminating the need for shells, Schlimme says it has added customer flexibility by pushing the creative and data-related elements of a job closer to the deadline. He notes this is particularly useful for programmatic direct mail work, where messages change more frequently.
According to Wright, the digital space is a great opportunity for employees to become proficient press operators. And because the skill sets required of an offset press operator are not needed in the digital space, companies can realize reduced labor costs. Further, the digital press operator doesn't need to be an expert in color management, he says, noting that color is addressed during the prepress stage.
To find operators amid a labor crunch, Wright says MSP has looked to younger talent — gamers in particular — those with PC knowledge who can easily come up to speed on digital printing equipment. A short learning curve on the new systems also speeds operator proficiency.
MSP’s path is part of a broader trend. Many of today’s commercial and direct mail printing operations are seriously considering — or are already on the path toward — the digital transformation of their businesses, in whole or in part. MSP’s transformative experience provides a granular view of what has increasingly become a larger industry movement.