Marlton, N.J. - Epsilon, a global, data-driven marketing innovator with U.S. print production facilities in St. Louis, Mo. and Chicago, Ill., views finishing as integral to the success of its continuous digital production capabilities—with results that have exceeded its expectations. Epsilon’s story makes a compelling case for foresight and cooperation among digital print providers and their press and postpress suppliers to implement solutions that work together to boost a company’s overall efficiency and profitability.
MBO Becomes A Mainstay
The company’s St. Louis facility is a continuous digital production center that prints, finishes and mails long-run jobs, including self-mailers, postcards and letter packages for clients in the automotive, financial, insurance and nonprofit markets. It is also where the combination of high-quality, continuous digital inkjet presses from Screen USA and high-speed modular finishing from MBO yields dividends in terms of improved quality, greater efficiency, reductions in the cost to print, and faster speed to market. (Epsilon’s sister plant in West Chicago, Ill., is a digital cut-sheet production center where smaller volumes are processed using a fleet of 10 toner-based, digital color production presses and finishing by MBO.) Worldwide, Epsilon has 70-plus locations and the two U.S. digital print production facilities serving a critical channel of the company’s multi-channel marketing business.
According to Nate Milliken, Vice President of Operations, the St. Louis facility has been an MBO shop for more than 28 years. The facility started out with cut-sheet mono toner printers in the early 1990s and grew the platform to six engines, before expanding its platform in 2004 to include six continuous-feed mono printers, with output finished on six MBO B21 buckle-plate folders. Between 2006 and 2009, the facility purchased two additional continuous-feed mono printers, and two additional B21 folders. The facility also added two toner-based, digital color presses, which it used to print a growing volume of high-quality, high-value digital projects. It was around this time that the facility undertook a series of expansion efforts with more MBO-led finishing capabilities, including the addition of its first high-speed digital folding system from MBO in 2010.
Rapid Growth Dictates Big Changes
As Epsilon continued to expand, by both job volume and acquisition—notably of Aspen Marketing Services, a direct marketing agency which included a direct mail production business with five toner-based digital presses—it became increasingly clear that the company’s current total of 10 toner-based digital production color presses were beginning to struggle with the demands of a rapidly growing business. With its lead times increasing and its efficiency decreasing, the company sought a faster, more efficient engine to accommodate its high-end digital color printing needs and support company growth. That’s when Screen USA stepped up to the plate with its TruePress Jet520 HD press, which the company quickly embraced, installing two of the machines in rapid succession in 2015. To date, Epsilon’s St. Louis facility has installed a total of three of the continuous-feed digital inkjet webs to replace all but one of its toner-based, digital color presses. Thus equipped, Epsilon produced 98 million 8.5” x 11” digital pages in 2015 and 292 million pages in 2016, with 350 million forecasted for 2017.
“The TruePress Jet520 HDs print 10 times faster than the cut-sheet, toner-based digital presses they replaced,” Milliken said. “Moreover, because the difference in quality is not significantly different from the digital toner presses and is hard to detect, we’ve started moving some of our digital toner programs and some of our mono work over to the Screen presses, resulting in additional growth.”
Said Milliken, “When it came time to install our first Screen TruePress Jet520 HD press in 2015, we already had the know-how to do the finishing precisely because of our experience finishing the output from our continuous mono equipment.” At the time, he explained, the facility’s first MBO high-speed finishing configuration was focused primarily on straightforward 1- and 2-up mono work with parallel folding in the main unit. However, when the company moved to the digital continuous inkjet side for higher value-add self-mailers and oversized postcard work, different inline finishing requirements were needed. As a result, Epsilon’s second MBO digital finishing line featured Herzog & Heymann cutting and plowfold units for scoring and gluing fold forms inline, enabling the company to accommodate the high-volume turnaround times for projects printed on the TruePress Jet520 HD. “The combination of our second MBO system and first Screen digital press gave us the ability to process roll-to-mail tray at a rate of 17-20,000 self-mailers per hour,” Milliken said.
Full Speed Ahead
By December 2015, Epsilon had purchased its first and second Screen TruePress Jet520 HDs, along with a third digital finishing line (UW52/520 + SVC 521 +Folder) from MBO. The company added a fourth MBO digital finishing line in February 2016 (UW52/520, SVC 521 and folder), followed by a third Screen TruePress Jet520 HD and a fifth MBO finishing line in mid-2017. The company now has five MBO finishing systems in varying lengths and configurations to support the output from all of its digital presses, each of which is equipped to take advantage of the efficiency of roll-to-roll printing, thanks to MBO rollstands placed before and after the press. In all cases, Milliken said, Epsilon considered its finishing options in consultation with MBO and Screen USA to determine the best way to integrate its printing and finishing technologies, and decided that near-line finishing would best maximize both press performance and uptime.
While Epsilon prints nearly 100 percent variable data on its continuous digital inkjet equipment, the company still operates six continuous mono printers for the production of shell forms and mono imaging, to the tune of 123 million mono feet or 268 million mono pages annually, up 7 percent so far this year—output that is “not insignificant,” Milliken observed.
