Findel Education Resources

9
Jul

Producing school catalogues – with a TWIST

DALIM TWIST has helped improve accuracy while slashing the costs and lead times for complex catalogue production at a major UK educational products reseller.

Findel Education Resources is the UK’s leading supplier of educational resources. With at least one catalogue in every school in the UK, it is perhaps no surprise that 99 per cent of them have purchased from at least one of Findel’s brands.

While some of the brands serve specialist areas such as science, sports and special educational needs, there’s a very high degree of overlap in the rest. When one catalogue can run to 1600 pages and multiple differently-branded versions are required, the annual production cycle is a major undertaking – the 2012/13 production run involved 14,500 unique pages in 56 printed catalogues.

Although the core picture and text content for the various branded catalogues is the same, each version needs to have its own page ‘furniture’ – folio lines and decorative elements, picked out in different colours – and sometimes different prices too. Assembling and checking all the different catalogues was very labour-intensive and required considerable overtime by creative and production staff, plus a substantial spend on freelance production help.

To meet publishing deadlines, the versioning process had to start very early in the production cycle, meaning that some versions had to be created before the shared content had been approved – any changes had to be implemented multiple times, across each of the versions.

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“There was a very real risk of going to market with inconsistent messages, prices and content,” says head of production and creative services Pete Heptonstall. The 2012/13 catalogues were printed with many known errors that there simply was not time to fix. This meant that when sales staff were receiving orders, they had to constantly refer to system notes, a poorer experience for customers.
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Do it better, cheaper and faster

For the 2013/14 catalogues the additional resource budget for production was cut by 80 per cent with plans for further cuts in the next two years. Because of internal restructuring, the schedule was four months shorter than usual.

Heptonstall and his colleagues condensed all the unique catalogue pages from which the branded versions are made into one ‘virtual book’ of around 3500 pages that would be checked first. To allow time for the checking, production of the branded versions had to be automated.

Findel has been using DALIM SOFTWARE’s TWIST for routine production tasks for around eight years when this project began in 2012, and Heptonstall recalled functionality that he had seen demonstrated earlier. “I wondered if the ‘wait on’ tools could be used to generate multiple versions of a page,” he explains

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The challenge was put to systems integrator LGS_TPI, who developed a web-based interface to the production database that allows the user to specify which catalogue and version is required, plus all necessary information for version-specific ‘page furniture’ elements such as branding graphics, folio lines and call-to-action text.

The versions are assembled automatically in TWIST, which generates the necessary page text elements for each page, in the correct typeface, size and colour for each section of each publication, and combines them with ready-prepared page decoration PDF files in each of the brand styles.

The resulting PDF file contains standard CMYK channels for the common content, but as the catalogues also have UK and international editions, the variable text is put onto a separate Pantone channel to aid quick visual identification and checking. The Pantone plates are then converted to black and combined with the normal black plate at the printer.


It’s not (just) about the money

This system went into live production for the 2013/14 season, producing more than 60,000 PDFs for print in time for the deadlines despite the late start and by saving more than 15,500 artworker hours, beat the new resources budget by a significant margin.

At least as importantly, there were no errors in the published catalogues, which helped Findel pick up four customer service awards in 2013. “The outcome is absolutely amazing,” enthuses Heptonstall. “Being able to rely so heavily on TWIST has changed what we can do.”

This has extended to being able to produce additional catalogues for trade shows and to delay publishing in order to react quickly to competitors’ pricing. Alternative product suppliers could also be found to replace incumbents who went out of business or attempted to impose short-notice price increases.