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Howard Hunt locks down profitability

Major marketing services provider Howard Hunt Group has revealed a key trade secret that has allowed the firm to answer the seemingly simple question of whether an individual job is profitable or not after three years of trying.

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Howard Hunt is now planning to scale up the use of Imprint’s systems

The company spans some four specialist divisions, fielding a large in-house print and direct mail operation. And so technology director Stuart King candidly states the process of locking down a definitive and reliable system to answer this question on every job was incredibly challenging. After exploring a wide variety of options, the decision was finally made to go with a dedicated management information system (MIS) specialist to provide a range of bespoke and off-the-shelf systems that could form a fully-integrated and—most importantly—upgradeable web.

“Howard Hunt gave the contract to us because of our flexibility,” states sales and marketing director Wayne Beckett.  He adds: “They knew they would require an MIS that could be adapted for their bespoke requirements and we were the only company that was willing and able. We are always open to new suggestions and ideas. Our system is not a fixed solution and can be adapted to meet our client’s needs. It’s a system that’s been built with the end user in mind.”

Beckett explains the key to unlocking any problem of this type is data, and so the first action was to fit SentinelNet Machine Monitoring technology to Howard Hunt’s four web offset presses, sheetfed offset presses, and two offlines.

Howard Hunt gave the contract to us because of our flexibility

The intelligent monitoring system can be used on almost any production unit where items may be counted and automatically identifies standing time from running time, counts good and waste copies, and compares information to the targets set by the overarching MIS system.

King adds: “From the Sentinel data we know exactly the speed we are running at, and we can run this through Imprint to give us accurate running speeds and values for this. Different minders will make ready quicker or slower, and have more or less spoilage. Sentinel allows us to make sure that our estimating costs are in line with our actual production. If we can see fluctuations across the webs, we can look at the reasons behind them as well.”

It was this type of issue that was previously difficult to factor into costing, made worse by the fact that Howard Hunt was using shop floor data capture on the presses, but this did not communicate with the MIS that Howard Hunt was using at the time. And while the talent existed in-house to deal with the issue and produce a single cohesive system, it was the ability to cope with ongoing development and change at the firm that would make maintaining such a system prohibitive.

After a period of intense consultation with Imprint, King commissioned the roll out of a multi-layered and modular MIS system to cope with the heave demands placed on it. These elements now include Shop Floor Data Capture, a barcode-driven pallet tracking system to deal with complex finishing processes and delivery logistics, and a Direct Mail module that was entirely re-written for Howard Hunt to allow real-time reaction to changing factors in the logistic chain.

King continues: “Shop Floor Data Capture and Sentinel are about giving real-time costs back, and making sure that we are scheduling and costing correctly by process and monitoring our performance.”

Everything has a barcode; everything is trackable

This was initially only rolled out in the press hall, and after success there, the Imprint shop floor data capture was extended into finishing. This provided its own challenges, says King: “From a press room perspective it is quite simple, but when you get down to folding and finishing there are a lot of splits – work with the same barcode going out on multiple delivery dates to multiple delivery destinations. That was the next journey – to build and customise that process from within the job bag screen and customise the document generator to give us the right facts and figures. That led to a feed of delivery destination, pallets and quantities going out to our logistics supplier and straight into their Mandata transport management system via XML.”

Stuart King, technology director at Howard Hunt

Howard Hunt now uses Imprint’s barcode-driven pallet tracking system extensively – a module that King describes as a ‘godsend’. It essentially allows the company to ascertain a true picture of where every pallet that has entered or left the premises is located, and whether it contains raw material or finished products.

“Everything has a barcode; everything is trackable,” states an enthusiastic King.

Rewriting the rules

The bespoke nature of the Imprint implementation at Howard Hunt, and the closeness of the working relationship between the two companies, is illustrated by what has been achieved with the software’s Direct Mail module.
“We looked at what the DM module offered out of the box, tested it, and came across some challenges based on the amount of manufacturing lines and processes we have,” explains King.

He adds: “We took the decision to re-engineer the DM module with Imprint from the ground up. The benefit now is that when changes are required because of things like postal rate increases, downstream access developments, new machines, new processes, we are able to handle that internally and we don’t have to wait for development. It’s scalable.”

The company now uses Shop Floor Data Capture, a barcode-driven pallet tracking
system to deal with complex finishing processes and delivery logistics

Howard Hunt is now planning to scale up the use of Imprint’s systems, with the digital printing arm being the next part to become fully integrated.

“This will most likely be achieved through JDF to and from the company’s Prinergy workflow. Imprint will also be more fully integrated into Howard Hunt’s logistics supplier, while integration is already under way between the MIS and a new automated job ganging and imposition tool that Howard Hunt is using,” adds Beckett.

Imprint understands us as a business and understands how fast we will move, so they know that they need to be adaptable and approachable

With around 170 people using Imprint across Howard Hunt, King makes it clear how important the Imprint MIS is to the smooth running of the business: “The ability of Imprint to give us accurate job costings so we know where we are on a job at any given point is extremely powerful. That’s a huge plus, and it has helped us to focus attention where attention is required.

“It is a very, very important tool within our business. Without an integrated MIS we would be working blind, and if you are blind you don’t know where your profit is. I don’t think you can truly be operating a business, even a small business, without knowing what your costs are and where your profit and loss is. The flexibility of Imprint, being able to change and adapt, was also a massive consideration when we were doing the evaluation of the systems that were available.”

The close partnership between the two companies has been a vital component of the success of the implementation, as King concludes: “Imprint understands us as a business and understands how fast we will move, so they know that they need to be adaptable and approachable. We needed to have a direct relationship with the senior members of the MIS provider that we chose, so that we could communicate directly with them. In our fast-paced environment, having to go through several layers of contact to reach a director would never work for us.”

If you have an interesting story or a view on this news, then please e-mail news@printmonthly.co.uk

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