Bucking the Trends, Ball State Adds Six-Color Heidelberg Press
Tired of seeing Ball State University’s high-volume print production being outsourced to competitors, Ken Johnson made a bold move. He decided to replace both of his in-plant’s existing offset presses with a six-color, 20x29˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster 74 with a coater. Director of Printing Services at the university, Johnson believes this transition to be critical to the success of the in-plant, improving efficiency and turnaround time, and bringing new work into the seven-employee in-plant.
The installation of this used offset press in March — at the height of the digital printing era — contradicts what many other in-plants are doing, but Johnson believes offset is the only technology capable of meeting the needs of Ball State University Printing Services, and recapturing a market lost to off-campus printers.
“Originally, [digital] was the path I was taking,” says Johnson. “I was trying to see if we could upgrade, if it was time to move away from offset. But the work that was being done off-campus, on offset presses, cannot be done on toner devices. The only way we could recapture that market would be to stay offset.”
That work includes commencement programs for Ball State University’s graduation ceremonies, pocket folders for the university’s health program, and the annual season brochure for Emens Auditorium, the local campus venue for theatrical events.
A decade ago, Johnson wouldn’t have been able to predict the rise in quality of digital printing. The shop’s two original presses — a four-color, 14x20˝ press and a two-color, 19x25˝ press — were both installed back when the quality of digital was not good enough to compete, according to Johnson.
“Over time, the quality had come up on the four-color digital, to where the work that was being done on the 14x20˝ four-color press migrated to digital,” notes Johnson. “Now, the work on the 14x20˝ could be done with equal quality and less cost, digitally. The jobs that were still offset needed to go on a larger press in order to be competitive against the outside market.”
The switch to the Heidelberg Speedmaster 74 not only gave Printing Services a competitive edge over digital printers, but the overall improvement in productivity has brought more work back to the shop.
“It just took so much labor and too much time to get a job through the press, so we couldn’t keep our costs down,” explains Johnson. “It made more sense for us to go to a larger offset press. We’re able to leverage and trade off the presses that we currently had, along with the replacement funds we already had for those presses, and upgrade to the six-color press. And then, we were able to get the jobs through quicker.”
Bringing Jobs Back In-house
Johnson says the focus now is on more than just bringing in jobs, it’s on bringing in the ones that originally left for outside services.
“For years, we had a customer for our Emens Auditorium,” says Johnson. “The program years ago was done in a black and spot color. Back, 15 or 20 years ago, we did that job all that time. It was a very large quantity job, but we had the equipment to do it. Eventually they took that job and made it a four-color process, so our equipment was no longer capable of doing that, economically. We could do the quality, but our cost was quite a bit higher than the outside market.”
Johnson and his team recently got this job back, producing a large quantity of season brochures for the auditorium, highlighting upcoming events and theatrical performances.
With the new Heidelberg Speedmaster 74 in place, Johnson is now focusing on filling up Printing Services’ slow periods.
“There were times of the year where there are jobs that are being produced off-campus … when we didn’t have anything on press here,” says Johnson. “So, we had idle time. So, if we can bring those jobs back in now, we can fill some of those idle press hours.”
Related story: From the Editor: Offset in the Inkjet Age