Lockheed Martin: ‘What Else Can We Do?’
The air and missile defense systems built by Lockheed Martin’s Missiles and Fire Control (MFC) division are vital to the safety of our country. From advanced missiles and rockets to AI-enabled autonomous systems, these defense technologies equip the U.S. military for their mission of protecting the country from 21st century threats.
Crucial to the success of Lockheed Martin MFC is its 20-employee Publishing Center, which provides the planning, engineering, and customer meeting support that makes these projects possible.
“Our primary reason for being is to do proposal work and support the programs,” explains Business Support Services Manager Jim Denova. “We need to have an internal print solution for classified programs.”
In recent years, though, the print operation has taken a new approach, which has expanded the services and the value it provides to MFC. It all stems from a new thought process, which Denova sums up like this: “If we have this equipment, what else can we do with it?”
That “what else” includes a plethora of wide-format and acrylic printing projects, in support of company culture improvement initiatives. This has broadened the in-plant’s reputation at Lockheed Martin MFC, transforming it from a mere copy shop into a true Publishing Center, providing a variety of services.
Also essential to the Publishing Center’s success has been Denova’s focus on building strong ties with the departments the in-plant supports.
“If there’s anything that I’m most proud of that we’ve done in the last 10 years, it’s building that relationship with those stakeholders in Communications and Facilities,” he says.
This has turned the Publishing Center into a valued partner, which departments consult with at the beginning of their projects to learn about possible solutions. Having this close relationship has led to new print projects no one would have considered previously.
“We’ll find an answer,” assures Denova.
Two Production Operations
The MFC Publishing Center operates out of two locations: a 5,000-sq.-ft. facility in Grand Prairie, Texas, near Dallas; and a 13,000-sq.-ft. plant in Orlando, Fla., supported by a satellite operation at MFC’s main Orlando campus. The two locations resulted from the 1995 merger of Martin Marietta with the Lockheed Corp., which brought the two companies’ in-plants together.
“We can respond to anybody, anywhere across the country. We provide support to nearly 20,000 employees worldwide, with 18 major operating locations,” says Denova, who has overseen the operation since 2008, after retiring from a 21-year career with the Marine Corps. Aiding him in managing these operations are Kirk Blomquist, Cristin Morgan, and Frank Vrla at the Dallas facility, and Darnell Harris and Erica Linn in Orlando.
Denova praises his team for the value they provide to the company. They have shared ideas and embraced change at the Publishing Center, and the operation’s success can be directly attributed to their hard work and dedication.
“All the culture changes and new products would be for nothing if we didn’t have a skilled team able to make things happen,” he says.
The Orlando operation moved into new quarters a year ago, in the opening days of the COVID-19 pandemic (see sidebar, page 15). It uses mostly Xerox production equipment, including an Iridesse, and runs Mimaki flatbed and HP and Epson roll-fed wide-format printers.
The Dallas operation uses Canon production equipment, including an imagePRESS C10000VP. Its wide-format operation is equipped with Canon roll-fed printers and a Mimaki flatbed device.
The two operations print proposals, fact sheets, and literature for MFC systems, training manuals, booklets, meeting slides, labels, forms, fliers, certificates, and posters, plus numerous wide-format projects on canvas, vinyl, foam core, PVC, and acrylic substrates. The Publishing Center also provides Macintosh support, mail services, scanning, and promotional item support.
Security of sensitive documents is an important focus of the in-plant, which has dedicated systems just for printing classified materials. MFC product manuals shifted from print to other formats long ago, Denova says, so today most of the in-plant’s support is for the developmental stages of projects.
The print operation keeps a close eye on costs, Denova says, and works hard to provide the highest quality at the lowest cost to the organization — and he has the studies to prove it.
“Every major project is tracked for costs and, when complete, has an outsource cost comparison sourced from our research,” he reports. “Our current pricing comparisons show us approximately 70% cheaper — including labor — than publicly available options for wide-format print, 50% less expensive for production print, and 40% less expensive for flatbed and acrylic print.
“In 2019, we also conducted a cost comparison between current Publishing Center costs in Dallas versus outsourcing the operation,” he adds. “Our entire operation, including wide-format and promotional items, came in at 22% less expensive than the cost of outsourcing.”
In recent years, the in-plant has undergone a big change in the types of materials it produces.
“We have seen a decided shift from production print to wide-format support being a majority of our business,” Denova says.
