Lucky Chelsea fans may have received a beautifully printed and bound book for Christmas celebrating the record breaking 203 goals that Frank Lampard has scored for the club. They will not have been aware that this was produced in Stockport, home to Manchester United and City supporters.
It is a fully case bound book, within a slip case, bound in blue with gold embossed lettering. Because of its format, every book and case was produced by hand by skilled staff at Deanprint. Sections were printed digitally in collated sequence, hand sewn, ribbons, head and tail bands included, adding up to numerous process steps that many can no longer offer.
And while this is typical of the work that the 115-year-old company produces, so too are the thousands of school planners, government register books, appointment books for hairdressers, ledgers that record drugs administered and procedures in the NHS, that the business produces on an extensive range of machinery. This ranges from equipment that looks like it ought to be in a museum to the latest Kolbus case maker and Wohlenberg binder and trimmer. Print is represented by Heidelbergs for the school and record books and by Konica Minolta for the short run work like the Frank Lampard book. There is a web interface to allow hairdressers to order stationery while the offices have probably changed very little in 20 or 30 years, save for the appearance of computers. Deanprint is an intriguing mix of the traditional and ultramodern.
Everything is spread across a 4,650m2 factory that the company moved to in the 1930s. Operations director Kevin Lee says that the company has 109 items of equipment to deliver products that few others can offer. To a large extent this is the result of serendipity. During the 1970s and 1980s, the company had lost its way and was drifting without a strategic direction. “That lack of forward thinking means that there is kit here that other companies don’t have any more,” says Lee. Now he adds the challenge is to maintain the equipment and to find the engineers that know how to do so.
He is part of the management team that bought the business three years ago from a wide spread of family shareholders, many representing a portion of the business divided up and passed down through generations. Despite this it was relatively straightforward process, he says. Realistically, this was going to be the best offer these shareholders could wish for.
Lee is the newcomer to the business, joining it in 2008 after 28 years in the regional newspaper industry where he had operations management roles within Northcliffe. There are similarities. “It’s like moving from Cadbury to a Belgian chocolate manufacturer. The inputs are the same and there’s a similar end product, but what happens in between is completely different,” he says. “In a newspaper the content was in one place while press had been moved somewhere else and the production process has become very automated. Here we can see people make things by traditional skills next to digital printing. It’s about coupling the two together.”
The newspaper experience, where automation and process control are well established, has been brought to bear at Deanprint. Automation is creeping in as investment takes place, the implementation of process control is the big change, bringing an additional layer of professionalism to the unquestioned craft skills the business had.
Lee has built this around ISO 9001 with each step in production being signed off with three signatures and with a five-piece job ticket so that every department can take responsibility for their stage of the process. “9001 has been superb for us,” says Lee. Anything that Deanprint produces can have eight or nine separate process steps, so while the procedure can seem quite involved, the benefits in eliminating wasted time and errors are huge.
Investment in a Tharstern MIS has been a big help Lee reckons, pointing out however that the demands of the finishing business placed on the MIS stretched it further than many had previously.
Data coming back from the MIS is used to drive decision making and investment choices. “We have been analysing the jobs that have been done and isolating the equipment we could invest in that would make a real difference to the business,” he explains. “We have changed a huge amount of processes and working practices here.” For example the company no longer has its own stitch and trim capability as this service can be bought easily outside and staff and space deployed to better effect. Instead, the company is looking at areas where it is strongest.
Two years ago it invested in a Kolbus DA260 case maker to speed this step and at the end of last year it installed the Wohlenberg Quickbinder and Trimtec 250 four-knife trimmer. “The next step was for us was to upgrade the three-knife trimmer and perfect binder to increase our capacity for this type of work,” says Lee. “We were looking at a new binder, not necessarily a new trimmer, but when we saw that the trimmer would give us a four edge trim, that became a crucial part of the decision.” Much of the educational work that the company handles needs the fourth trim, which previously would have been done on a guillotine. The Wohlenberg eliminates this, delivering a neatly trimmed collated block for wire or ring binding.
This has replaced an ageing Rondoflex Bufalo perfect binder. “It was getting long in the tooth and suffered from long makeready times, but it was great for back lining and we didn’t want to lose this capability to prepare case bound books. We did think about retaining the machine just for back lining, but the Quickbindergives us this. Not many machines can do both.”
Friedheim International, which supplied the machine, has found an increasing demand for this functionality as a result of growth of case bound books. It is not something that Deanpint has noted because it has always had a focus on case bound books, particularly for government and education where demand has been steady. Its runs extend from around 100 to 3,000 for perfect binding and case binding, the majority at around 2,000-3,000.
Although only in production for a few weeks, and many of its capabilities still to be explored, the Wohlenberg is proving faster at makereadies, as it should. “That improvement will be the most important for us,” says Lee. “We sent two operators for training to use it in Germany.” These can bring on other staff as required in future. The binder was due to handle an A4 landscape job with flap opening before Christmas and is also capable of Otabind for an open flat product, thanks to the back lining capability.
The company is careful not to lose its reputation for taking on work that others cannot. As well as the Frank Lampard book, it recently produced a 600x450mm book about Bruce Springsteen that had to folded, hand sewn, end paper attached by hand and glued into hand made cases, with no overs. Another is a replica of papers discovered in the attic of one of the first members of the SAS recording his wartime experiences during the first three years of the elite regiment. “We take on these unusual formats and find that we get work that can’t be done elsewhere with the result that these customers can send us their other work as well,” he says.
This work demands people prepared to be scrupulous in cleanliness and precise in employing their skills and experience. While not in the same age bracket as the equipment, the staff question is one that remains an imponderable. There are 28 of the 45 employees on the factory floor covering the full range of skills from press to hand gluing and the operation of what look like arcane pieces of equipment. Some of these have been adapted by Deanprint to suit its purposes and handle books well beyond the parameters they were designed for. “It is more and more difficult to get the right people,” he says. “Our turnover is rising against the background of a contracting industry, so we are growing at the expense of others. We are trying to ensure that there is a future here for everybody.
“If we looked back to the management buyout now and said where would we like to have been three years on, we would not have believed where we now are, such have been the strides.”
However, Lee is very conscious that the business was founded more than a century ago and that he and his fellow owners are like those buying an old building and custodians of it until the next generation. Not that Deanprint needs to remain in the current building. The directors own the land so, he says, that remains a future option.
The Wohlenberg Quickbinder has simplified the process of handling short runs requiring fast makereadies, and even though in use for only a few weeks has already made an impact.
The company is set up to produce the binding work that others shy away from, including hand made cases for limited edition books, while its bread and butter includes school planners, appointment books for the hairdressing trade and government register books.
Operations director Kevin Lee joined the Stockport business from the newspaper sector as part of a management buyout team.