Real Digital International (RDI) has had the builders in. The former paper store in the Croydon factory has been transformed into a new press hall to house the first of two Screen Truepress Jet520 inkjet presses. The first machine has already arrived in the factory, with the second due in the next few weeks to service a significant business win says managing director, David Laybourne.
The arrival of the Screen machines opens a new chapter for the all-digital print business. It is run by a team headed by Laybourne, production director Barry Stephens and sales and marketing director Chris Tagg. In all, nine of the 137 staff are shareholders in the company. It was started with the aim of creating a print business that truly reflected their thoughts, plans and vision for the future, using only digital technologies; toner machines for sheetfed and mono continuous work and inkjet for full colour web printing. With the understanding that digital personalised printing was the future of marketing. RDI opened for business in 2006 and now seven years, and much experience, later this thriving production facility attests to the success of their vision and is now moving up a gear with the brace of Screen presses.
“What we aimed for in 2006 was a very big task,” says Laybourne. “We set out our stall with a lot of capability and expected things to immediately progress, but didn’t really appreciate the extended gestation period that was involved with work of the complexity that we undertake.” In short customers were having to re-organise the way they approached campaigns for the new world as the print business saw it. As a consequence the company needed to adapt.
Tagg explains: “We started out as a business that was selling print, but we found there was no money in simply selling print. Today data and fulfilment are driving our print.” Laybourne adds: “We have accepted that direct mail volumes are not going to come back to where they were, so we have had to think more broadly. We do not want to do commoditised work, so have concentrated on supply chain services. Print will always be here, but we need the other services to add value. That can be digital watermarking to link print and online, or online statements. This is still a print business, but what drives print volume are the ancillary services we provide.”
It is a value added approach that demands more involvement with customers, innovation and continuing investment to match customer expectations. It is, Tagg explains, about understanding the issues that customers have, which are not always about buying print at the cheapest price. It means that taking on new business is a slow process, a 12-month gestation period is not unusual he adds. “We are not interested in patrolling around agencies asking for a job,” Tagg says. Instead it’s a matter of sitting down with a customer, understanding their processes and devising a solution that will involve print, though perhaps not exclusively and not in a traditional manner. The sales team has been directed in this approach and have gained experience in this way of selling as a result, thinking in terms of partnership rather than an isolated order to hit a monthly target. If necessary, a sales executive will spend a day in a customer’s warehouse to understand how a piece of print is utilised, and devising ways to improve the overall process.
Laybourne adds: “If someone wants 100,000 leaflets printed, there is minimal difference between printers that are able to do this. The key for us is to make a difference and add value to that business.” And that can mean personalisation and digital printing.
For one long standing customer, a direct to consumer wine retailer, RDI receives the data feed and prints tasting notes for the dozen wines that their customers order online for each case sold. It’s a benefit to the end consumer who gets a detailed description of each bottle of wine, and it’s a benefit to the wine business as well because the top document in the set contains a 2d barcode that comprises the pick list for warehouse staff to pack the box. “This has reduced the lead time from closing an order to being dispatched by a full day in a five day schedule,” Laybourne explains.
Another customer is an insurance company that is saving £1 million on postage costs after RDI stepped in. Instead of customers receiving the standard list of items insured that can be covered by a litho printed policy book mailed together with the laser printed schedule of the policy that individual had purchased, RDI now digitally prints the policy terms only for cover that the individual has purchased. There’s a physical saving in paper and postage and a gain in consumer satisfaction and legal compliance as there is no longer any confusion over what is covered by the policy and what is not.
This is a job that will quickly transfer to the Screen presses where the speed of production will be welcome. Laybourne explains: “We find we can win or lose a job according to the schedule we can offer. Some runs lengths are increasing and we need to produce them faster.” With the Screen presses in place, that will no longer be an issue. Further the addition of colour will improve the effectiveness of the communication. And it’s a job that is typical of the way that the business has evolved in just a few years.
It has become less about speculative mailings, but more about personalised communications after a consumer has made a purchase. Nor is it straightforward transactional printing of statements. Tagg calls it “transfilment”.
If the original business plan had focused on using long run high quality digital printing for customer acquisition, the financial crisis helped to shelve those plans. For many marketers the emphasis has been on consumer retention through improved communications, on saving money and not on winning new business. Customers are cautious, not just because what RDI is offering involves change, not just to marketing but equally a change to their business processes. “IT departments can understandably be quite change resistant, so agreement with all stakeholders has been very important to us,” says Laybourne.
The aim is a smooth transition to new ways of working that eliminate errors and risk. The systems are in place at RDI’s 70,000 sq ft production facility to eliminate this. There is fingerprint recognition to manage who is allowed into each part of the building; the servers are locked away in an even more secure fire proofed room; and every job is subject to camera integrity checking that each item is correctly inserted into the right envelope. For one of its high profile jobs that involves sending out medical screening packs to those identified as at risk from serious disease, this level of integrity is crucial. And it is delivered.
Not everything is this complex. The company produces point of sale material for a chain of corner shops and small supermarkets, printing in store posters and hangers rather than the largest posters that demand wide format inkjet presses that the company does not have.
The posters have been printed on the RD presses which, because they use UV cured inks, are able to print on gloss paper. The pitch is that the individual stores will receive the exact number of posters to suit their requirements with offers that apply to that shop or region. Calls to head office about incorrectly delivered packs have dropped from 8% to below 0.1% says Laybourne and even those calls are not the result of error by RDI. “Print is no longer expensive,” he says, especially when so many hidden costs can be driven out of the fulfillment process.
