If short runs are the “new normal” in the offset and digital print worlds, then vast increases in the sheer number of jobs flowing through the average shop has become the standard as well. “There was a time when we would not even quote a job under 5,000 pieces,” recalled Kathy Wise...
To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with MyPRINTResource. Already have an account? Login
Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.
Complete the registration form.
If short runs are the “new normal” in the offset and digital print worlds, then vast increases in the sheer number of jobs flowing through the average shop has become the standard as well. “There was a time when we would not even quote a job under 5,000 pieces,” recalled Kathy Wise, president of $50+ million printer DME Holdings. Over the past three years, the Daytona Beach firm has added a robust web-to-print platform to its direct mail division. “We are handling many jobs a day, sometimes over 3,000,” Wise noted.
Jim Schultz, CEO of Great Lakes Integrated (GLL), can relate. “Six or seven years ago, we might have only produced between 3,500 and 4,000 jobs in a year,” he said, remembering pre-recession higher quantities that kept Great Lakes’ two- and four-color, 40-inch Heidelberg sheetfed presses humming. The firm’s 75,000-square-foot plant in Cleveland also runs an older, five-over-five Royal Zenith half-web. Today, GLL churns out up to five times more jobs – as many as 20,000 annually. Of its more than $13 million in annual print sales, some 30 percent of these revenues come from digitally produced jobs.
GLL installed its first digital press 11 years ago. “Because of so much digital work running through [now], quantities range from one-offs to 2,000 to 3,000,” Schultz added. The company today runs a trio of Kodak NexPress 2500’s as well as DigiMaster 9110, Konica-Minolta BizHub Pro 1600P, and Oce (Canon) models for monochrome work.
In 2008, about one-third of sheetfed print jobs had run lengths of only 250 sheets. That sheet number has dropped another 20 percent in 60 months: “I would say that about a third of all jobs are at 200 sheets for all sheetfed devices, but digital now dominates,” reported print guru Frank Romano, the retired RIT professor and 50-year industry veteran. Digital printing represents some 60 percent of all short runs, Romano added, “with offset at 25 percent -- up slightly [from 20 percent two years ago] because of new presses.”
Industry consultant Hal Hinderliter concurred: “Digital printing offers a powerful solution for short-run projects, but it has been exciting to watch the innovative new features that sheetfed offset press manufacturers have developed,” said Hinderliter, who now oversees the popular Must See ’Ems program at Graph Expo and this year’s PRINT 13 trade show. “Thanks to amazing technologies for simultaneous plate changes, defect recognition, in-press color measurement, smart start-up/shut-down, and automated wash-ups -- just to name a few options -- conventional presses can now be very competitive at as few as one thousand sheets.
“Of course, it is difficult to make money on either type of press if your sales and order entry costs are high,” Hinderliter added, “so improved estimating and MIS systems have become essential for any company that wants to remain competitive in a short-run world.” Indeed, efficient order-entry processes are precisely how today’s flexible print shops ensure that they’re handling up to 75 jobs per day in the most effective manner.
More Customers, Fewer Touches
Optimized workflow is the key to profitability. Employing digital storefronts is one way that frenetic printers keep up with the growing volume and variety of jobs. Instead of coming in through the door and on hard copies, these orders come in virtually via online web portals and are sent directly to the designated output devices. To produce personalized direct-mail components, including variable data and imaging, GLL uses a combination of third-party technologies, primarily off-the-shelf online templates from PageFlex, which it then customizes.
While a no-touch administrative workflow may be the goal, it is not the reality. “We still have to enter orders on ‘transactional’ call-ins,” Schultz explained. GLL is a longtime EFI software customer. “We use PrintFlow for scheduling and Monarch Planner [for MIS],” he said, “and are looking at an EFI solution on the digital side as well because the orders are so abundant. EFI technology has made a significant difference in how we process orders. We are much less manual.”