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Faster bookletmaking

May 1, 2003 12:00 AM

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When Gene Joynt founded American Business Printing (ABP) as a business-forms company in 1977, he adopted a simple credo: Do whatever it takes to serve the customer. In its early years, the York, PA, shop's primary clients were the state of Pennsylvania and federal agencies. The work was fairly straightforward, consisting mostly of continuous-run, snap-set business forms produced on ABP's Didde roll-to-sheet web presses.

Although ABP — now based in Lewisberry, PA — has grown to 35 employees generating $4.5 million in annual revenue, its service ethic has remained unchanged.

New market segments

Upholding the “whatever it takes” motto, however, has meant diversifying offerings to keep up with changing market needs. By 1984, Joynt knew that ABP's niche as a continuous-form printer would have to expand. He made a significant investment to go after new market segments, by purchasing a small commercial print shop and installing new sheetfed presses with thermography capabilities.

The new business plan called for ABP to produce many different applications, including brochures, letterhead and reports. The strategy required new managers. Joynt appointed his sons, Jim and Jeff, to head the sales and manufacturing teams, respectively. Their sister, Jeanine Emery, joined as controller, and their mom helped with bookkeeping.

“It was an exciting time, because we had an opportunity to significantly grow our business,” says Gene. “It was also quite a challenge to manage growth and maintain profit margins in light of our investments.”

Manual collating

One way ABP sought to increase revenues — and improve quality control — was to keep its postpress work in-house. After deciding to focus on flat-sheet vs. signature collating, the printer knew it was time to invest in an automated collating and bookletmaking system. The company purchased a new bookletmaker in 1998.

The system, however, proved to be unreliable. It continually broke down and produced marking errors. “We had lots of new jobs coming in, but we couldn't accommodate the demand for quick turnaround,” says vice president Jeff.

“As it turned out, almost 50 percent of our saddlestitching work had to be farmed out or hand-collated,” Jeff explains. “It was ironic, because we had finally automated the bindery, but with the system down so much, we were forced to do manual collating, folding and stitching — hardly an efficient workflow, and not exactly a morale booster for our staff.”

ABP couldn't bid on many enticing new jobs, and its existing work suffered. Because the collators wouldn't collate business forms into sets, ABP employees had to hand-collate thousands of sets of forms. The experience delayed a job and dramatically signaled the need for a change.

Two collators in one

Fortunately, ABP's graphic-arts dealer, Northern Machine Works (Philadelphia), had come up with a potential solution. Account rep Dan Johnson brought the Joynts to a demonstration of the Standard Horizon SpeedVAC in line with the SPF-20 stitcher/folder, FC-20 face trimmer and the ST-60 dual-delivery stacker. The SpeedVAC, said to be one of the industry's fastest collators, is a vertical suction system distributed by Standard Finishing Systems (Andover, MA).

The owners liked what they saw and purchased the first of three two-tower systems.

ABP put its first SpeedVAC to the test immediately, operating it virtually nonstop during its two shifts. Nearly six months later, the company had reported almost no downtime and a significant increase in volume. Because of its dual-delivery system, which enables the production of up to 6,000 booklets per hour when both ends are operating, Jeff regards the SpeedVAC as two collators in one. Run lengths range from 250 to 5,000 booklets.

“Time is obviously critical to us. We really appreciate the quick setups and the ability to make simple adjustments on the fly,” the exec reports.

Only one operator required

The new system also offers labor savings. Only a single operator is required with the SpeedVAC, and Jeff says ABP can now get more production from fewer people. “We don't have to worry about recruiting and retaining skilled labor nearly as much as we used to,” he notes. “At the same time, our operators tell us that they're really comfortable using this equipment. They like the touchscreen console, which features graphic icons and easy, centralized remote control of all functions.”

Prior to acquiring the SpeedVAC, ABP produced fewer than 300,000 books a year. That production has increased dramatically — after the first SpeedVAC approached the 10-millionth-booklet mark, ABP ordered a second one. And when the second system reached the 10-millionth-booklet plateau, the company purchased a third identical model. “We keep reaching new milestones — 30 million booklets and counting,” says Jim.

No more cutting corners

ABP is now a full-service commercial printer, offering end-to-end prepress design, offset printing, bindery and distribution services. The printer operates four Ryobi 3200 presses with T-heads for waterless offset thermographic printing of greeting cards. It also recently installed an Itek 3985 true two-color press, on which it runs up to six colors. On the finishing side, it does foil stamping, embossing, crash imprinting, diecutting and offline numbering.

Recently, ABP added short-run digital printing to its operation. The printer typically produces covers on a color Canon CLC 1000 copier, runs documents on a black-and-white Canon imageRunner 8500 and collates on the SpeedVAC.

“We'll continue to diversify our offerings,” says Jim, “but we'll never cut corners again when it comes to finishing.”