Devoted to Their Work
With 215 employees and a vast 375,000-sq.-ft. printing facility in Salt Lake City, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Printing Division is one of the largest in-plants in the world. It ranked third on IPI’s recent list of the largest in-plants in the country. The in-plant prints more than a billion pages a year in 188 different languages — publications like the Bible, the Book of Mormon and other Church scriptures, missionary teaching materials, and magazines.
Overseeing such a massive, busy, and successful operation is a tough job, but Director Steven Lewis says he doesn’t do it alone.
“It’s the hand of God helping guide and direct this work,” he says. “We acknowledge that every single day.”
Indeed, prayer is a vital component of the workday at the Church’s Printing Division, where every employee is a Church member in good standing. Each week begins with a devotional, and employees regularly pray for their safety, for the equipment to run as it should, and for help when they face challenges.
“It plays into all of the decisions we make,” Lewis says, including hiring decisions.
A Crucial Role
Such devotion to God in their daily work is fitting for an operation that plays such a crucial role in helping the Church spread its message around the world. The way that message is being spread, however, is changing. No longer is the 174-year-old in-plant printing massive runs of Church materials and storing them until needed; as the Church updates its approach to focus on more frequent, more relevant messages, the in-plant is now producing smaller quantities with more frequent runs.
“The Church has done a lot of work in the last five years or so to ... focus the message,” says Lewis. “And so the number of products that we produce are reducing.”
Still, that number is huge. The in-plant prints about 22 million “sales units” (individual finished products) a year, Lewis says. Its products can be broken into four core types: scriptures, including the Book of Mormon; monthly magazines like Liahona, For the Strength of Youth, and Friend; curriculum materials; and missionary teaching materials and study guides.
Another key product, which continues to grow as the Church expands, is fine art reproduction and framing. The in-plant prints and frames more than 10,000 pieces of artwork per year for the Church’s temples and meetinghouses worldwide. (See Masters of the Art.)
Transition to Inkjet
This move to smaller quantities and more frequent runs has led Lewis to take a closer look at the Printing Division’s equipment, which includes web and sheetfed offset presses. Already the in-plant has brought in production inkjet technology: an HP PageWide Web Press T250 and a Fuji J Press 720. The HP is used to print three monthly magazines, each in 20-45 different languages, as well as curriculum materials. Printing a large number of small-volume jobs is ideal work for an inkjet press. The HP T250 can print on magazine-weight stock with quality comparable to offset, Lewis says.
“So I could keep the magazine looking the way it looked off the offset but still be able to produce it in short run,” he says.
This portends a future transition of even more offset work to inkjet, and a possible reduction in offset presses, Lewis says.
Specializing in Scriptures
Inkjet is also used to print scriptures, though they are produced by the Printing Division’s “sister company,” Brigham Young University Print and Mail, Lewis says.
“We work really closely together,” he notes.
BYU’s in-plant uses a Ricoh Pro VC60000 to print scriptures such as the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price on very light-weight paper — 23# stock. Together, the two in-plants have cornered the market on scripture printing.
“We produce scriptures for worldwide use, and we’re really proud of it,” proclaims Lewis.
Scripture paper has been hard to come by lately, he adds, since Domtar closed its Port Huron mill in 2021, which produced the paper. As a result, Lewis says, scripture printing on the inkjet press is temporarily on hold, though the in-plant continues printing scriptures on its offset presses. Once the supply returns and the Printing Division adds folding and binding equipment that can handle scripture paper, Lewis plans to start printing scriptures on its HP T250.
A good deal of the in-plant’s work is done to support the Church’s missionary program. The Church has about 54,000 missionaries in 411 missions around the world.
“Those missions rely upon the Book of Mormon, [printed] in their mission language,” Lewis says.
The in-plant also prints teaching pamphlets, which missionaries leave behind with the people they visit, and training materials, such as the “Preach My Gospel” book.
Many Valuable Services
Beyond traditional printing, the Printing Division also provides other valuable services for the Church. It produces braille versions of the Book of Mormon, magazines, and some curriculum materials using a Brallio 600 SR2 embossing machine. It runs a plastic thermal-forming operation to produce the sacrament cups used in Sunday services. The in-plant can produce 800,000 to 1 million cups in a single shift, and makes 300 million annually. The shop also scans and archives materials such as blueprints or family history documents.
Some perfect bound books are given an elegant touch with gilded edges, rounded corners, and thumb tabs cut into the pages. Certain scriptures are enhanced with foil embossing on their covers, done with a Kolbus PE 312 embossing press.
Recycling is a major focus of the in-plant — not just of paper but of many other materials. In 2019, the in-plant recycled 3,679 tons of paper, 303 tons of cardboard, 177 tons of plastic, 173 tons of metal, and 55 gallons of used machinery oil.
“It’s part of how we help to be good stewards of what God has given us,” Lewis says.
Despite the large quantities of Church printing handled by the Printing Division, however, the in-plant does not print everything, Lewis notes. Only 65-70% of the printing is done in Salt Lake City, he says.
“And that’s a big shift from where we were eight years ago,” he adds, when the in-plant printed nearly 90% of Church materials.
“One of our major focuses is trying to distribute our print globally — get [material] produced closer to where it’s actually going to be consumed,” he says.
There are 17 areas outside the U.S. and Canada where local print providers produce curriculum, magazines, and scriptures.
“We’re actually almost like a print broker to help these other areas be able to accomplish the work there,” he explains.
By printing locally, the cost of shipping is reduced, and users get their materials faster.
“It’s about really focusing on the end user and how can we improve the experience for them,” Lewis says.
As for the work printed by the in-plant, Lewis is quick to credit his team for their hard work and dedication. As members of the Church, they are especially devoted to their jobs, and feel they are doing the Lord’s work. Because they see such a strong purpose in their work, morale is high.
“We provide an environment for our associates that is rivaled by no place else in the world,” Lewis says. “There’s a feeling of safety, there’s a feeling of peace, there’s a feeling of belonging that is hard to find.”
This begets an environment where staff is adaptable to last-minute changes and unexpected overtime because they know it is for the good of the Church.
“What we do really well for the Church is that we provide a very flexible operation to be able to meet the needs of the Church,” Lewis says. “I get a phone call from the right person, and I’ll just stop what I’m doing to be able to accomplish what’s needed.”
That dedication, combined with the in-plant’s ability to produce such a range of products very quickly, Lewis says, ensures a bright future for the Printing Division.
“We’re still going to be a pretty viable operation for a long time,” he says.
Related story: Masters of the Art
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.