United Engravers

Collaboration and Visibility Drive a Shift to Automation

“We were making it work, but it wasn’t working for us, begins Kathy Brazzale, creative design manager at United Engravers in Schaumburg, Illinois. “We had a system for managing intake and production of our jobs but it lacked visibility between departments and of our overall operation.”

United EngraversUnited Engravers (UE) primarily manufactures flexographic printing plates for converters who produce corrugated and flexible packaging, along with other print solutions for the food and beverage, consumer goods, and automotive markets. As the business grew, so did the need for increased automation and better visibility of all the processes from job receipt through delivery.

“We weren’t totally paperless,” relates Jeanne Price, director of business communications. “Also, we had a homemade system that was meeting our immediate needs, but required repetitive or manual steps and didn’t give us the connectivity we needed across the company as our offerings increased. Too much data was paper-based and not readily accessible.”

“It meant we were missing opportunities for internal efficiency and we couldn’t be as responsive to our customers as we wanted to be,” adds Brazzale. “We needed to build a database that would bring continuity from past jobs through the present, so we could be more automated.”

United Engravers researched Hybrid Software based on earlier experience using a prepress product developed by the company’s founder. “We were very interested in Hybrid’s technology, and they immediately brought in Anderson & Vreeland,” relates Price, “We’ve worked with Anderson & Vreeland for years and were excited to see their proposal, which let us take advantage of Hybrid’s MIS offerings relevant to our industry. A&V’s program delivered innovative solutions we had not asked about, or even considered.”

Complete solutions

United EngraversOne of the unique capabilities of Hybrid Software is that it enables the different machines used in corrugated printing to work together. Anderson & Vreeland takes advantage of this feature and leverages Hybrid’s software for use with many of A&V’s products to provide complete solutions. This dramatically expands the options and support levels both companies offer, and helps provide thoroughly integrated solutions for a host of packaging and converting needs.

“We were only looking for an MIS system, so this gave us a much bigger picture than we expected,” notes Brazzale. “But bringing in solutions beyond our request is something we’ve come to expect from Anderson & Vreeland.”

The new MIS system, which will go live later this year, is on track to replace a system developed over a decade ago. The biggest challenge is the time required to convert years of legacy information. “There are some jobs that have changed very little in several years,” relates Brazzale, “still, we need to have that information in our new system.” She notes that this is not uncommon in corrugated packaging where individual product packaging placed inside a corrugated container may be updated regularly but the plates for the corrugated container may require only minor periodic changes.

Broad benefits

United EngraversPrice and Brazzale both expect the new MIS to yield dividends throughout the company, accelerating the flow of jobs from intake to production, especially for unique jobs and those that arrive with very tight turnarounds. Then there’s mounting, a key point where the new system is streamlining operations and reducing stress.

“Scheduling pre mounting for completed printing plates was a daily bottleneck, and it was often done manually,” explains Price. “We gave Hybrid a picture of what we envisioned, and they came up with a way to do it,” recounts Technology Specialist Walter Smith. “They came up with things we didn’t think were possible. We were absolutely thrilled.”

UE, Hybrid Software, and A&V hold regular conference calls to refine the software during development and guide its implementation at United Engravers. “We share screens and talk about the many aspects of the project,” says Brazzale. “We’ve often casually mentioned a feature or capability we’d like, and they return with a solution that’s completely outside the box.”

“It is a true partnership working with Hybrid and A&V because we learn from each other. We learn how to improve and change our operation, while they learn about our business and can use that knowledge as they develop other products,” notes Brazzale.

United EngraversPrice agrees. “Hybrid already had a software solution that could be adapted to our needs. We collaborated on that template, and it snowballed into a flexible system, unique to our individual business workflow. Now it’s more than we ever thought it could be, and we are capturing data we thought was lost.”

Once the new MIS is fully integrated Price and Brazzale expect to have a stable system they won’t have to continuously monitor and update while handling their everyday requirements.

“We’ll also see cost reductions across our internal workflow, and will be able to further customize the system without reinventing the wheel,” says Brazzale. “Anderson & Vreeland will be our source for future equipment because having machines that work with Hybrid’s MIS software will help us automate more of our production operation.”

“Beyond the shop floor, we’re also looking forward to new sales opportunities because we’ll have a deeper understanding of our customers and can better anticipate their needs,” concludes Price. United Engravers anticipates a more robust, consistent, customizable system rolling out in 2016.