By Richard Stuart-Turner, Monday 17 July 2017
When two friends joined forces nearly a decade ago to give something back to those who look after public health, safety and wellbeing on a daily basis, they could probably have never anticipated the volume of print that would eventually be involved in such an undertaking.
Loughborough-based Blue Light Card was set up by Steve Denny and Tom Dalby in 2008 to provide workers in the UK’s emergency services, the NHS and other ‘blue light’ services with their own discount membership ID card for perks and benefits with airlines, coach companies, mobile phone providers, cinemas, retailers and other businesses.
“We negotiated with companies to propose to them why this would be a good move and how it would benefit them,” recalls Blue Light Card co-owner and operations and commercial director Denny. “It seemed to take effect and we now work with some very big national and international brands.”
In 2012. Blue Light Card also won a tender to produce a discount membership card for the Ministry of Defence (MOD). Operating as the Defence Discount Service, which is part of The Armed Forces Covenant, the business produces the Defence Privilege Card for Armed Forces personnel, their families and veterans.
With overall membership numbers swelling to around 1 million since the company was set up, and 7,000 businesses now on board, the scale of Blue Light’s operation has continued to expand.
And this year MOD workers who signed up for the Defence Privilege Card in 2012 are now coming up for renewal, as membership cards last for five years.
As the firm produces all membership cards in-house, using four Zebra card printers, it needed to quickly boost its efficiency to ensure it was well equipped to manage this substantial increase in card processing. It started to look into how it could automate tasks including matching, fixing and inserting that it had previously completed by hand.
“We wanted a process that we could be happy with and as soon as our quantities started increasing we needed to ensure we could still provide a high level of service. We were getting up to volumes where we could not guarantee that and found that the only way we could guarantee it was by bringing in a machine that would make the process easier for us,” says Denny.
Blue Light Card required a system that would attach a card to a matching letter, fold the letter and insert it with a business card and up to three pre-printed items into a C5 or DL envelope.
“A lot of the machines out there are built for purpose and we needed to be quite specific and required features that weren’t easily available off-the-shelf, including a business card inserter,” says Denny.
“We also needed the opportunity to insert booklets – a lot of the higher-end machines could do that but a lot of the lower-end machines we saw couldn’t do the thickness of booklet we needed.”
He adds: “There were also certain size and power consumption restraints – a lot of the higher-end machines were three-phase powered and we didn’t want to have to use that.”
After looking at various options on the market Blue Light Card chose to go with KAS Paper Systems, which Denny says was able to meet the firm’s exact requirements.
“We came up with the problem and KAS found a solution for it. Nobody else that we spoke to at the time could offer the inline business card inserter on this size of machine,” says Denny.
KAS was able to build and supply a bespoke card mailing system based on its Mailmaster 565HS enveloper and Enfolder carrier sheet folder, inline with a CIM CAM 8080 plastic card affixing and matching system and a Kyocera FS-9530DN laser printer for printing letters.
The system took three months to build and was installed around six months ago. Installation went smoothly, Denny reports, and took around a day to complete. KAS stayed on site for another day to train Denny and three operators.
“We picked up the basics during training and have learned more on the job,” he says. “The trained guys each have rostered days on the machine – they all know how to run it really successfully and smoothly now and everyone is happy with it.”
The company can process just over 2,000 cards per hour using the system, which Denny says only usually needs to be operational for around a couple of hours a day to manage the typically required volumes. The system can also handle shorter run lengths as and when necessary.
Blue Light Card decided to keep the card printing process itself off-line from the KAS system to ensure it could maintain an extra layer of quality control.
Once the operator has checked the printed cards are correct they feed them into the automatic input hopper on the CAM 8080, which then reads a code on each card that is used to print that recipient’s personalised letter on the Kyocera printer. The letter is printed with a 1D barcode for matching. After camera matching, the CAM 8080 validates and attaches the corresponding card and letter.
