When Muller Martini’s MMA User’s Group formed more than 25 years ago, it consisted of a huge group of newspaper professionals and production facilities that used Muller’s SLS1000 inserting system. As digital information alternatives emerged in the early 2000s, the group’s attendance declined. This year’s conference took place in May and saw nearly a 30 percent increase (representing 28 prominent newspaper entities) over 2015, arguably the result of encouraging revenue opportunities that embrace proven newspaper production know-how.
The theme, “Flexibility Brings New Opportunities,” reflected the continued need to refine job functions and workflow in order to take advantage of new revenue streams available in commercial work. Mike Connors, managing director of The New York Times’ production department, delivered the keynote address in which he discussed the ongoing rebuild and upgrade program for their first-generation SLS2000 inserting line, consisting of eight machines. Attendees also benefitted from a walkthrough of one rebuild being performed in Muller’s Allentown, Pennsylvania, manufacturing facility.
“I was pleased to tell the group that print is not dead. Far from it. We view our existing mailroom equipment as a continuing investment that keeps on giving,” Connors said. “By performing these upgrades, we’re committed to supplying our customers with a highly robust, productive line of inserting machines that not only increase our efficiency and net speeds, but afford us opportunities to open new windows for new work.”
In addition, Connors invited the other newspaper publications to visit the Times’ production facility in Flushing, N.Y. to see the improvements for themselves. He added, “Granted, we’re a smaller group than we were 15 years ago. But our dedication and camaraderie hasn’t changed. There’s a tremendous interaction among peers. Everyone has every intention of sticking together.”
Julius Neto, packaging and transportation director for the Hartford Courant Media Group, has been the User Group’s board president for the past seven years. He said, “It’s clear that today’s industry has a much higher demand for more flexibility and quick resolution, as well a higher-quality end product. Historically, newspapers were like big aircraft carriers, very ‘steady as you go.’ But in order to remain relevant and competitive, we need to have a lot more agility today. And that means operating and maneuvering like a small PT boat in order to chart new courses that provide increased flexibility to our customers.”
But to newspaper professionals, the industry isn’t just a business; it’s an approach. Neto continued, “Every day we create a different product, from content and layout to zoning and distribution. That creates a lot of nuances and challenges in terms of process and workflow. So we must re-tool ourselves every single day. And, honestly, within a manufacturing and distribution environment, that’s a minor miracle.”
Throughout the years, the focus of the MMA User Group has remained the same: to provide a “user-friendly” environment where every participant can interact and network in order to discuss and troubleshoot production challenges. Cathy Roberts, Muller Martini parts specialist, has been helping to organize the conference for the past 20 years.
“The core of this conference is on customer training, and certainly that’s changed throughout the years in terms of our equipment,” she said. “Early on attendees had a single Muller Martini inserter. Today, Muller engineers multiple inserting brands and models, not to mention ancillary mailroom equipment and software offerings. So the issues—and demands—are somewhat more complex in nature.”
Perhaps that’s why there’s so such synergy among the User’s Group. And why there’s little doubt that it’s the information exchange that keeps attendees returning year after year.
“I believe the newspaper production and mailroom community is unusual in its willingness to share in each other’s success,” Roberts said. “Our User’s Group represents a very diverse gathering of professionals, including production directors, operations managers, system analysts, machine operators, and vice presidents, as well as Muller Martini product engineers and service technicians. We all learn from one another other in a very unique, inclusive environment.”
Next year’s MMA User’s Group Conference is scheduled for May 11-13, 2017 in Allentown, Pa. Its theme will be “The Power of Possibilities in Packaging.” For more information, contact Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dan Cropley at email@example.com.