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Building a Smarter In-plant

Using a print management system combined with Web-to-print software has streamlined and improved Michigan Farm Bureau's Printing Services operation, bringing critical information to the manager's fingertips.

January 2013 By Chris Bauer
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For Karen Meyers, business manager at Michigan Farm Bureau's Printing Services operation in Lansing, Mich., knowledge is power.

To keep her in-plant running efficiently and effectively, Meyers depends on Avanti's Graphic Arts Management System. Specifically, Printing Services utilizes Avanti's estimating, order entry, inventory management and reporting modules, as well as Avanti's eAccess Web-to-print software.

"It definitely streamlines our operation," Meyers says, noting the shop has been an Avanti customer for more than eight years. "It also gives us a high-level overview of the shop."

Michigan Farm Bureau is the state's largest general farm organization, with more than 200,000 family members in 67 county farm bureaus. Michigan Farm Bureau is in the same family of companies as Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan.

Meyers says her eight-employee in-plant has enjoyed significant time-saving capabilities since adding eAccess four years ago.

"The jobs come into the system, we have templates loaded on our Web site for our clients, and customers can view immediate proofs when they place the order," Meyer explains. "The nice thing on our end is that it comes through ready to print. The file is ready, and the job has written itself."

Meyers contends that the shop's customers love how easy the Web ordering software is to navigate.

"I have had some people that, literally, I sent them their user ID and password and five minutes later they e-mailed me back and said 'thanks so much. I am already done,' " she proudly reports.

Michigan Farm Bureau's marketing department also likes the Web ordering features because of the template process, Meyers points out.

"They have loaded about 50 different postcards for the insurance agents to use," Meyers says. "That has allowed them to streamline the branding process. They can upload different cards at different times of the year."

This also ensures consistency of logos throughout the organization, she notes.

Through the Farm Bureau Web site, customers were able to order 2013 calendars, which were produced by the in-plant. It was all set up as a template on the site, so it was a simple process for customers, Meyers says.

"Customers just enter the quantity they want, and it is all ready to go," she says.

Web-to-print Aids Insourcing

About 15 percent of the in-plant's work is currently insourced. The Web-to-print module originally was only open to internal customers; however, in the past six months, the shop has opened it up to external customers, as well.

This was a key to helping the in-plant to produce work such as posters, tickets and business cards for an event called Breakfast on the Farm. More than 10,000 people attended different events throughout the summer, bringing additional work into the in-plant.

"All of the counties were able to order print jobs for the event through the Web site," Meyers says. Previously, someone had to set up each job.

"So it saved a lot of time this year having online ordering," Meyers says, noting that the ease of online ordering has become a big selling point for the in-plant.

Meyers also finds the reporting module to be incredibly valuable because she is able to run reports and generate information for the company.

Avanti's reporting module offers more than 200 standard reports, providing insight into an in-plant's historical data, as well as information about jobs currently being worked on at the shop.

"So when I go to our upper management and they want information about the shop, we can easily generate a lot of information," Meyers says, adding that the Avanti system allows the in-plant to do accounting work and track inventory.

Press operators can do time and material entries, and Meyers says they have found it to be very user-friendly and easy to navigate.

"That is key as well, so you know what you have and to make sure you are charging out the right amount," Meyers contends. "Even if you are just doing cost recovery, it is obviously important to know that you are covering your costs."

A Productive In-plant

Michigan Farm Bureau's eight-person in-plant produces work using a Kodak NexPress 2500 SE and a Kodak DigiMaster EX150, plus ABDick 9970, 9860 and 350 offset presses. The NexPress 2500 is used to produce postcards, fliers, brochures, manuals, and a variety of other materials. The machine also outputs a lot of greeting cards, Christmas cards and wedding invitations. Templates are loaded to the shop's Web site. All postcards have raised information with the organization's branding.

The shop's bindery boasts a Baum folder, GBC coil binder, and a new Challenge 305XT cutter, which replaced a 30-year-old Challenge cutter. A 54˝ Xerox 8254E wide-format printer handles large-scale projects like banners and posters.

Meyers feels that the company sees the value of having all of these printing and finishing capabilities in-house.

"Events come up pretty quick for the company, and the in-plant is able to turn around jobs quickly," she says. One such event is the Michigan Farm Bureau's large annual meeting, Meyers points out.

"For that event alone, I don't know how they would handle it without having an in-plant," she confides. "There is no way an outside printer would be able to meet the deadlines and get everything done."

Even though it is an annual event, it often comes down to the wire getting jobs submitted from various customers, she notes.

The in-plant is very cost competitive and is able to save the company money, Meyers boasts. Although there are times that it makes more sense to send work out.

Meyers often will go into the Avanti system and estimate costs between doing a job in-house as opposed to sending it out.

"Then it makes the decision easy," she notes.

Avanti's estimating module allows users to customize cost and pricing formulas to accommodate any type of production machine. It can create a single, combined estimate for both offset and digital output.

Meyers belongs to the Avanti users group and attends the annual conference. She also sees value in participating in the group's Web site to ask questions and get feedback from other users.

"That way, you know you are not alone in the world," she says, with a laugh.

Meyers has high hopes for the future of her in-plant, even when facing changes in the printing industry and other challenges in the marketplace.

"I see us continuing to grow," she proudly states. "Obviously, print has changed and there are some definite challenges, but we are well positioned to grow. I do think adding value-added services is key. So we are looking at what ancillary services we may need to add to stay competitive and to offer our clients what they need."






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