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  5. In tough times, printing company uses UW-Madison-developed methods to recover

In tough times, printing company uses UW-Madison-developed methods to recover

Ananth Krishnamurthy, Omnipress vice-president of operations Tracy Gundert, and CEO David McNight

Ananth Krishnamurthy, Omnipress vice-president of operations Tracy Gundert, and CEO David McNight (large image)

In the difficult business climate following Sept. 11, 2001 — the last time the economy turned sour — leaders of Madison-based printing company Omnipress decided it was time for a change.

Specializing in conference and educational meeting material solutions such as printed books, handouts, CD ROMs or flash drives, Omnipress had to face an unsettling trend. Even though the company consistently finished customer orders on time, costs continued to rise.

Omnipress decided to implement quick-response manufacturing (QRM), a set of principles and methods for reducing product lead times from weeks to days, pioneered by Rajan Suri, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor emeritus of industrial and systems engineering.

Omnipress started its QRM journey with the growing market for conference publications delivered on CDs. With the help from students in the UW-Madison Center for Quick Response Manufacturing, Omnipress reorganized its CD workflow around a newly formed “CD cell,” combining all CD-related operations on one team. Cell members were cross-trained to do almost every job, ensuring a flexible workflow.

The result was startling: Within months, the company slashed the time staff took to prepare a conference-publications CD by 70 percent.

“We saw that the QRM principles worked. But to apply these very different principles to only one product we felt would be difficult, since most of our processes are integrated across multiple products,” says Omnipress CEO David McKnight. “We also anticipated we could get better efficiencies and results if we applied the concept to the whole company.”

Again, results were almost immediate. Within one quarter, lead time — the time to finish a print or digital job — was on average cut by half. Before the reorganization, a bound book published via the offset printing process took almost 19 days from start to finish. Now, it is done in 10 days, and that number is still falling. Almost half of all the forms needed for the frequent handovers between departments were eliminated.

With its QRM-inspired workflow in place, the company is well-positioned to weather economic storms ahead. The significantly shorter production times allows Omnipress customers more time to collect and submit their content - a powerful advantage in the competitive printing industry. At the same time, the reorganized workflow has reduced costs, increased revenue, uncovered hidden resources, and created new growth potential.

In fact, the implementation of QRM transformed Omnipress from a fragmented operation to an agile competitor in a challenging market. For this reason, despite the recession and bad economic news, Omnipress vice president of operations Tracy Gundert remains optimistic. “Our organization is more in a state of openness towards change,” she says. “We don’t use the economy as an excuse. We continue to challenge ourselves to do better.”

During the past 15 years, more than 190 companies have implemented QRM in cooperation with the UW-Madison Center for Quick Response Manufacturing. “Omnipress’ success shows how QRM’s focus on lead time reduction strengthens competitiveness,” says Ananth Krishnamurthy, director of the QRM center. “The center provides companies like Omnipress a forum to learn about QRM and help in the transition from theory to practice.”

The ninth International Conference on Quick-Response Manufacturing will be held Sunday-Tuesday, June 14-16, at the Monona Terrace Convention Center. For more information, visit