This is ironic, because just a few years ago, he thought wide-format’s days were numbered.
“There was a time I thought wide-format was going to go away,” he says. But the shop’s shift to a “what else can we do?” mindset has opened up numerous opportunities.
When the company kicked off a culture optimization effort to create a more pleasant work environment for employees, the in-plant saw an opportunity to contribute.
“We invested in a flatbed engraving machine and started producing innovative signage. We got higher-quality wide-format roll printers and began producing artwork. We investigated framing options and canvas wraps and started offering those items to our customers,” Denova says. “Through it all we worked very hard to build increasingly important and effective relationships with the key stakeholders in that process: our Communications and Facilities departments. We built our reputation as the providers of cost-effective high-quality solutions, and our customers started seeking us out.”
Turning Requests into Dialogs
Building those relationships was not easy. For years, those departments simply sent work to the in-plant without having any conversations about it. Denova wanted to change that.
“We started turning those requests into dialogs,” he says. “One of the things I learned in the Marine Corps was ‘communication is key.’ If your people don’t know what you want to do, or how you want them to do it, then you can’t expect them to do it.” Those dialogs turned into weekly meetings with Communications to talk about current and future projects and discuss what worked and what didn’t. They also put the in-plant in the know about upcoming opportunities.
When the Publishing Center learned of a corporate initiative to standardize nameplates for all 20,000 MFC employees a few years later, the team did some research. They knew the metal frames and engraved plastic inserts being used were costly, and concluded that a printed acrylic nameplate could be affixed to any surface with adhesive strips — a much simpler solution.
“And they could be produced at an 87% cost reduction,” he adds. “We pitched the idea to Facilities, who was funding the project, and told them the only holdback was funding for a flatbed printer. They looked at our numbers and said, ‘What if we buy it for you?’ We said ‘yes!’”
So the Dallas operation installed a Mimaki JFX200-2513 UV-LED flatbed printer in late 2018. Though the initial analysis showed a 2.5-year ROI on the machine, the in-plant got a big surprise once it started on the nameplate project.
“The payback time was significantly better than even our most conservative estimates,” Denova says: just five months.
When that project ended, the in-plant didn’t slow down at all.
“We used the nameplates to get our foot in the door to get the equipment, and now we do a ton of acrylic work,” he says. “It all came out of finding a good business case and an entry point, and then asking the question, ‘OK, now that we’ve got it, what else can we do with it?’”
The in-plant added another Mimaki flatbed in Orlando, and was ready when a cafeteria redesign project came up. The in-plant was tasked with printing numerous wall graphics — artwork, historic company photos, employee pictures, textured graphics, and more — onto acrylic and canvas. It was a very visible demonstration of the Publishing Center’s capabilities.
Wide-format, Denova says, has been a game changer for the in-plant.
“It opened a whole new world for us and grew a whole business,” he says.
Customer Service Focus
The in-plant’s ability to expand its business was aided by its strong focus on customer service. Denova says each employee receives customer service training so they understand how to listen to customers’ concerns and guide their thought processes toward solutions.
“It gives everyone a common starting point for providing an outstanding experience that the customer will want to repeat,” he says.
As a result of this stellar service, departments seek the in-plant out rather than looking to outside print providers.
“We have changed the culture around us where we are everyone’s first stop for print or signage solutions,” Denova says.
If he learns of customers sending print work to outside providers, he connects with them to educate them on the in-plant’s offerings. The in-plant also holds awareness events and shop tours to show people what the Publishing Center can do. This often features a drawing for a canvas wrap print of the winner’s choice. To further promote its services, the in-plant has created a product catalog, which it distributes to customers. Denova and his team proactively seek out opportunities to help customers as well.
“We regularly review our company strategic planning documents and mission statements of the various programs and stakeholders,” he says. “We look for areas we can support.”
COVID-19 put the brakes on a lot of the Publishing Center’s work last year. For six months only two employees were allowed in each facility at a time, with the rest working from home. One project that kept them busy was improving the library of scanned MFC engineering drawings: cropping and cleaning the scans and giving them more descriptive file names.
“It was work we needed to do,” Denova notes.
The company was very supportive of the Publishing Center during this slow time, Denova praises, and kept his entire team employed. As production volumes return, the team is continuing to focus on serving the company’s needs and giving customers an experience they want to repeat.
“Years of work building a [reputation] is all paying off in the last four or five years,” Denova says. “We are the place to go.”
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.