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DIGITAL PRINTING: MEETING THE DEMAND

Apr 1, 1999 12:00 AM


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When it comes to producing and distributing information in today's fast-paced global marketplace, businesses can't afford to think small. Strategy Manufacturing, Inc. of Hayward, CA has made it their business to think big as a provider of on-demand turnkey digital printing and manufacturing applications.

Specializing in just-in-time printing, packaging and distribution of information for the software manufacturing industry, Strategy already handles the accounts of some of the country's largest software firms, including Sybase and Compuware. Now they have joined forces with Lason, Inc. (Troy, MI), an international provider of integrated information management for image and data capture and storage, data management and output processing. Strategy's role involves managing the delivery of everything from documents via the Internet to printing and distributing CDs, books, diskettes and manuals.

"This whole digital arena, in its print, delivery and online forms, is really the bleeding edge stuff, and in order to grow we needed to be part of a larger company," explains Robert Newsom, founder and CEO of Strategy, acquired in June. "Lason shares our belief in the need to deliver information globally because customers are becoming global. The strategy is to identify successful companies, run by entrepreneurs with a vision of the future, that are good platforms for us to globalize. This crosses over the entire information spectrum from software companies to manufacturing companies to financial investment and insurance. It includes direct mail, statement processing and online delivery of information."

Founded in 1993, Strategy quickly reached high standards of quality, gaining ISO 9002 registration and a sixfold increase in annual revenues during the past three years. Timely equipment acquisitions for its on-demand publishing business was the key.

"Six years ago, just-in-time printing was cutting edge and we were among the first on our block to have the Docutech, which was just emerging into the marketplace and beginning to effect the way people printed," explains Patrick Ducey, purchasing manager for Strategy, which now has annual revenues of $11 million.

Ducey was working with Newsom for a manufacturer of three-ring binders when they realized the untapped market that existed for one-stop shopping to the software industry flourishing in northern California's Silicon Valley.

"We were working with these software companies, selling them three-ring binders and thinking, 'We can do it all for them'. That was the genesis of the idea to start Strategy," recalls Ducey. "We started maintaining these companies' inventories, updating their manuals and distributing printed materials in small quantities to their customer lists."

Newsom lends this explanation of the customer need they filled: "Information in terms of software and software products changes so quickly that companies really couldn't make use of large volumes and were discarding inventory. Our goal was to produce the product as they had a demand for it and be able to quickly handle the changes from one version to the next." Technical and training manuals, new products releases and product updates create the core of these print jobs subject to immediate change and requiring the shortest cycle times. One of the initial hurdles for the company was not meeting the tight deadlines for these on-demand jobs (Strategy's turnaround standard is just three days), but competing with offset printers for longer runs.

Adopting two OcE 8080 Twin on-demand publishing systems, along with an OcE Printserver 9000 front-end processor, proved to be the answer to competing with traditional offset technology. Customers with long-run requirements, coupled with product or service information that could change five times in one year, could reap the benefits of on-demand print technology, including print engines that generate more than 50 million pages of on-demand output per month.

Strategy had one last trail to blaze--finding the right paper. Paper choice was critical if the firm was to venture into long, high-volume runs. And the stock had to measure up to the quality demands of clients. "Direct mailings, product release and corporate manuals aren't very convincing on lower grade paper," explains Ducey.

In addition, the continuous forms printer, equipped with a Beste Bunch roll stand, required roll-fed paper stock. "We had to have the smooth bright paper in roll form that we already had in cut form," Ducey says. "We also needed to deliver the same paper on our cut-sheet printers."

Georgia-Pacific's Imaging Rolls was the solution. This line of roll paper includes Microprint Multi-System and Digital Publishing Text (DPT), both of which were put to the test by Ducey on the 8080 Twin. The results were impressive. "We made a quantum leap forward in terms of print quality," claims Ducey. "The paper created a level playing ground." "By using this roll paper we can maximize our productivity on web jobs without losing the print quality. The results look and feel the same, but now we can fully utilize all of our equipment," asserts Ducey.

Strategy also has made a steady diet of Microprint DPT. Offering a high opacity and 92 brightness in a 45-lb. text, the paper is a good match for printing books and manuals. "Firms are more serious than ever about cutting hidden costs," says Ducey. "The high ppi allows us to reduce bulk for mailing and distribution. It is thin enough to reduce bulk without sacrificing runnability, opacity or brightness."

As part of its eagerness to embrace leading-edge digital technology, Strategy has developed an internal network to maintain digital workflow from customer order to delivery in its publishing operations. Called Encore, the software functions through a dedicated Web site where customers can re-order jobs simply by entering a quantity, delivery date and purchase order. The software launches the order and takes it to the cue, allowing the customer to drive manufacturing through their own system. The specifications, print files and bill of materials are all linked together, eliminating the need for human intervention in the process. The result is cheaper and faster service.

Strategy can now take its customers to the next level: from "on-demand" to "for-demand." Newsom sums it up this way: "Our goal is to deliver our services by integrating all of Strategy's processes into one system, then extending this workflow to our customers and their systems."