In-plant Undertakes An Electric Expansion
To call Schneider Electric’s old printing facility “cramped” doesn’t paint a bleak enough picture.
“You couldn’t pass each other walking around in that place,” reflects Kris Tanner, manager of the Solutions Support Group at Schneider Electric, which specializes in energy management and automation.
When Schneider started its in-plant in 2009 to print a single application — black-and-white operations and maintenance manuals — its digital printers were wedged into existing office space in the company’s Nashville location. But as the in-plant added new products and services over the years and its equipment arsenal expanded, it found itself boxed in, operators tripping over each other as they repeatedly crossed paths. The workflow was far from efficient.
So in August, when Schneider’s Print On Demand group moved into a brand new 6,100-sq.-ft. facility in Smyrna, Tenn., Tanner was elated.
“There’s six feet between each machine,” he exclaims, motioning to the four Canon imagePRESS C10000VP digital color presses in the shop’s cavernous production room. With 12-ft. ceilings and ample open space, there is even room to grow should the expanding in-plant need another digital press. In fact, the adjoining wide-format printing room is preparing for the arrival of an Océ Arizona flatbed printer so the in-plant can expand into printing on PVC and other rigid substrates.
The in-plant’s amazing growth from its inception as a black-and-white manual printer to a thriving digital print center is an iconic in-plant success story, demonstrating how a relentless search for new services combined with strategic marketing can spawn a well-respected, growing in-plant.
Birth of an In-plant
Eight years ago, Tanner would never have guessed he’d one day be at the helm of such an impressive operation. At the time the company was outsourcing the printing of its three-ring-bound operations and maintenance manuals to commercial printer R.R. Donnelley — about 25 million impressions a year. Looking to reduce that expense, the company considered printing those manuals in-house.
“We knew we could do a better job than they were doing for less money than we were paying them,” explains Tanner.
So the company made the bold decision to lease four Canon imageRUNNER digital printers, add three employees and start printing all these pages itself, then placing them into three-ring binders. In the first year, the new Print On Demand division saved Schneider $1.1 million. The equipment investment was recovered in just two and a half months.
Impressive as this was, it was also becoming clear that the data in the manuals could easily be digitized and viewed on tablets. So in 2011 the company began transitioning this work to a digital format, cutting its print runs drastically.
“We brought all the black-and-white business in and immediately tried to kill it,” laughs Tanner.
That could have been the end of Schneider’s in-plant experiment, but Tanner saw other opportunities. Training documents still needed to be printed and the instructors wanted them spiral bound instead of placed in three-ring binders for ease of use in the classroom. So the in-plant purchased spiral binding equipment and got into this new line of work. As the need for training documents and workbooks increased, “we quickly justified the need for our first color machine,” Tanner says.
At the same time, to go with their training materials, customers were asking for items like pens and notepads that they often needed when leading trainings.
“What we realized was there were a lot of items that they would like to have,” Tanner says — highlighters, rulers, calculators, etc. So he came up with the idea to purchase and package these office supplies along with the printed training materials and ship them directly to the training location. He called it a “Meeting in a Box.” It quickly became a hit.
“Since we were shipping it straight to the place where the class was being taught, it was less stuff they had to travel with,” Tanner notes. It also spared the trainer from paying airline baggage fees, he adds.
Eager to find new work that would help company employees do their jobs better and save money, the in-plant introduced square fold binding, using the in-line finishing units on the new digital color printers.
“That allowed us to start getting into the smaller page count brochure business, the small catalog business, things like that,” he says.
When Schneider’s services organization wanted to offload the printing of variable data safety labels so its engineers could focus on their other work, the in-plant was happy to take this on. It now prints 1.2 million 4x4˝ and 4x6˝ safety labels a year on its Zebra printers.
“It’s a very important role that we play by supplying those labels,” Tanner says.
A Wider Reach
The in-plant’s next move has perhaps brought it the most attention in the company, and is certainly saving Schneider more money than any of its other services.
“As we started becoming known as a print shop, people would start asking us if we could do posters,” he says.
