Western & Southern Relocates, Adds Two Inkjet Presses
Western & Southern Financial Group’s Print, Mail and Fulfillment department has seen more changes in the past couple of months than most in-plants will experience in a lifetime. Not only has the 32-employee in-plant relocated to a larger facility where all of its departments are consolidated under one roof, it has shed its four-color offset press and added not one but two production inkjet presses — a Konica Minolta AccurioJet KM-1 and a Xerox Brenva.
This major investment in the in-plant’s future is a testament to the tremendous respect the operation has earned from Western & Southern Financial Group, an $81 billion Fortune 500 firm that incorporates a diversified family of financial services companies.
“The company highly values this operation,” affirms Sid Gutzwiller, assistant VP and director of Document Services. “The management team is excellent, and their quality is second to none.”
By investing in a new facility for the in-plant, and incurring the expenses of refurbishing the new space, moving the operation, and adding new equipment, he says, the company has shown how important the Print, Mail and Fulfillment department is to its success.
“It is a loud and clear statement by the company of the value it places in this operation,” Gutzwiller declares.
A Long-Awaited Move
The move had been in the plans for a while, says John Bartik, director of operations.
“We’d been shopping for years for an appropriate facility,” he says. The in-plant had outgrown its old 23,000-sq.-ft. operation, located in the heart of downtown Cincinnati, in the basement of Western & Southern’s headquarters. But finding a space close enough so that employees would still feel part of the corporate culture proved challenging.
Then a commercial printer named Multi-Craft in Newport, Ky., just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, was acquired by another printer and vacated its building. It was just 1.2 miles away — a perfect location. The company quickly bought the 33,000-sq.-ft. facility and refurbished it to the in-plant’s specifications, upgrading the electrical system, HVAC and lighting, installing humidity controls and compressed air, painting the walls, and remodeling the offices.
While that was in the works, the in-plant decided this would be a great opportunity to upgrade its equipment. As a result, the new plant was fully equipped and ready, even while work was still being run in the old facility.
“We were fully operational here in Newport before we actually had to shut down Cincinnati,” notes Bartik.
Training was a bit of a challenge, he acknowledges, since operators were being pulled from Cincinnati to learn the new equipment, but Bartik says his team was committed to making it work, and put in overtime hours when necessary.
“We have great people,” he praises.
For a while, printing was being done in Newport and finishing in Cincinnati, but through it all, work never stopped. The goal, Bartik says, was to avoid causing disruptions for customers. “Some of our customers didn’t even realize we moved,” he says.
The Konica Minolta AccurioJet KM-1 and Xerox Brenva weren’t the only new machines installed. The in-plant also added a six-color Xerox Iridesse, which can print white, clear, silver, and gold specialty dry inks, and has an in-line Plockmatic bookletmaker; a Konica Minolta AccurioPress C6085; and an inkjet CTP system to print on metal plates to supply the shop’s two remaining two-color Heidelbergs. It’s the KM-1, though, that has brought the most profound change to the in-plant, allowing it to reduce inventory and move to personalized print on demand.
“The KM-1’s made quite an impact” stresses Bartik. “There’s no reason to stock two or three month’s worth of supply on the shelf any longer.”
Though he acknowledges the KM-1 is slower than the Heidelberg it replaced, it’s far more productive, given the new short-run reality the shop is facing.
“Our runs are declining in length,” he says. “The number of jobs we can print in a day is increasing because of the reduced makeready” on the KM-1.
As for the argument that inkjet quality can’t compare with that of offset, Bartik begs to differ.
“Actually, I think it’s a little better than offset,” he contends.
Color consistency on the KM-1 is excellent, he says. “Visually, every sheet is virtually identical,” Bartik notes.
This was one of things that most attracted his team to the press when they were testing it.
“The quality, the ability to hold color and the quickness of makeready were huge,” he says. But it was another feature that he and his team found most interesting.
The UV Advantage
“The UV curing intrigued us the most. You eliminate having to purchase paper that is pretreated, and you’re instantaneously drying pretty much any substrate,” he says. “We also saw an advantage of how hard it cured.”
Prints are more durable and scuff resistant, he notes, which is great for the postcards and marketing pieces that are going into the mail stream.
Bartik also loves the KM-1’s 23x29˝ sheet size, which allows the shop to be more productive.
