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Preparing For Change

December 1999
Boeing Printing & Output Service

Seattle

Annual sales/budget: $56 million

Full-time employees: 330

Jobs printed per year: 240,000

Bill Walker, senior manager of printing operations at Boeing, has seen a lot of changes in his 33 years—and he knows that as soon as one technology is mastered, it's time to prepare for the next.

"We've about maxed out the gains in our printing operation," says Walker of the shift from camera ready art to the digital original. "Ten years ago, it was tough to get an electronic original because customers didn't think that way. Today, 95 percent of our originals come to us digitally."

That change has dropped the in-plant's cost per unit to almost half of what it was five years ago, which translates into huge savings on the half-billion pages of maintenance and flight operation manuals the shop prints each year.

Those black-and-white manuals account for 70 percent of the workload at Boeing's central printing operation, with the other 30 percent consisting of high-end color work, mostly brochures and marketing materials. The in-plant gets outside quotes on every color job and regularly outsources odd jobs, a million copies of a six-color annual report being one example.

The in-plant's 65,000-square-foot facility also encompasses micrographics, which creates and stores 16mm microfilm files. Surprisingly, microfilm far outstrips paper in its use by airlines; for every 10 copies sent to an airline, Walker estimates that the shop sends 230 cartridges of microfilm.

Boeing also has 35 copy centers scattered throughout the Seattle area. Like the main printing operation, the copy centers fall under the responsibility of the shared services group. Their inclusion in this year's figures helped push Boeing from sixth place to third on IPG's Top 50 list.

Thanks to a flattening of Boeing's managerial levels, Walker now plays a more direct role in supervising his 122 employees—but he still spends most of his time planning for the future. With Boeing to produce 400 planes next year, compared with 600 in 1999, Walker wants insource more print work to help balance the in-plant's fixed costs.

The in-plant is also in the process of replacing the several thousand walk-up copiers throughout the Boeing facility with three times as many multi-function machines that offer faxing and printing capabilities, in addition to copying.

But for Walker, these are small potatoes compared to what he thinks the future holds. He predicts that e-commerce and Web-based businesses that provide printing will change what people expect from printers.

"We're going to see a real change from printing in factories with big machines to mini-DocuTechs all over the place where you can demand some subset of a document that you might want to read and carry around," he says.
 

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