This led to the lease of a Canon wide-format aqueous inkjet printer, and later a second Canon, a Mimaki solvent printer and a vinyl plotter. Now, in addition to posters, the in-plant prints banner stands for marketing, outdoor signage, canvas mounts, vinyl lettering, window decals, trade show materials and vinyl wall wraps. The walls of its facility are decorated with its handiwork (most notably an oversized wall decal of Captain QO, a caped superhero with a circuit breaker for a head, the mascot for Schneider’s QO line of load centers). One entire wall is filled with vinyl letters spelling out the in-plant’s website URL: SchneiderPrintOnDemand.com.
Word of the in-plant’s new wide-format capabilities quickly spread to Schneider locations around the country, leading to a new business venture: branded environments. (See sidebar.)
Wide-format is proving to be such a great opportunity for the in-plant, that is has ordered an Océ Arizona flatbed inkjet printer so it can print directly to PVC to create long-term signage, multi-panel pieces of art, short-run promotional items and even diecut dimensional lettering.
Marketing is Crucial
The dramatic increase in work would not have been possible if the in-plant didn’t market its services, something Tanner understands very well.
“We don’t have the first right of refusal, so if we don’t stay top of mind, we will be forgotten and we will be out of business,” he notes.
He uses Schneider’s internal social media platform, as well as LinkedIn, to post photos and videos highlighting the in-plant’s services and accomplishments. When the shop handles a particularly complicated job, he posts it and tags the customer. Tanner also sends sample kits to customers and visits them in their offices to promote the in-plant’s capabilities. In December, Print On Demand held its first open house in the new facility. It drew 124 visitors — department managers, customers, vendors and even local in-plant managers, who got a chance to see the in-plant’s capabilities first hand.
Tanner’s efforts to help customers save money don’t go unnoticed. If he sees an order come in that he knows will be expensive, he suggests a cheaper alternative. If someone orders a three-ring binder, for example, he asks them if less-expensive glue binding will work. He tells the story of how the in-plant helped one department avoid layoffs by saving it a significant amount of money.
“That was a point of pride for us,” he says.
New Plant, New Workflow
Key Operator Brian Evans (left) and Production Supervisor John Key go over a proof printed on one of the in-plant’s four Canon imagePRESS C10000VP digital color presses.With seven employees producing about 24 million pages per year, Schneider Print On Demand is a busy operation. Productivity has been greatly enhanced by the move into new quarters. Tanner was able to position equipment for maximum efficiency to avoid wasted movements. Work flows clockwise around the room, starting and ending in the loading area.
“Everything moves in a continuous circle, versus having to cross paths with yourself over and over just to do the same job,” he says.
The four Canon imagePRESS C10000VP digital color presses — two with face trimming and square fold modules — are in the center of the room. Along one wall sits all of the offline bindery equipment, including a new Duplo DC-646 slitter/cutter/creaser.
Most of the shop’s equipment, Tanner says, was upgraded at the time of the move. He’s especially pleased with the C10000VPs, which he says had an easy learning curve and so far have had very little downtime. Their output, he says, is near offset quality and their color consistency is great.
“There’s no deviation over the course of the run,” he lauds.
The in-plant’s efficiency has also been increased by the use of Canon PRISMAdirect workflow management and PRISMA-prepare document preparation software, which have cut prep time in half, freeing up staff to handle other needs.
“We went from two full-time schedulers to one,” he proclaims. “It was a big efficiency gain.”
The in-plant used PRISMA-direct to create a web storefront to simplify ordering and ensure that all required information is submitted. It automatically converts native files to PDF format and preflights them. Automated emails tell customers the status of their jobs. PRISMAdirect also helps the in-plant manage orders and generate reports. The shop is starting to use PRISMAprepare’s variable data engine to offer new types of products.
As Tanner awaits the arrival of the new flatbed printer, he notes that this addition is yet another example of the in-plant’s strategy of adding new services to help Schneider employees do their jobs better. As he looks to the future, he sees more of the same ahead.
“The biggest [goal] is just staying on the front of technology with our offerings,” he concludes.
Related story: From the Editor: Never Stop Marketing
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.