An integrated MIS helps keep eyes on the prize

Richard Stuart-Turner
Monday, June 29, 2015

Regardless of size, one thing that every print business should bear in mind at all times is how profitable a job is likely to be as, after all, making profit is essential for any company that wants to continue to grow, thrive and move forwards.

Around four years ago, Dartford-based print group Howard Hunt had got to the stage where it decided to do something about the fact that it had no quick, simple and accurate way of determining the true cost of a job and, ultimately, no easy way of knowing exactly how profitable each job was for the business.

The challenge

The firm, which offers web and sheetfed offset printing alongside digital printing and a range of marketing services, had been working with several different management information systems (MIS) across its various business arms.

It was using shopfloor data capture on its presses, but this did not communicate with the firm’s MISs.

With this in mind, Howard Hunt made the decision to implement a universal MIS that would span the entire company’s operation.

Before coming to this decision, the firm considered working to more tightly integrate its existing systems. However, it was concerned that, as upgrades were made over time on one system or another, that this would be harder to manage than dealing with one MIS supplier.

“The initial project had a base cost plan and we had a development budget going forward, because with the number of manufacturing lines and the complexity of our processes we knew we would never be able to use an MIS straight out of the box,” says Howard Hunt technology director Stuart King.

The company looked at the various options on the market to find a system suitable for the business.

“There was a management review team made up of commercial, estimating, client services and production who went out to the market and subsequently made the decision to go with [MIS developer] Imprint,” explains King.

“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 method

Imprint agreed to build a bespoke system for Howard Hunt’s needs and the first roll-out of the system was installed in 2011.

“Imprint was brought in to have an end-to-end solution, where previously there may have been two or three applications that didn’t communicate with each other,” says King.

The MIS implementation project was broken down into stages to make it more manageable across the multiple sites. The company’s older systems were phased out over time.

The first and, according to King, most important aspect of the implementation took place at the start when Imprint’s SentinelNet Machine Monitoring technology was fitted to Howard Hunt’s four web offset presses, sheetfed offset presses and two offline systems.

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

Along with Imprint’s shopfloor data capture, Howard Hunt was able to calculate the real margin on a job rather than an estimated margin by using this.

“Sentinel is what gives us back our real-time job costings, because it’s tracking every product through the manufacturing lines. It also gives us our time in makeready and production, our average speeds and our performance speeds – everything is driven from that,” says King.

“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.”

Imprint’s shopfloor data capture was initially only rolled out in Howard Hunt’s press hall but after success there it was extended into finishing, which King recalls as being more challenging.

“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.”

Building and customising that process from within the job bag screen and customising the document generator to give the business the right facts and figures were Howard Hunt’s next tasks.

“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,” explains King.

Howard Hunt also uses Imprint’s barcode-driven pallet tracking system extensively. The system ensures that everything is trackable by making sure that everything has a barcode.

This module gives the company the ability to see at all times where every pallet that has entered or left the premises is located, see the make-up and the original source value of the pallet and see whether it contains raw material or finished products.

As part of the bespoke nature of the MIS implementation, Imprint rewrote the software’s Direct Mail module after Howard Hunt came across some challenges based on the number of manufacturing lines and processes that it has.

“We took the decision to re-engineer the DM module with Imprint from the ground up,” explains King.

“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 result

Around 170 of Howard Hunt’s staff are now using the Imprint MIS and King says the decision to implement the system across the business has been more than justified.

“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.”

Although Howard Hunt has faced some challenges during the roll-out of the MIS, the business has found that this has been more than worth its while from the data that it has received back from the system.

“Like any new tool there’s always a learning curve, and that will continue because it’s constantly evolving. All of the staff have adopted the new process over the term of the Imprint MIS being implemented and developed,” says King.

“It can only be seen as a positive because it has allowed us to make valid and calculated business decisions.”

Looking to the future, Howard Hunt is planning to fully roll out the MIS across its digital operation. This will most likely be achieved through JDF to and from the company’s Prinergy workflow. 

“Digital estimating is the final stage of the jigsaw for now but there are lots more projects on the roadmap; but nothing on the main core of the MIS system, it’s more ‘nice to haves’ and added benefits that we can see,” explains King.

Imprint MIS 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 the company is using.

The firm’s main target for the MIS for the next few years is to continue to develop and evolve the tool as the business grows.

“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,” says King.

“We have achieved what we set out to but our goals continue to move so we are constantly reviewing what information we want to obtain out of the MIS,” he concludes. 


Howard Hunt Group

Location Dartford, Kent

Inspection host Technology director Stuart King

Size Turnover: around £70m; Staff: over 250 

Established 1990

Products The group comprises five independent companies specialising in different disciplines: data strategist Celerity; digital marketing specialist Celerity Comm; direct mail, door drop and insert printer Howard Hunt; Howard Hunt Mail; and Howard Hunt Managed Services

Kit Three Mitsubishi web presses, a 10-colour Mitsubishi TP3000 sheetfed press, a five-colour Komori web press, two Xerox iGen4s, two Xeikon 8000s, five Buhrs and nine CMC enclosing lines 

Inspection focus Installing an integrated MIS


Understand the benefit of having a universal MIS in your company as opposed to a number of different systems. It has particular benefits for large businesses with a lot of equipment and processes.

Think about what you want to achieve with a company-wide integrated MIS implementation. “It’s allowing us to understand job costing performance and to focus our attention on areas that need it,” says Howard Hunt technology director Stuart King.

Choose an MIS supplier that understands your needs and will support you through growth and other changes. Howard Hunt cites its close relationship with Imprint as a vital component to the success of the MIS installation.

Question whether a ‘straight out of the box’ MIS will be useful for what you want to achieve, or if you need to make tweaks to get the most out of the tool. At Howard Hunt’s request, Imprint agreed to build a bespoke system to suit the company’s needs.

Ensure that the MIS vendor you choose is easily contactable so that queries can be dealt with quickly. “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,” says King.

Consider that there will be challenges with an MIS roll-out of this scale, but that the benefits are likely to strongly outweigh these. “There are always challenges but you need to get over the hurdles and every time we’ve managed to do so we’ve seen the benefit,” reports King.


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