Communisis provides customer communication services from multiple locations, including the company’s three largest locations— Liverpool, Copley and Leeds, all in the UK. With a mix of mail enclosing platforms across the operation, Communisis saw an opportunity to drive greater operational performance and savings through a comprehensive analysis of the existing technology and processes. Communisis collaborated with the BlueCrest Solutions Engineering team with the goal of improving productivity and efficiency across the enterprise. BlueCrest also worked with the Communisis team to develop a forward-thinking technology roadmap.
As a result, productivity has improved dramatically across the company’s production sites as evidenced by a new customer signed by Communisis that increased overall volume of mailings by 25 percent. Because of the efficiency improvements achieved through its work with BlueCrest, Communisis was able to accommodate the increased workload within its existing site and labor footprint. Both companies see their partnership as enormously beneficial, and as a model for other customer-supplier relationships.
"The BlueCrest team understands my requirements, and if we need help, they’re going to go that extra bit to make sure we get what we need. We hold up this relationship as a target for our other suppliers to strive toward."
— Christina McMinn, Site Manager, Communisis Liverpool
- Improve efficiency across all enclosing lines
- Minimize manual work and increase integrity on shorter runs and complex packs
- Standardize equipment across locations to facilitate load balancing, flexibility and increase equipment utilization
- Develop a five-year technology roadmap to future-proof the operation
- Reduced cost to serve and increase competitiveness
- Increased capacity for potential new clients
- Ensured business continuity in the event of disaster, through work interoperability between sites
- 3% reduction in number of enclosing lines, while completing same amount of work
"We’re looking to build an ecosystem of trusted partners, and in that ecosystem, BlueCrest is our most trusted partner."
— Tom Webb, COO, Customer Experience Division, Communisis
Accuracy and efficiency are top priorities for Communisis. "Most of the customers we serve work in highly regulated, compliance-driven industries, such as financial services and utilities," explains Tom Webb, Chief Operating Officer for Communisis’ customer experience division. “The majority of our communications are transactional, such as monthly statements. Some are one-off mailings, such as insurance policy or investment documentation. They’re the types of mailings where it’s absolutely critical to communicate the right information to the right people, 100 percent of the time.”
Prior to the engagement with BlueCrest Solutions Engineering team, the Copley and Liverpool sites were running a total of close to 50 enclosing lines, using diverse equipment. Communisis had inherited some of the machines through acquisitions or contract wins—for example, one large public-sector job required the company to take on the enclosing machines the agency had previously used to perform the work in-house.
"In some cases, we were operating in a very cellular approach, where one set of enclosers was used exclusively by Client A and another set of enclosers was only for Client B," explains Grahame Littlewood, head of sourcing.
"We weren’t optimizing. There were times when one cell would be struggling to keep up with demand, while another had excess capacity. We knew we needed to improve efficiency."
BlueCrest was already providing maintenance and support for all the BlueCrest equipment in the Communisis production sites, when the companies agreed to take the relationship to the next level of productivity and operational efficiency. "Communisis is a good business; we’ve got people in the right places to make things happen," Littlewood says. "But we’re also extremely busy people. It is helpful to have a supplier become, essentially, our partner in driving productivity.
"The BlueCrest solutions team have come into our business, listened to us, assessed our production and SLA requirements and then driven efficiency initiatives on our behalf," Littlewood explains. "They regularly assess the production environment, identify and develop initiatives, monitor those initiatives and then let us know whether they’re getting the traction that they need." All the initiatives aim to drive improved productivity and efficiency of the Communisis production sites, and they have been highly successful.
"The BlueCrest solutions team have come into our business, listened to us,
assessed our production and SLA requirements and then driven efficiency initiatives on our behalf."
— Grahame Littlewood, Head of Sourcing, Communisis
Leveraging staff expertise
As part of the strategic journey, the BlueCrest team initiated a series of Lean Six Sigma workshops with Communisis employees who operate the enclosing equipment. The first session taught participants to view processes from a perspective of continuous improvement. They went back to their regular jobs for a month, making observations and taking measurements, and then met for another workshop in which they jointly undertook root-cause analyses and generated ideas for solving problems they had detected. Some of the ideas were machine-specific, in which case the BlueCrest engineers were able to tweak the equipment to improve productivity. However, many ideas related to changes in operational processes, for Communisis staff to drive internally.
