Solving Commercial Printing Puzzles
Depending on who you talk to, commercial printing can include everything from business cards and large-format, point-of-purchase displays to simple black text on white stock and four-color process images on handcrafted specialty papers. It’s almost impossible for manufacturers and distributors to anticipate the specific challenges they’ll encounter during any given project. But, with a solution-oriented “can do” attitude and the right manufacturer for the particular type of piece requested, industry professionals can be reasonably assured of customer satisfaction. The following two case studies illustrate some types of issues that can crop up when handling commercial printing, and how to resolve them.
Divide and Conquer
Sentinel Printing Company, St. Cloud, Minn., produces a job used by a world-famous manufacturer of a recreational vehicle. It consists of a 160-page, perfect-bound operator’s manual featuring black text and a four-color process glossy cover; a saddle-stitched, self-cover booklet with black text; a pre-delivery check list; a pre-delivery instruction manual; and four-color process materials advertising related apparel and vehicle add-on options.
For years, Sentinel Printing Company had been printing the individual components in large quantities of approximately 50,000 to 100,000 pieces each, packing them in cartons and then sending all of the materials out in a single delivery. “The quantities being printed were based on projected sales for the upcoming year,” explained Chuck Manthey, president. “Needless to say, the [preprinted] products took up a tremendous amount of [the end-user’s] floor space. And, overestimating sales led to problems with obsolescence and waste. At times they were projecting quantities of 5,000 to 10,000 more than w[ere] needed, and would have to... throw [them] away, since a new model comes out every year.”
As is typical in today’s marketplace, executives at the recreational vehicle company began issuing directives promoting just-in-time delivery. “They needed to reduce inventories, free up floor space and free up cash sitting in inventory,” said Manthey. Suddenly, the company only wanted product in-house for perhaps a week’s worth of operations, rather than taking delivery of all materials at one time.
“The company’s sales projections got better maybe three quarters of the way through the year, so that by September, it was known exactly how much [was] needed for the rest of the year,” Manthey continued. “So, first of all, we decided to do the job in two printings; printing that absolutely assured quantity that would carry them through September ... and when it was [determined what was needed] for the rest of year, we would then do the second printing to fulfill [those] needs.”
Next, Sentinel Printing Company agreed to store the product in its own warehouse, and send weekly shipments. “This works out great, since [the vehicle manufacturer] has regular freight haulers coming through on virtually a daily basis [which pass] right by our production facilities. The trucks can stop [by] weekly ...and pick up materials needed for the upcoming week,” Manthey added. “This certainly helps with inventory issues, and the two printings eliminate obsolescence.”
The end-user was also the one pulling the various pieces together and putting them in sealable plastic bags for placing under the seats of vehicles being sold. Sentinel Printing Company offered to do the kiting, as well, providing completed, sealed packages—which include a safety video and a small, imprinted tool along with the printed materials—on a weekly basis. “The kiting is nice work for us that fills pockets of slow time,” Manthey commented.
Particularly when dealing with large organizations, providing a multifaceted print job requires time—and patience—to solicit input and approval from various people who must then report back to their superiors. This job involved technicians and engineers writing copy, and purchasing and marketing department personnel and editorial staff who put the pieces together in a format that worked for a printer. “Some work had to be done on the front end to help the company provide digital files in a workable fashion that would also save them money,” noted Manthey. “And, due to the weekly shipments, distribution and receiving now played a part.”
For the large, well-known company, brand is obviously extremely important. “This group understands its vision, and has internal and external people who do all the designing and artwork,” said Manthey. “Most times, the marketing and advertising design people involved in a commercial printing job will have some concept for a look. The printer can then provide samples and previously printed materials to give them an idea—perhaps different coatings to add gloss and protection or a matte finish or even a combination. You try to provide what the customer is after at the best price.”
The challenges in this case were largely logistical, and the solutions increased pricing in some areas, but decreased costs in others. Eliminating warehousing and fulfillment reduced the end-user’s labor force and improved cash flow, and weekly billing is more budget-friendly than one huge annual hit. But, having two different manufacturing cycles increased printing costs a bit.
“Overall, the changes were cost-effective,” observed Manthey, “and worked corporately with [the company’s objective] to initiate
just-in-time delivery while eliminating obsolescence.”
The British printer CFH was founded in 1977 as a manufacturer of continuous stationery. Since then, the company has gone on to become an innovative print manufacturer. In the past five years, CFH led the way in the outsourced management of document processes, using the latest technology throughout the company to develop and implement pioneering document solutions for major financial services organizations, utilities and local authorities. One of these investments in top-of-the-bill technologies was a nine-color Variable Sleeve Offset Press (VSOP) supplied by Drent Goebel (www.drent-goebel.com).
Geoff Broadway, CFH founder, and his son and partner, Dave, have seen some dramatic industry changes over the past 30 years, both in the technologies used and in the markets served. Starting in business forms and continuous stationery, the company transitioned into direct mail in 1998, positioning itself as a value-added printer. CFH saw strong growth potential in direct mail, given the large number of credit card offers, bank statements and other forms of personalized mail being sent out. “It is tremendous, and it is still increasing. We invested heavily in our personalization department with inkjet and laser printers creating a completely new division,” explained Dave. “In this division, we also look
at technologies that take us forward and give us a competitive edge.”
“Especially in direct mail, marketing agencies don’t want to be limited by [the] size increments a printer can offer. A mail piece needs to stand out from the rest, and size can be a decisive factor in this,” added Geoff. “Printers with cassette-based presses sometimes have to turn down jobs because changing the repeat length wouldn’t be economically viable. We now can change to any repeat length within 15 minutes.”
And, since the press enables shorter turnaround times, CFH can produce short runs for greater efficiencies and ultimate cost savings. “Our customers don’t need to tie up their money in stock any longer,” noted Dave.
The Broadways first saw Drent Goebel’s VSOP technology at a DRUPA trade show, and were impressed on the spot. The sleeve technology, which has greatly contributed to the rise of flexo printing, has now entered the world of offset. The range of material consists of films and foils, paper, cardboard, self-adhesive and compound materials. VSOP technology allows for working with variable repeat lengths in offset, and enables operators to easily switch lengths without having to completely change the unit. Not only is this easier and quicker—only two lightweight sleeves need to be changed when altering repeat lengths—it’s a much less expensive way to print.
The VSOP is available in web widths of 520 mm, 850 mm and 1250 mm, and the printing quality is comparable to rotogravure printing. “The possibility of changing a repeat length so easily was ground breaking, and although the press was mainly presented as the new solution for packaging printers, we directly saw the possibilities for our ... market,” said Dave.
The Broadways envision the future to be one of hybrid presses combining several technologies in one line. “In the future, I would like to work with a four- or eight-color offset press combined with a four-color inkjet press for personalization. The only problem, at this moment, is that the inkjet can’t match the speed of my offset press, but we’ll see what the future will bring,” said Dave. “We are sure we can take the VSOP strategy toward many other customers in the near future,” concluded Geoff.