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RR Donnelley Inventory Management Solution goes live with as-needed book production

Press release from the issuing company

Harrison, Virginia — Following a successful pilot production period, RR Donnelley has gone live with its Inventory Management Solution (IMS) — a digitally driven production line that manufactures soft cover books on an “as-needed” basis to reduce publishers’ inventory costs. Developed by Nipson, Muller Martini, MBO, Shuttleworth and Hunkeler collaboratively with RR Donnelley, IMS can cost-effectively produce short runs of perfect bound books, then changeover in a matter of minutes to print, bind, and box a new title. RR Donnelley came up with the concept for the system based on anticipating the needs of its book publishing clients. It then assembled this group of technology companies that it felt could best turn the idea into a working system. The goal of the new technology is to eliminate the need for maintaining large inventories, while providing publishers with a way to quickly print additional copies of a title. The fast makeready capabilities of the IMS module make it economically viable to produce books on a just-in-time schedule. A roll of paper and stream of digital data enters one end of the system and a flow of quality soft cover books, trimmed, stacked, cartoned and ready-for-sale, emerges from the other. RR Donnelley is using the technology to address some of their key product segments, such as advance reader copies, mature front list, back list and out of print titles. “IMS is certainly meeting our expectations by allowing publishers to order smaller quantities more frequently,” says Kevin Spall, Director of Solutions Development for RR Donnelley’s Consumer Book Publishing unit. “That allows them to replenish their inventories faster, so they don't have to keep large amounts of books on hand taking up warehouse space and increasing capital costs.” Spall reports that publishers have been successfully using IMS to commercially produce from 5”X 8” to 6”X 9” volumes for almost a year now. “The publishers are migrating titles at a healthy pace from their traditional offset model to our IMS model,” he notes. The system is currently focusing on consumer trade titles ranging in content from 84 to 660 pages. Run lengths range from 500 to 2,000 copies, with approximately 700 being the average. At the input end of IMS is a Nipson VaryPress, a webfed digital printer that produces at the rate of up to 400 feet per minute. At the finishing end is an integrated assortment of Hunkeler, MBO, Shuttleworth and Muller Martini equipment, anchored by an AmigoDigital perfect binding system. “It was AmigoDigital’s ability to deliver a top-rate book in terms of appearance and durability that made it a key IMS component from the start of the project,” according to David Sharpe, Prelim Manufacturing Manager at RR Donnelley’s Harrisonburg Plant. “The AmigoDigital provides a quality adhesive bound soft cover book,” he observes. “It’s the same quality our customers get off of our high-end perfect binding systems. To put it another way, the quality level is equivalent to what our customers expect to receive from RR Donnelley.” With the quick turnaround times demanded of a just-in-time system, productivity was also an issue. “In operation, AmigoDigital is nearly a zero makeready system,” Sharpe says. “That improves our ability to profitably handle shorter runs and minimize our makeready waste. And its production rate of 1,000 books an hour more than matches the overall speed of this system.” When commenting on the durability he expects to get out of the perfect binder, Sharpe points to Muller Martini’s reputation as the world’s leading maker of finishing systems: “We have the confidence of knowing we can run it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without any problems. AmigoDigital is a commercial production system; it’s not an office mailroom type machine.” Muller Martini’s contribution to the system also includes the Merit-S three-knife trimmer and the Uno Stacker. Sharpe had specific praise for the trimmer: “The Merit-S has done an outstanding job in terms of two things that are typical issues with perfect binding systems — wrinkles and chip-outs at the backbones of the books. It eliminates those quality defects, and at the same time produces a consistently square, trimmed book.” The Uno stacker also drew positive comments from Sharpe: “The Uno is something we can run and forget about. The main advantage is that almost no makeready is required on this machine. You simply set how many books you want in each stack and the machine does the rest.” RR Donnelley solicited the help of four of its premier customers during the six-month pilot of the IMS system, in order to prove its ability to meet the rigors of the book publishing marketplace. The first month of the trial was spent installing components and making sure that all of the systems worked well together. Then the IMS team began producing test jobs supplied by the participating clients. “As soon as the work was printed, we took samples back to the customers for their reaction,” Spall recalls. “We produced each book seven-to-nine different ways. We brought them all to the customer and asked: Which ones best meet your expectations?” Based on the responses, RR Donnelley developed standards and protocols for the IMS system, in order to make sure that the system was being used optimally and that its results would be consistent with market expectations. The remaining pilot period was spent running live work from all four pioneering customers, until the system went commercial in early 2003. Since then, RR Donnelley has been expanding its marketing efforts on IMS’ behalf. “We got the word out to our sales team through a full day training seminar at each of our sales offices,” Spall says. “They are the eyes and ears of our customers, so it is critical that they understand its benefits and have an opportunity to challenge any of our assumptions.” Today, IMS is open to all of RR Donnelley’s consumer trade market customers and the company has begun looking to expand into additional areas as well. “As we do this, we will continue to be calculated in our approach,” Spall notes. “This is not just a digital printing press; it has the capability to be much, much more.” As the marketing efforts move forward, demand for the system is increasing monthly, according to Spall. “It’s been a lot of work but at the same time very rewarding. We will continue to roll out further enhancements and new capabilities for IMS, in order to help our customers better manage their book inventory levels.”