"The workshops provided training in structured problem-solving, as well as support for data analysis," explains Christina McMinn, Site Manager for Communisis Liverpool. "They provided the tools and techniques to help our staff make many of the identified productivity improvements themselves. I think it’s a really good approach."
As an example of the workshops’ outcomes, McMinn cites the performance of a Rival inserter, a focus of one of the workshop sessions. Within six months of the workshop, the inserter nearly doubled the number of jobs it could handle. Another example was the development of a new workflow that significantly improved efficiency of inserting activities in Liverpool.
Fleet roadmap boosts efficiency
At the same time, BlueCrest began working with Communisis to develop a technology roadmap that projects the organization’s manufacturing needs for the next five years based on its expected profile of work and the age of the equipment.
"Our goal is to move to a point where we can lift a job from one site to another, move the operator with it, and the operator will be working on the same equipment, with the same job sheet and the same documentation, with the same files in the same format," Littlewood says. "For many of the jobs we do, we want the work environment to be essentially interchangeable between Liverpool, Copley and Leeds so that it is easy to operate across sites."
Communisis treats all clients the same, regardless of the size of their jobs.Through the BlueCrest technology roadmap process, Communisis discovered a more cost-effective approach for smaller jobs, which it previously handled manually: The Company installed a pair of BlueCrest Pulse™ inserting solutions. "Automating our shorter runs and complex packs has both reduced our cost to serve, by reducing our labour costs, and improved the integrity of these runs by minimising the possibility of human error," Littlewood says.
Communisis also installed four Epic™ inserting solutions, two in Copley, one in Leeds, and one in Liverpool together with a Rival™ in Leeds. "Looking at our future needs in the context of the fleet roadmap led us to the Epic systems," Littlewood says. "With their flexibility in terms of formats and sizes, and their very quick change-overs, we made a business case for one Epic solution replacing two or three older inserters. It financially stacks up, because the increased efficiency reduces our cost to serve."
Following a successful trial, additional calculated productivity gains were achieved. Communisis has installed the BlueCrest DirectView™ interface in all sites, which gives system operators easy-to-use performance information in real time. "We launched DirectView on all the systems in Liverpool, and we are already seeing the benefits," McMinn says. "Having real-time information is helping us quickly identify and resolve issues. For example, if a new insert causes productivity issues, we know that right away."
"Looking back two years, if we had said we wanted to add 25 percent more volume to our enclosing lines, there wasn’t anywhere to put more machines. But now, our work with BlueCrest is allowing us to absorb it into the same site
and labour footprint we had before."
— Tom Webb, COO, Customer Experience Division, Communisis
Through collaboration with its strategic supplier BlueCrest, Communisis has substantially reduced its number of enclosing lines by almost a quarter at its Liverpool site. The partnership has delivered technology optimization, replacing older and less flexible assets with newer equipment. The gains in productivity have helped the company reduce its cost to serve and increase its competitiveness.
These productivity changes have also boosted the company’s agility. Communisis just signed a very large contract with a UK government agency. "This contract alone will increase our total transaction volume by around 25 percent," Webb explains. "Looking back two years, if we had said we wanted to add 25 percent more volume to our enclosing lines, there just wasn’t anywhere to put more machines. Now, our work with BlueCrest is allowing us to absorb it into the same site and labor footprint we had before. That wouldn’t have happened without the efficiencies gained through this initiative with BlueCrest."
Furthermore, Communisis sees room for additional improvements, in particular with the move toward standardization across locations: "Being able to share work between sites gives us better business continuity in the event of a disaster," Webb says.
Strategic relationship poised for ongoing success
The most important benefit to Communisis may be the relationship the company has built with BlueCrest. "I genuinely feel that the BlueCrest team understands my requirements, and that if we need help, they’re going to go that extra bit to make sure we get what we need," McMinn says. "I don’t ever feel sales pressure, and there’s no pointing fingers if something goes wrong. We just work together toward solutions. We hold up this relationship as a target for our other suppliers to strive toward."
Webb concurs, adding, “We’re looking to build an ecosystem of trusted partners, and in that ecosystem, BlueCrest is our most trusted partner.”