“You can fit three four-pagers up on one sheet,” he enthuses.
Though the in-plant added the KM-1 to replace its four-color offset press, that isn’t the only type of work it’s been handling.
“We’re seeing some of the smaller runs that we would traditionally run on the toner devices migrate their way over to the KM-1,” Bartik reports.
Ron Barth, manager of corporate and transactional print, notes that even posters are moving from the in-plant’s wide-format printers to the KM-1 because of its large sheet size.
The inkjet press is being used predominantly for printing marketing materials for Western & Southern’s business units, including booklets, postcards, flyers, letterhead, and pocket folders. The KM-1 recently saved the in-plant a lot of time by printing complete sets of tennis cards for the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament.
“We used to have to run those on offset, and then cut those, and then put them through the collator, and then cut them again,” Barth notes. This time they were run in sets on the KM-1 and cut once, eliminating the need for the initial trimming and collating steps.
The KM-1 has also removed a lot of the waste involved in the offset process as the press got up to color. On the KM-1, remarks Bartik, “You run one sheet and you’re ready to go.”
Because of this, the KM-1 now functions as a proofing press as well. Every morning, operators run a proof of each job scheduled for that day and send them to the designers, who no longer need to come on-site for press checks.
Why Two Inkjet Presses?
While the KM-1 was added to print marketing materials, the Xerox Brenva was installed for different reasons. It replaces two black-and-white digital printers, adding both speed and color capabilities. It also allows the in-plant to expand into a new area.
“We also are taking on additional transactional printing,” explains Bartik. Though the in-plant did a small amount of transactional printing, most of it was output by the IT department. The Brenva will now handle that work, and be able to add inexpensive color to statements. And because the Brenva has an in-line bookletmaker, jobs like annuity policies that were previously assembled by hand are now coming off the Brenva assembled and ready to mail.
Moving into a new facility gave Print, Mail and Fulfillment a chance to redesign its layout for a more efficient workflow. Barth laid out the floor plan so that paper comes in through the loading docks, flows in a logical path from the printers through the bindery, and ends up in shipping or fulfillment. “Getting to set up the entire floor plan from scratch was a big advantage,” Barth says.
The new layout is a vast improvement over that of the old operation. Because new equipment had been placed wherever it would fit over the years, operators would have to move paper all over the place to get it to the next step in the process. That operation had spanned the basements of four different buildings, so getting from the digital printing area to the bindery and then to mail required using elevators, ramps and lifts.
“We were pushing materials quite a distance,” reflects Bartik.
Among its many advantages, the new location has a much better loading dock, he points out.
“Semis can actually back into our dock now instead of offloading in a small alley,” he says.
Because the new facility is just over a mile from the old, associates can still take advantage of one of the main perks the company offers: free breakfast and lunch. A shuttle brings them over the river in just four minutes.
Beyond its marketing and transactional work, the in-plant is also doing a steady business in wide-format printing. Using an Océ ColorWave and an Epson Stylus Pro 9900, the operation prints all internal signage for Western & Southern’s home office campus, and also mounts graphics onto foam board to be used at conferences and events.
“Wide-format has steadily increased over the last two years,” notes Barth, who expects the shop will have produced between 17,000 and 18,000 sq. ft. of signage by the end of the year.
To get new process improvement ideas, the in-plant has embraced a company-wide operational excellence program. Idea boards around the operation allow operators to post process improvement ideas. Then associates meet weekly for a 15-minute discussion of these ideas and to determine who will follow through with each.
“Our goal is to implement 50% of the associates’ ideas,” says Bartik.
Since the KM-1 went live in May, the in-plant has been enjoying great success with it.
“The uptime has been phenomenal,” praises Bartik, adding that the press ran for nearly four months before needing service. The KM-1 has helped the operation increase its workload without increasing staff.
“Between the improvements in the facility, and the KM-1 and the new equipment, we were able to take on additional work … without adding staff,” affirms Gutzwiller. “We have the same number of people that we’ve always had.”
At its current rate of production, working only one shift, Bartik believes the KM-1 will pay for itself in seven years. Yet one recent corporate change may impact that.
Western & Southern acquired Gerber Life Insurance Co. in 2018, and some of that company’s printing may soon find its way to the in-plant. When that happens, Bartik is confident the in-plant, armed with its arsenal of new capabilities, will be ready to take it on.
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 nearly 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.