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Direct Mail Engineering

You Wouldn’t Believe the Engineering Required to Make Direct Mail Work

Matt Shanahan

Did you know this past week was National Engineers Week? It is a week dedicated to helping the public discover engineering and celebrate how engineers make a difference in our world. While engineering plays a significant role in many industries, direct mail probably isn’t one that comes to mind for many people. However, it’s incredibly important in direct marketing and at IWCO Direct.

Like many, I took a career evaluation test in high school. For me, engineering came up as one of my top two interests. I knew of engineers, but I didn’t know what they actually did, so I started researching more about the profession. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was definitely an engineer. I mean, who doesn’t like to take things apart, figure out how they work, and fix and improve them?

How Engineering Turns Tech into Mail

After college, I worked in the printing and catalog industry, which eventually led me to direct mail. You might be surprised to learn how much engineering is required to create even a single piece of direct mail—not only as it relates to production, but also the vast amount of complex equipment and digital technology utilized by the direct mail industry.

Here is an example related to color digital printing: the latest high-speed digital presses can produce more than 50 billion drops of ink per second. That requires advanced computing and processing technology to transform print files, such as PDFs, into droplets. Just one of those print files can contain 120,000 pages, all unique. Generating those print files at scale (millions of pages per job), requires complex workflow and composition software that is driven by data, rules-based logic, and digital images. To make all this happen requires coordination across several engineering disciplines to create, develop, and support these technologies.

The example above is only one of the many areas within direct mail production that requires engineering. Engineers must look at all the components and processes to make sure they are compatible, synced, within specifications, and that they merge and work together flawlessly. All those millions of pages I mentioned previously? They must stay in the same order through every operation. It’s kind of like taking a million decks of cards and keeping every suit and number in the proper sequence while you restack and handle them. Try not to drop any!

Feedback Helps Direct Mail Engineering Improve

Our Product Engineering Team supports production and all types of innovation, whether that’s evolving current products or creating new ones. We are constantly evaluating capabilities and standards as they relate to new and existing formats. We leverage our testing processes heavily along with operational feedback and metrics to continually revisit those standards to expand our formats, technologies, and capabilities. Creating multiple feedback loops is critical to establishing a nimble and flexible innovation environment.

I see the Product Engineering Team playing an even more pronounced role in the future for product management and innovation. Our products and services continue to expand in all areas, and product management becomes a critical part of the product development, execution, and delivery for our clients.

I truly enjoy the problem solving and the wide variety of challenges presented every day. Engineering helps bring a structured approach to solving problems and implementing the solutions—in any industry, but specifically direct mail. We often say, “If you aren’t changing then you’re standing still. And if you’re standing still, you’ll be left behind.” While we might have a little extra bounce in our step during Engineers Week, we look forward every day to doing our part to keep IWCO Direct at the forefront of the changes in our industry.

link https://www.iwco.com/blog/2018/02/27/engineers-week-direct-mail-production/
Matt Shanahan


Matt Shanahan

Director R&D/Production Engineering and graduate of the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Bringing the philosophy of “anything is possible with the right planning and resources” to IWCO Direct for over a decade. A sports and outdoor enthusiast, two of his greatest passions are the Metropolis Rugby Club and hiking with his family.

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