I recently had the chance to talk with Scott Crosby of Holland & Crosby, Ltd., about issues relating to bottlenecks in the wide-format production process. In the article, it’s interesting to see how changes (and improvements) in technology can strongly affect a company’s complete process. The comments included here may sound familiar to many using wide-format equipment.

Dan Marx: Tell us a little bit about your company. How long in business, number of employees, main market and product areas served. How does the company describe itself to the customer?

Scott Crosby: Founded in 1932, Holland & Crosby Limited was established by R.J. Holland, Sr., when he purchased Maurice Advertising, a small screen printing shop. The company was originally named Holland & Neil and quickly became the premier screen printing shop in Canada. In 1965, Jack Crosby a former employee of Holland & Neil started his own company, J.W. Crosby Advertising. These two companies operated for many years as competitors in the same marketplace sharing ideas and supporting each other on large projects. In January 1997, the two companies merged under one roof and Holland & Crosby Limited was born. We currently operate with 31 employees to design, manufacture, and distribute POP signage and displays to the retail marketplace across North America.

DM: Describe the company’s recent transition from a decades-old screen printing operation to one that is fully and completely digital. How long did the transition take?

SC: In January 1999, Richard Labiuk and Scott Crosby, along with their financial partners, purchased the company from the senior partners and started to invest in new technologies. Digital print production was gaining momentum and we were outsourcing a fair bit of work to cover off the French components in our production runs. In 2004, we purchased the digital assets of a small printing company and brought digital print production under our own roof. We figured we would need to spend $100K to upgrade the equipment. One Columbia Turbo and one Vutek 3360 later, we were all set to go….we just missed the $100K by a digit or so! When Inca launched the S70 in 2007, Holland & Crosby became the first company in North America to install the new technology (February 2008). By 2010, our last four-color inline screen press left the building and we became a 100% digital operation. The transformation from 100% screen to 100% digital took place over six years.

DM: You’ve mentioned chasing “bottlenecks” through the production process. Can you describe where the primary bottleneck first showed up, and the path you’ve take through the process to ultimately eliminate them?

SC: Print production in our screen printing days was always the bottleneck. The time it took to produce film, screens, makereadies, obtain color, and run the job was always the longest part of the process. It was also the most unpredictable. The number of variables in the process created slowdowns and stoppages for bad film, re-shooting screens, replacing squeegee rubbers, and adjusting color. When we switched to digital, all of that went away. Within a half an hour we were up on press and running. The bottleneck became the finishing operation, as we now had to deal with a 5x10-foot sheet of material. The digital cutter ran at half the speed of the Onset so we invested in a second cutter and swapped out our two 61-inch guillotines for one 127-inch wide guillotine. The bottleneck jumped now to prepress as the number of files and versions continued to increase. We invested in workflow software to enable them to process files quicker with fewer touch points. Now the bottleneck has come full circle to the front office. It takes longer to process the job from estimate to work ticket than it does to produce it. We’re hopeful that out MIS system will get us to a point where that bottleneck has been eliminated.  

DM: Assuming this is on ongoing quest, can you describe the company’s primary production bottleneck? What are you seeing as viable solutions in this area?

SC: MIS is definitely the company’s primary bottleneck. We are working with our provider and have an IT person working for us to try and transform their “out of the box” solution into something that fits our business model more precisely. Estimating seems to be the biggest part of the challenge. Our sales team have been using an Excel spreadsheet that was originally developed in Lotus in 1985. This program is quick, easy, flexible, and very accurate for our world but unfortunately is not linked to anything else like Production or Accounting. The new MIS system is so detailed and cumbersome that it’s not easy to pump out a quick number for a client who is waiting to get moving forward with a job that was due yesterday. We are making progress and hope to be live with the entire MIS system by the end of June.

DM: With digital being a “leaner” process, are there fewer potential issues, or is it not that simple?

SC: There are definitely fewer issues with digital print production. It’s very much “what you see is what you get.” The consistency throughout the run, the repeatability from one run to the next, the ability to produce full size, full color prototypes to see where you’re going before you start all make digital a simpler process. There are some ink issues with adhesion and flexibility. There is the loss of spot color and specialty inks but on the whole digital has been the perfect fit for our business model.