While the RD machines are capable of very high quality, and were specified to do this at a point when other inkjet technologies were in their infancy, they remain relatively slow at 24m/min. The company needed something faster with no loss of quality. The search for, and investment in this was the project for 2013.
RDI took in visits to the key providers that had been identified, involving trips around Europe, North America and eventually to Japan. “We looked at the T series from HP, but given the high average ink coverage of our work were concerned about the life of thermal heads, and we felt there were issues with drying on the papers we use. Xerox had just bought Impika, which was exciting for us, but the samples they showed us were very disappointing. Screen was the best all round performance where print quality was good and it worked in terms of speed and price point,” says Laybourne.
In the period between February and September last year, Stephens took test jobs and specified the paper to be used on each job, but found that not all suppliers could deliver. “It would help if paper was significantly less of an influence on ink jet print quality than it still is,” Laybourne adds. Cost has reduced slightly as inkjet papers become more widely used and there has been improvement in the mid-range of inkjet specified papers, which RDI is now using. Ideally the company would have liked to print on standard papers, but where the highest quality is required, inkjet papers still bring advantages in terms of the colour gamuts that can be achieved . “Quality on inkjet stock is a match for the RD machines which had been the aim” adds Stephens.
The company also liked Screen’s vision for the future. Engaging with a new technology partner is an important step,” states Laybourne, “ and clearly we needed to believe that our future was in safe hands. Our visit to Japan to assess future technology convinced us that there was an opportunity to work with Screen for many years ahead.”
Stephens is now glad that the travelling is behind him. The task now is to ensure that the 128m/min machines connect to the Hunkeler finishing systems which will deliver sheeted or reeled products.
A key application will be production of carrier and T&C booklets for plastic cards, either loyalty cards for an increasing range of businesses or SIM cards for the mobile phone market. These carriers are produced in their hundreds of thousands, and while few need to be personalised to a specific customer, all have to be versioned, identified and tracked so that when activated the card can be traced to the shop and back to Croydon if necessary.
Such is the volume of this work that RDI has invested in a Friedheim International-supplied Bograma rotary die cutter to replace two of its three Heidelberg Cylinders. One remains to deliver the shortest run work. Its Heidelberg stitcher can produce variable pagination work using barcodes to identify each job through the process. “The post press services allow us to do things that other people cannot,” Laybourne says. RDI has also bought an H+H folder to finish the t&c booklets for some applications that are printed on the lightest possible stock.
This is indicative of moves to automate production of this type of job as much as possible, driving out cost while improving integrity and providing an end to end audit trail. This has been driving force since the financial crisis and a shift in emphasis for the business. It has concentrated on retaining as many of the processes as possible, bringing back work that had been outsourced. The focus has been on pushing as much work through the plant as possible and on debt reduction. This has helped to grow the business 9% during 2013, a third of that from returning outsourced work, to sales of around £17.8 million from 137 staff. The target for 2014 is to grow a further 10% and take revenue to over £19 million on the back of the Screen investment. Its policy is to look for a return on investment on new equipment over three to four years.
This is both sound practice and fits with current market conditions. “It’s hard to see where we will be beyond two years,” says Tagg. “At the moment most client focus is on customer retention, just 10-15% is about customer acquisition. Perhaps better analytics will drive a change.”
The size of the business and the daily involvement of its directors mean that it can make fast decisions on developing new services and entering new vertical markets, perhaps opened up by the speed and capabilities of the Screen Truepress Jet 520s. These will have the Screen Equios front end that will integrate with the existing production workflows that include GMC’s Inspire document composition engine to create PDFs on the fly according to consumer profile and matching databases. Colour management currently resides with the studio and will most probably remain there with the production ready files picking up profiles for the destination press and paper at output.
The Screen presses will join five Xerox iGen 4s (“a big step forward over the iGen 3”), the two RD inkjet presses and two Xerox Sedona CF mono machines that have handled the volume lasering.
There continues to be huge investment in managing data, campaigns can require hundreds of thousands of image and text combinations to cover all eventualities in user profiles. For holiday companies this can cover resorts, hotels, flights and UK car parking and destination car hire for example. RDI is also embedding digital watermarking into images which, when scanned by mobile or tablet can trigger a video or take a consumer to a booking or order page.
The emphasis has been on demystifying data and document construction for its customers. This is both bringing new customers to the digital print sector and helping those that are already present to segment further for shorter campaigns. Laybourne reckons that with the new investment RDI is well placed. “The market is coming to us with shorter campaigns that do not need to go to the traditional high volume transactional production houses. A run of 150,000-200,000 is now typical. It’s not huge, but it’s big for digital printing,” he says.
The relative simplicity compared to a few years ago of structuring a personalised campaign can bring its own problems. “We may lose a job on price, but then the client finds that the cheaper supplier simply cannot do the job in the timeframe or to the right standard. We have the expertise to make it all happen properly.”
It also has the firepower to deliver the most complex jobs by taking an intelligent and insight driven approach to solving clients problems; listening and collaborating with clients to assess how their processes can be improved. Constantly pushing the boundaries and pioneering innovation in the world of dynamic print and fulfillment solutions, RDI engenders a confidence in their ability to deliver. Tagg questions: “Everybody in the industry talks about innovation, but how many can deliver it?”