Variable Data Print Results in a Classic Win-Win-Win Situation

The new markets of print on demand, variable data print, and web to print are gaining in significance for DS Graphics in Lowell in the U.S. state of Massachusetts.The innovative family-run business relies on a Muller Martini Primera Digital saddle stitcher for the efficient stitching of customized and personalized print products, as well as for the preparation of products for routed mailing.

“Initially, people thought that the Internet would wipe out the printing industry,” recalls Jeff Pallis, President and CEO of DS Graphics. “But in reality, it isn’t destroying our industry, it’s simply changing it. The Internet has opened up many new market opportunities for our company.”

That is happily reflected in the bottom line of the family-run business, which was established by Jeff Pallis’ father James in 1974 and employs 200 people. While its conventional print business decreased by around 10 percent last year, DS Graphics recorded growth of between 15 and 20 percent in the new markets over the same period. “Thanks to the new markets, 2015 was the most profitable business year in the history of our company,” says Jeff Pallis with pride.

In 2014, DS Graphics completed 2 million products on three small saddle stitchers, and by 2015 that number had grown to 7 million products produced on the Primera Digital.

Three Strings to its Bow in the New Markets

One of the new markets at DS Graphics is print on demand. Such products do not vary in content and are printed (or reprinted) in runs of 1 to 100 on demand to minimize storage costs for customers.

DS Graphics is also strong in the variable data print segment, which involves unique copies produced in runs of one copy that are geared to the specific needs of end customers according to their data.

The third string to the innovative company’s bow in the new markets is web to print. Customers can create print orders, both for conventional and digitally printed products online, through a portal belonging to DS Graphics’ 24/7 online store.

Variable data print is one of the business segments that is growing most markedly at DS Graphics. “Since a lot of data of the customers is known, our work is increasingly database-focused,” says Jeff Pallis. As a result, it’s possible to target customers more effectively by using customized catalogs.”

According to the company head, that has three key benefits: “Our customers save money because they can avoid distribution losses. Our end customers save time because they only receive advertising that they are really interested in. And for DS Graphics it’s an attractive business model – in other words, it’s a classic win-win-win situation.”

Customized Travel Brochures

Customized, personalized travel brochures that are digitally printed in runs of one are typical examples of variable data print products. A leading U.S. travel agency now offers personal holiday brochures containing the favorite destinations of its customers – preferred travel destinations can be individually entered on the travel agency’s website for small-group package tours.

Those who are keen to visit the Slavic countries on the Adriatic, for instance, receive a catalog about Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina, while those who prefer Australia can learn more about Sydney, the Outback and the Great Barrier Reef.  Every travel brochure is a customized, unique “My Catalog”, enabling the travel agency to communicate even more effectively with its customers.

Complete Solutions

To enable such complex products, DS Graphics supports its customers throughout the process (around half of its customers come from the northeast of the U.S., but it also has customers in Canada, South America, Asia and Europe). “Today, we not only print, but also offer our customers complete solutions from design to production through to routed mailing,” emphasizes Jeff Pallis. “The fulfillment of all the requirements of our customers has become a key aspect of our business.”

The fact that DS Graphics’ customers can attract readers’ attention more effectively with higher-quality print products also has to do with a worldwide phenomenon, explains Jeff Pallis. “Many of our customers observed that increasing numbers of end customers were unsubscribing from their e-newsletters. Suddenly, they could no longer communicate with their potential customers, and reverted to printed magazines.”

In order to handle such high-quality products, DS Graphics has its own creative department, which develops innovative applications, such as augmented reality, websites as well as multi-media solutions for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, for internal use and for customers. In addition, the company’s in-house IT department simplifies the import of customer data, which is complex in some cases.

Finishing Poses a Particular Challenge

The (digital) printing of customized and personalized products such as mailshots, manuals, directories and many other marketing instruments is one thing, but efficient print finishing is another. “The major challenge is to achieve a high production speed in finishing too,” notes Jeff Pallis. For saddle stitching, DS Graphics therefore relies on a Muller Martini Primera Digital with the new 0507 cover feeder, six flat pile feeders, a pocket fold unit and an MBO processing folder.

“We showed Muller Martini our products and our production process, and Muller Martini pointed the way with a customer-specific configuration,” says Jeff Pallis. “Each meeting brought us closer and closer to the ultimate solution.” Jeff Pallis, whose brothers Jay (Finance), John (Sales), Justin (Sales) and sister Jessica (Promotional Items) hold leading positions at the company, explains that DS Graphics’ machine requirements are just as specific as the needs of its customers today. “Our customers want customized print products, and we’re looking for tailored machine solutions.”

Jeff Pallis, President and CEO of DS Graphics (right): “Our customers want customized print products, and we’re looking for tailored machine solutions.” Left: Frank Donnelley (MMUS)

Preparation for Routed Mailing

The new Primera Digital not only enables fully automatic production thanks to the Asir 3 barcode system, which ensures that the cover and content match (variable data production), but also prepares the products for mailing. DS Graphics, for instance, produces travel brochures, which display the recipient's address on the back page and sorts the mail automatically. The bundles are prepared for routed mailing in the Robusto compensating stacker (variable bundle production).

The barcode that is printed on every signature and cover contains a product ID (which defines the job), a copy ID (which ensures the correct sequence of the signatures) and a bundle ID (for mail sorting). DS Graphics delivers the customized products, which are optimally sorted by mailing route, on pallets to the customers. “Variable bundle production is an important part of the production chain, without which we would lose money,” says Jeff Pallis.

Prior to commissioning the Primera Digital, some of those production steps were performed manually. “That was highly inefficient and wasted a lot of time. The high degree of automation of the new line provides us with a quick, seamless workflow both for online and conventional orders,” says Jeff Pallis, underlining the key advantage of the new saddle stitcher solution.

Hybrid Solution for Digital and Offset

DS Graphics, which has eight different digital printing systems, uses the Primera not only for purely digital products, but also for magazines with a combination of offset and digital signatures with variable content. One of the major benefits of the Primera Digital is the fact that it enables the production of hybrid products,” underlines Jeff Pallis. “The new saddle stitcher is just as versatile as our company.”

Naturally, the new saddle stitcher, which is changed over at least ten times a day, is also used to produce numerous conventional products. Despite the growing importance of the new markets – where DS Graphics has been present for 15 years, making the company one of the U.S. pioneers in those business segments – conventionally printed (commercial) products in runs of millions continue to account for the vast proportion (85 percent in terms of volume) of DS Graphics’ print business.

The Primera Digital comes into its own for such long runs thanks to its high production speed. While DS Graphics produced a total of 2 million products in 2014 using three smaller systems, two of which have been replaced by the new saddle stitcher, in 2015 the company produced some 7 million products using the Primera Digital alone.