The Mailmaster 565HS adds up to three pre-printed inserts, as well as a business card from an integrated feeder, and the Enfolder then folds the documents once for inserting into a C5 envelope or twice for a DL. The envelopes are then delivered on an extended delivery table. The process is controlled via touchscreen displays on the KAS parts of the system.
Only one person is needed to oversee this entire operation. As well as ensuring the input hopper, which has a maximum capacity of 200 cards, is fully loaded, the operator is responsible for replenishing inserts and envelopes and packing finished products on the delivery table into boxes, ready for the Royal Mail.
Anything up to five of the firm’s 10 staff were previously needed to take care of this process prior to the KAS system coming in. Staff that have been freed up can now be reallocated to other parts of the business.
“For us it was all about streamlining the process and with this machine we can validate that the right card goes to the right person,” says Denny.
Previously, if a mistake was found all the envelopes had to be opened again to find the error. But the KAS system will automatically stop if there is a mismatch. The device will also stop automatically if it detects any other errors, which Denny says can occasionally be caused by defective stationery, such as a bent envelope.
But no major issues of note have occurred to date, he adds. “And if we’ve ever had any teething problems, KAS are straight here to straighten things out and to ensure that anything that has arisen doesn’t happen again.
“Their engineers are all very knowledgable, some of them have worked with the company for 15 years and know the machines inside out.”
As well as taking the potential for human error out of the equation, the system has brought an additional health and safety benefit to the business by eradicating the repetitive nature of doing this sort of work by hand.
“As much as the investment was down to speed, accuracy and capacity, it was also about making sure we’ve got staff welfare at heart with regards to avoiding repetitive strain injury and things like that,” says Denny.
Ultimately, this system has transformed the way Blue Light Card operates. Denny says he would happily buy another machine in future from KAS, if the firm required extra capacity, and would recommend the manufacturer’s kit to other businesses doing a similar type of work.
“In a certain respect it’s probably saved significant money for the company because we’ve now got more staff working on other things, which has freed up more time. The investment cost of the machine is outweighed by this time saving, and that will become more apparent as we produce more cards,” he concludes.
Throughput Standalone, the Mailmaster 565HS is capable of insert speeds of up to 7,200 filled envelopes per hour, the Enfolder can process up to 3,500 folded documents with one to four cards attached per hour and the CAM 8080 can run at up to 2,200 cycles per hour, depending on format
Insert stations Facilitate multiple feeding and can handle a variety of materials including single sheets, card, reply envelopes, pre-folded items and booklets. A book feeder capable of handling books up to 4mm thick is included as standard
Envelope formats DL to C5
Packing thickness Up to 8mm
Reading technology Choice of OMR, OCR, 1D and 2D barcode
Price Starts from around £120,000 depending on specification
Contact KAS Paper Systems 01582 662211 www.kaspapersystems.com
Blue Light Card produces a discount membership ID card that provides perks and benefits at retailers, airlines, coach companies, mobile phone providers, cinemas and other businesses for the UK’s emergency services, the NHS and other ‘blue light’ workers. The firm also operates the Defence Discount Service, part of The Armed Forces Covenant, which offers a separate discount card for the Armed Forces personnel, their families and veterans. Established in 2008 by co-owners and directors Steve Denny and Tom Dalby, the 10-staff Loughborough-based company produces all cards in-house using four Zebra card printers.
Why it was bought…
With demand for its services steadily increasing and a large number of its members coming up for renewal and requiring replacement cards, Blue Light Card wanted to automate processes that could be done more efficiently and safely by machine than hand. After looking at various options on the market, the company opted for a bespoke system built and supplied by KAS Paper Systems. The kit is based on the manufacturer’s Mailmaster 565HS enveloper and Enfolder carrier sheet folder, inline with a CIM CAM 8080 plastic card affixing and matching system and a Kyocera FS-9530DN laser printer for printing letters.
How it has performed…
It’s had an immediate impact. With only one operator required to run this system, other staff have been freed up and reallocated to other tasks within the business. “We’ve got a lot of capacity now. We can comfortably take on more work and deal with the ongoing increase in renewals,” says Denny.