ACUP+ 2023: Networking in Nebraska
With ample networking time, interactive educational sessions, and an in-plant tour showcasing just about every possible piece of equipment, the 57th annual Association of College and University Printers (ACUP+) conference was an undeniable success. Nearly 60 higher-ed and K-12 in-plant managers from Alaska to Florida and everywhere in between — as well as one manager from Canada — met in Lincoln, Nebraska, for the three-day conference. They sought advice, traded tips, and gathered ideas to bring back to their own in-plants.
Wide-format printing was one of the key topics of the event, as this service continues to grow as a top revenue and value generator for in-plants. Numerous sessions and roundtable discussions covered every aspect of it, and it dominated casual conversations as well. Managers showed unique applications, discussed substrates, and provided installation tips. Attendees also participated in a hands-on workshop, led by MacTac and Plasticade, in which they were able to apply window, wall, and floor graphics themselves. Other notable topics included production inkjet, sustainability, presort mail, variable data printing, and marketing.
On the final day of the conference, the group travelled to the University of Nebraska, Lincoln (UNL), to tour Printing and Mail Services. The 38-employee in-plant has an impressive collection of equipment. Its digital print room features an array of Canon printers, while its offset area holds a pair of six-color Manroland offset presses. The bindery is packed with nearly every kind of finishing equipment, and the mail area handles both in-bound and out-bound mail. The in-plant even offers shredding services.
But the most intriguing part of the operation was the life-sized printed replica of the new production inkjet press the in-plant plans to install. A former warehouse area is being refurbished to hold the new cut-sheet device, expected to arrive in late May.
Like past ACUP+ conferences, this one included a vendor floor, where 26 companies displayed their products and services. Attendees had lots of time to chat with them and learn more about their offerings.
The conference was capped with a banquet and awards ceremony in which 17 in-plants were honored for their accomplishments. Like last year, Oregon State University Printing and Mailing Services came out on top, winning six Platinum and Gold awards for the quality of its printing. Iowa State University was close behind with five awards, in addition to the Best of Show award for its Aerospace Engineering Wall Graphics. The People’s Choice award went to University of Nebraska, Lincoln, for its Chancellor Holiday Card and 3D Ornament.
Winners of the ACUP+ Impression Awards were:
- Collaborative Service (Tie): Oregon State University and University of California, Davis.
- Accelerated Service: Hillsdale College.
- Distinctive Service: Messiah University.
- Impact WOW+ Service: Bucknell University.
Kim Stanford of the University of Alaska, Anchorage, was honored with the ACUP+ Achiever Award for her service to the organization. And this year’s ACUP+ Hall of Fame award went to J.T. Sarantakos, former manager of Central Missouri State University and a long-time ACUP attendee until his death in 2002. His son John Sarantakos, director of the University of Oklahoma’s in-plant, gave a heartfelt acceptance speech in his honor.
The Power of Laughter
ACUP+ 2023 started off with some levity. Keynote speaker Desi Payne talked about “The Incredible Power of Laughter” and got attendees to participate in humorous activities, such as creating costumes out of newspaper. Stress, she noted, causes blood vessels to constrict while laughter opens them up and increases blood flow. A good goal, she said, is to make someone laugh every day.
She was followed by Bob Barbera, of Canon U.S.A., who discussed how making the right technology investments can help in-plants thrive. He noted that the latest digital presses have built-in color management tools and are able to monitor and maintain quality during the run, streamlining in-plants’ production processes and enabling them to add services and value.
In other sessions, managers told success stories and showed wide-format applications their in-plants have produced. Roundtable discussions let managers expand on these and other topics.
The opening keynote speaker on day two was In-plant Impressions Editor Bob Neubauer, who unveiled new survey data on equipment purchasing plans at higher-ed and K-12 in-plants and discussed what this reveals about the direction they are moving. Wide-format printing and finishing is a clear focus, with roll-fed printers — particularly latex devices — and flatbed printers at the top of many in-plants’ shopping lists. He showed numerous examples of recent equipment installations at higher-ed and K-12 in-plants.
Wide-format talk dominated the conference, with discussions about graphics installation a frequent focus. One manager with a lot of installation experience was Gary Warren, from Fayetteville State University. He related some of his “lessons learned” in one session:
- Always personally measure walls and windows where graphics are to be installed, and do a drawing showing outlets and other elements. Give this to the designer.
- Test the substrate on the wall to make sure it adheres. Sometimes customers will have to repaint a wall to ensure graphics will stick.
- Print the graphics a little larger than the measured dimensions so there is no extra uncovered wall space. “Walls are not going to be straight,” Warren cautioned.
- Lay adjoining panels out on a table and tape them together at the top and bottom. Then cut the tape to separate them. This makes it easier to match up the panels when joining them back together on the wall.
- Be prepared to have problems when doing installations.
In a roundtable discussion on installations, Dave Weber of Highline College noted that he keeps two backpacks loaded with installation tools, ready to grab and go. Dylan Turner of Northern Arizona University listed three essential installation prep tools: a laser distance measuring tool; a measuring tape with a magnetic tip; and a BodyGuard Knife that cuts the backing material but protects the graphics with a Teflon contact strip. For installations, he advised using a laser level.
Others also shared installation products they use, such as Optically Clear edge sealing tape to keep water from intruding under graphic films and Stitch Witchery fusible bonding tape for hemming banners. Several suggested sites like Yellotools.us, Image1impact.com, and Grimco.com.
To learn more about doing installations, attendees mentioned several resources: suppliers like Lindenmeyr Munroe and MacTac offer free training for customers; the Wrap Institute provides installation training and workshops; and YouTube videos can provide numerous tips for installers.
At other sessions and roundtables, managers shared ways they have marketed their in-plants. Jeff Todd of Oregon State University gave an excellent session detailing his in-plant’s successful marketing efforts and how printing stickers has brought tons of favorable attention to his shop. Others print annual reports that include samples of their work. Calendars that include important university events (and paydays) have served as excellent promotional pieces.
Several have held open houses to demonstrate their capabilities. The University of Texas at Austin holds a showcase event each semester with tables for each of its services (i.e. wide-format, promo products, etc.). Customers can get food, pick up swag, and see samples of the in-plant’s work.
Some have had great success with social media promotions. UT Austin added Facebook followers for a while by offering a 10% discount off course packs for liking its page. UNL focuses on developing its LinkedIn presence because more of the university marketing people use that site. McMaster University’s in-plant offered an internship to utilize the expertise of students to expand its social media presence. It now focuses on Instagram and has found that “stories” get more engagement than mere “posts.” One in-plant is even using TikTok to get the word out.
As the conference wrapped up, the dates and location of next year’s event were revealed. It will take place April 14-18, in Rochester, New York. Watch for more coverage of ACUP+ 2023 in the days ahead.
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Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.