Righting the Ship
When Ron Balderson landed at the in-plant for the Navy Federal Credit Union back in 2011, he knew he had a big job ahead of him. Balderson signed on as the new manager of Print Operations & Logistics, inheriting a Vienna, Va.-based shop that had been sailing through rough seas for some time and was in dire need of an overhaul.
“It was in need of a lot of help,” admits Balderson, who brought many years of commercial printing experience to the in-plant. He quickly got to work, leading an initial clean-up and general repair program, and then reorganized the shop floor so that the sparse and aging equipment could be used more efficiently.
At the time, the shop was home to a two-color, 14x20˝ Omni press, a small color copier and some outdated ancillary equipment. The in-plant wasn’t getting much positive attention from the parent company, and the shop didn’t have a stellar reputation with internal customers. Balderson knew that, in order to turn the struggling in-plant around, he would need to breathe in new life through staff training and key equipment acquisitions.
“I am a firm believer in training, so we did get the staff trained,” notes Balderson, who oversees a crew of 10 in-plant employees and five buyers. “And then we were trained when we got new equipment. We have invested a lot of money in training people.”
Today, his staff is much better suited to take on Navy Federal Credit Union’s printing needs, he believes.
Financial Services for the Military
Established in 1933 with a mere seven members, Navy Federal Credit Union provides financial services to current members of the military, veterans and their families. It boasts nearly $78 million in assets and a “once a member, always a member” motto.
The in-plant provides printing services for Navy Federal Credit Union’s Virginia-based headquarters and call center, an operations center in Pensacola, Fla., and some 270 branches worldwide. This includes materials needed for normal banking operations, tickets, disclosure notices, brochures, advertising campaigns, signs and banners.
“One of the biggest changes I made was bringing in a CSR [customer service representative] instead of having a supervisor write the jobs and make sure the jobs were getting done,” Balderson adds. Customers send their job orders directly to the CSR via a dedicated email address. Completed orders are then shipped to branches across the world.
“I also brought in an estimating and job management system from Printers Plan,” he continues. “That has been a great help in tracking jobs and keeping everything on time. When I got here, that was a problem. Not only in the print shop, but with the buyers as well.” A flat screen monitor on the shop wall displays the Printer’s Plan daily production schedule so staff can easily see the status of jobs in progress.
The shop’s team of buyers are charged with procuring all of the outside printing the credit union needs. Known as print purchasing and direct mail specialists, they are responsible for in excess of $15 million in print buying including over 28 million direct mail pieces, payment cards and promotional items. Overseeing the print buyers gives Balderson insight into what is being printed outside and has allowed him to bring some of that printing in-house.
“We also have a full copy center that is run by members of the print shop, where anybody in the organization can walk up and request a copy job,” Balderson notes.
The Move Toward Digital
The first equipment acquisition under Balderson’s command was an HP Indigo 7600 digital press, installed in 2012. Balderson notes that the shop has upgraded the Indigo twice since the initial installation. Digital printing technology, he says, has been a game-changer for the shop.
“That opened a lot of doors for us,” he contends. “We get excellent comments back about the work that we are producing.”
Balderson says that the Indigo is used to produce both full-color marketing and advertising projects as well as simpler, black-and-white banking materials.
Not to be overshadowed by the digital press installation, the in-plant scored a used four-color Heidelberg Printmaster 52 perfecting press in 2014.
“We actually found the Heidelberg press with just six million copies,” Balderson reveals. “That was a very good buy for us. It was virtually brand new.” The shop impressively was able to double its offset printing volume in the first month the Heidelberg was in service, he says.
“In the past five years, we have grown from 3.7 million to 6.2 million members,” Balderson announces. “So the growth has been there. And that requires even more disclosure notices, advertising and everything else.”
Busy Wide-Format Section
The in-plant is also home to a pair of 64˝ wide-format printers: an Epson Stylus Pro GS6000 and a Roland SOLJET EJ-640. The Roland unit was just installed in May. The shop did not have any wide-format capabilities when he first arrived, Balderson points out.
“We have become really good at doing the wide-format work,” he proudly states. “Those machines stay very busy running posters and banners that we use throughout the organization.” This includes signage for the individual branches, the headquarters building and the operations center in Florida.
In September 2015, a pair of Ricoh color printers — a Pro C7110sx and a Pro C9110 — were added to the equipment mix. Finishing is handled by a stand-alone DLG UV coater, an MBO T 535 EA folder, a 38˝ Polar 92X cutter and a Duplo DC-646 slitter/cutter/creaser.
Balderson confides that the management team at Navy Federal Credit Union was willing to spend the money for new printing equipment as long as they were promised positive financial and productivity results.
“With my commercial printing background, and since I had been making buying decisions, I knew how to justify the acquisitions and lay out the results,” the former print shop owner explains, noting that in each of the past five years, the in-plant’s production numbers have grown 18-20%.
“Most of that is because we no longer have to outsource as much work,” Balderson simply states. “We are now capable of handling more work in-house.”
To get the word out about the new equipment and in-house capabilities, the in-plant implemented a marketing program and advertised its upgrades on the credit union’s corporate intranet site.
“We even made a video that covers everything that we can do,” Balderson adds.
Today, Balderson is proud of the quality of work the shop produces, as well as its ability to follow through for internal customers and meet all deadlines.
“We have received tremendous feedback from our customers, thanking us for delivering the jobs on time,” he says. “I think it has been beneficial and allowed us to continue to do what we do well. The results can be seen.”
The credit union’s individual branches can order their own printed supplies, which are then pulled from existing stock. The shop warehouses about a three-month supply of commonly ordered materials.
Balderson points out that the credit union’s business units can be vocal when they don’t get what they need. With the recent membership surge, the business units continually need new materials to interact with members.
“So we get immediate feedback in a lot of cases,” Balderson confides. “That helps a lot when you go to ask for new equipment, that’s for sure.”
Balderson admits he faced a bit of a learning curve on how to navigate the politics of an in-house print shop, having only worked in the commercial printing industry prior to mooring at the credit union. He points to his membership with the In-Plant Printing and Mailing Association (IPMA) as an important and useful investment.
“You get a lot of feedback on equipment and the selection of different vendors to work with,” he notes. “Everyone is willing to share information.” This is something that he wasn’t accustomed to, coming from the highly competitive commercial printing world.
“That has helped, since we have been pretty diligent making sure we’re adding new equipment every year,” he concludes
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.