Expanding by Cutting
John Sarantakos doesn’t beat around the bush when he explains why it’s so important for in-plants to diversify.
“Any in-plant that is not looking to expand services is doing a disservice to their parent company and their employees,” says the director of Printing and Mailing Services at the University of Oklahoma. “Stagnation is the quickest path to closure.”
His in-plant has done a great job of adding services to satisfy the needs of its customers. One of those is contour cutting, which the in-plant added three years ago when it installed a Colex FBC5X10 flatbed cutter.
“My assistant director, Sherri Isbell, went to an SGIA show in Las Vegas several years ago and saw first-hand how these devices worked and pitched the idea to me,” explains Sarantakos. “I had seen them at Graph Expo in the past, and at that time our volumes did not justify the expense. The early units were extremely expensive and well out of our price range.” Eventually the benefits outweighed the cost, though, and the University of Oklahoma took the plunge, which has paid off ever since.
OU is not alone in the contour cutting business. The University of New Hampshire Printing and Mailing Services acquired a Graphtech 8000 contour cutter in 2013. It allows the in-plant to cut any product that has a backing, such as adhesive vinyl, expanding the range of jobs the school can do in-house
“With traditional print volumes decreasing or flat, we feel it is important to stabilize our business by looking for a wider range of offerings for our customers,” notes Paul Roberts, director of printing. “We purchased [the Graphtech] in an effort to expand our wide-format services. This allows us to offer custom, contoured pieces.”
More recently, Iowa State University Printing and Copy Services purchased a 64˝ Graphtec FC8600-160 cutter in March of 2017.
“I have believed for a long time now, that being diverse in your product offerings is important,” says Director Nathan Thole. “Technology and the printing landscape is always changing. Printers need to be ready to adapt. They won’t survive forever on black and white copies.”
Thole had been introduced to contour cutters while holding a previous position in the printing industry, so the capabilities of the cutter were already well-known by the time the in-plant considered getting one. He says the department was made aware of another small campus unit providing products produced with these cutters while on a tour. The abilities of the machine impressed the team so much so that the school went out and bought one.
The primary purpose for Iowa State’s cutter was for the Transportation Services department, which has a need for vinyl graphics for all of its campus vehicles. Printing and Copy Services can also cut custom stickers, which have become increasingly more popular.
“Without doing any promotion, word has gotten out, and we have interest in similar products occasionally,” explains Thole. “We intend to market this much more in the future.”
Up in New Hampshire, a different need inspired a large order of contour-cut decals, printed on an adhesive, easily removable substrate from MACtac called wallNOODLE.
“Our housing department welcomes each incoming freshman class with UNH ‘swag’ upon their arrival,” notes Roberts. “When we made them aware of our contouring capabilities, they ordered nearly 9,000 wallNOODLEs, with half of them cut on the Graphtec. A similar order was received for the following years’ freshman class.
“Additionally, we have done circular signage for the doors of 500 washing machines and signage promoting judicious water usage in shower areas,” he continues. “And the Athletics Department ordered Wildcat logo cat heads for wall decorations.”
While the University of New Hampshire does have a nominal charge for cutting, the in-plant really uses its contour cutting capability as a tool to drive sales of its wide-format products.
Once the word got out that the University of Oklahoma’s in-plant had a contour cutter, yard signs were the big request to promote various campus events and activities. The Printing and Mailing Services Department did some intense marketing where it showed examples of how signage could be enhanced by using unusual shapes. As a result, the in-plant has been printing and cutting out Big Heads, life-size cutouts of people and characters, vinyl signage, engraved wooden signs, ADA-compliant plaques, stickers, labels, boxes, point-of-purchase displays, coasters, kiss-cut labels, table tents and more.
“Our customers ended up being the entire campus community,” says Sarantakos. “Students, faculty, staff, non-for-profits; people were ordering for both business and personal usage.”
“By our department having this capability, we could direct this work to our unit, where it can be done much faster and more efficiently,” explains Thole. “This was not a service we could provide before.”
He’s also happy with the fast return on investment (ROI) of the cutter.
“It has already paid for itself with regard to customer service,” Thole notes.
At the University of Oklahoma, the margins and ROI have also been great.
“So few places offer this service, it is quite lucrative,” says Sarantakos, adding that the ROI was much quicker than expected. “It felt like it paid for itself in a few weeks,” he says. “Items that would take days to produce were done in a matter of hours. Being able to print directly onto a rigid surface and then cutting immediately, transformed our processes. Workflow was streamlined and production increased tenfold. I never felt like I needed to recalculate the ROI, which was originally 24 months, because after three months, it was so obvious.”
To see the latest contour cutting and other wide-format technologies, mark your calendar for the 2018 SGIA Expo, Oct. 18-20 in Las Vegas.