Last Things First
Overall, the company is very client-focused, an operating philosophy that creates practical requirements for the way Epsilon manages its day-to-day production. “Demand is changeable, so we have to be flexible,” Milliken said. Epsilon’s need for turn-on-a-dime flexibility has put the company’s finishing decision-making at the front and center of its investment strategy. In many respects, said Milliken, “The printing is easy. It’s the finishing that’s hard,” requiring considerable planning in collaboration with a trusted finishing partner.
“We’ve been an MBO shop for a very long time because MBO offers capable, stable and proven technology,” Milliken said. “Because we left nothing to chance and mapped out our needs ahead of installation, we’ve achieved excellent compatibility between our Screen Jet520 TruePress HDs and our MBO finishing lines. Of course, we constantly reconfigure our finishing lines for custom projects, but the tremendous flexibility of our MBO equipment enables us to meet client requirements without undue delay.”
With MBO rollstands placed before and after each machine, the company typically runs the Screen HD presses at 1200x600 dpi with a consistent rate of 246 fpm on self-mailers and postcards, and up to 492 fpm when running letters at 600x600 dpi. The facility runs 24 hours, 5 days a week with OT on weekends during peak demand periods. MBO rollstands have been able to support roll weights that can exceed 1,250 pounds, sending the printed materials out to any of Epsilon’s five MBO finishing lines, which typically can output finished materials at the same speed as the press (250 fpm to 500 fpm). There’s no bottleneck at all between the press and finishing,” he said.
“We are a quick-turn operation,” Milliken said. “Our MBO finishing lines enable us to flex as needed and focus on the value-added. It’s all about service levels: maintaining a high quality standard and staying nimble and creative enough to meet demand.” While Milliken admits that downstream mail sorting can sometimes create a bit of a logjam, as a rule, printed materials wait in the staging area no longer than 24-48 hours.
Results That Speak for Themselves
As a result of its tightly integrated press and postpress operations, MBO technology has influenced strong returns for Epsilon, contributing to the company’s business success and positively impacting client satisfaction. With the installation of MBO high-speed digital folders, “We consolidated three production activities (score, cut, then folding) into one inline activity (roll to mail tray) on the MBO digital folder,” Milliken stated. “From the inception of the digital technology for self-mailers and postcards, we did 45 million digital mailers in the last nine months of 2015, our startup year, and 136 million in 2016. In the first eight months of 2017, we ran more than 3,000 rolls, digitally producing more than 110 million mailers.”
“We’ve been able to increase our business offerings as well,” Milliken continued. “Because every Screen image needs to go through MBO equipment, we increased our volume 197 percent from 2015-2016 on the digital printing side, thanks to the reliability of the press, as well as to the unwind and rewind systems from MBO. Our overall annual facility mail volume increased 13 percent from 2015-2016, and is on track to increase 24 percent in 2017.
According to Milliken, Epsilon’s investment payback on its MBO finishing systems is about 18-24 months, depending on utilization, including all of the capabilities required to finish a variety of production formats.
Depending on job volume and paper type, Epsilon expects to realize significant material savings through the use of Screen-produced SC inks. The non-toxic, no-VOC, hot air dryable SC inks will enable the company to print using up to 5 percent less ink on U.S. mill-produced standard coated or commodity-grade uncoated offset papers, versus the premium inkjet treated papers used exclusively in the past.
“We are proving out the SC inks in production and are very pleased,” Milliken said—so much so that Epsilon’s first two Screen Jet520 HD inkjet webs are scheduled to complete upgrades to the SC inks in early Q4 2017. (The company’s newest TruePress is already equipped to run the SC inks.) “We also can continue to run inkjet coated paper on all of the Screen presses, so we also offer our clients tremendous substrate flexibility,” he said.
MBO Modularity is Key
For Epsilon, the modularity of MBO’s technology is key to staying ahead of the event-based, time-sensitive marketing strategies embraced by its clients. “For postcard jobs,” Milliken explains, “We literally drop in the slitter shafts with gutter trims already set for 4-up, 4 x 6 postcards. The slitter shaft is already set with trim blades for 4-up, so we simply take out whole shaft that’s in there and drop in the correct shafts for the format. It’s easy as pie.” Epsilon reports being able to deliver four streams of postcards at 10,000 forms per hour (40,000 postcards) while sorting inline.
“When we run 3-up postcards, as is the case for 5x7 format, we simply take out the 4x6 shafts and drop in the pre-set 5x7 shafts,” he says. “It’s the same with any other setting, so set up time is literally 15-20 minutes, if that. It used to take around 45-60 minutes, with waste. The time and material savings have been huge.”
Epsilon continues to benefit from using MBO finishing technology in combination with high-speed digital inkjet printing from Screen USA. “With digital volumes increasing 20 percent in 2017 over 2016, and overall mail volumes increasing 24 percent, our growth has been tremendous,” Milliken said. “State-of-the-art, high-speed digital inkjet printing from Screen USA and digital finishing from MBO enable us to enjoy the best of both worlds. In our experience, MBO is a world-class digital finishing provider. MBO knows how to create a digital finishing line that complements our digital printing equipment and helps to maximize its performance. MBO equipment is also built to last while offering advanced technology and reliability.”