Driving Growth with Inkjet at the University of Nebraska
Most in-plants that have installed a production inkjet press have done it to add speed and efficiency while driving down costs. They have transitioned existing toner and offset work to inkjet and eliminated multiple devices as a result.
That’s not why the University of Nebraska - Lincoln (UNL) added inkjet.
“We didn’t put this press in to just reduce our operational costs or replace a press,” explains John Yerger, director of UNL Print & Mail Services. “We really bought the press to reach out and expand our services.”
Unlike other inkjet users, UNL’s 46-employee in-plant plans to use its new press to attract new business. Instead of just saving money it expects to generate additional revenue by promoting its new capabilities.
“It’s all about education now,” Yerger says — talking with customers about their print needs and explaining how the inkjet press will meet them.
An old-school offset man with decades of press experience, Yerger seems an unlikely inkjet enthusiast.
Attending the 2021 Inkjet Summit helped clarify the possibilities for him, and despite the pandemic he and his team have moved steadfastly toward the technology ever since.
In mid-July, after remodeling a former storeroom inside its 42,000-sq.-ft. Lincoln, Nebraska, facility, the in-plant finally fired up a Konica Minolta AccurioJet KM-1, becoming just the fourth university in-plant to install an inkjet press. Yerger is confident his in-plant made the right move.
“You just can’t hide from this technology anymore,” he proclaims. “Inkjet is here.”
His assessment is mirrored by Assistant Director Mike Chaplin.
“The reality is, eventually inkjet’s going to be the dominant force in printing,” he declares.
Inkjet Will Bring in Business
While many inkjet users wholeheartedly agree, what’s different at UNL is its approach. It has no plans to eliminate either of its six-color offset presses: a 29ʺ Manroland 606 and a 40ʺ Manroland 706 PLV HiPrint perfecter press with an aqueous coater, installed just four years ago. Nor are any of its toner devices going away. In fact, the shop just refreshed and upgraded its fleet of Canon production equipment, adding an imagePRESS C10010VP, an imagePRESS V1350, and a pair of varioPRINT 140 monochrome printers (see sidebar).
Despite all this new toner firepower — in a time when many in-plants are watching their traditional work decline — Yerger is confident the inkjet press will generate enough additional business to keep it busy and expand the shop’s revenue beyond the $6.5 million it reported last year. He sees opportunities to bring in work from other University of Nebraska campuses and local hospitals, as well as from state government.
“We’re going to be working close with State Printing of Nebraska,” he says.
The press will open opportunities to do more variable data printing, he says, “not only for short runs but for longer runs.” That will eliminate the need to print and store shells, for later imprinting of variable information.
Getting this new business is just a matter of promotion, Yerger says. He and his team plan to meet with customers to rekindle their interest in incorporating printing into their marketing platforms. He plans to hold “demo days” so customers can watch their projects being printed on the press.
The inkjet press has already been generating enthusiasm though. This was on display at the July 13 ribbon cutting, which drew more than 80 customers and prospects. Among them were staff from the International Quilt Museum, who were very pleased with the quality of the rack cards the in-plant had printed on the inkjet press to show off their quilts. They credited the cards with increasing sales considerably.
“At the ribbon cutting they were all smiles, and they were marketing it to other people,” remarks Scott Monroe, account executive.
Guests at that event — which also celebrated the in-plant’s 100th birthday this year — went crazy for the posters the shop had printed on the inkjet press using a variety of stocks, he says. They were very impressed with the speed and quality of the press.
“The word’s getting out that this new device is out there,” says Monroe.
Quality Surpasses Expectations
The quality of the output from the inkjet press has surpassed all expectations.
“The quality is really even better than what I anticipated it was going to be,” admits Chaplin.
Like the in-plant’s other color devices, the inkjet press has been calibrated to the G7 color standard to ensure consistency across all presses. This enabled the shop to print an advanced run of 300 books on the inkjet press for a customer while the remainder was still being printed on the six-color, 40ʺ Manroland 706.
“You can lay those sheets down and nobody’s going to look at it and go, ‘Oh, this was done on digital and this was done offset,” says Chaplin, who adds that, so far, the most economical way to run the press has been in the high-definition mode. “It looks sharp.”
That quality on a variety of stocks, along with the KM-1’s fast UV drying, were among the key selling points for Yerger and Chaplin.
“It can come right off the KM-1 and go right to the cutter,” says Chaplin. “It’s dry, it’s ready to cut and tray and mail.”
This makes it ideal to produce rush mail jobs, he says.
“We print a lot of red,” Chaplin notes — UNL’s signature color. “And red’s always one of the slower drying colors.”
Not so on the inkjet press, he says. It hits UNL’s PMS 186 perfectly and comes off the press dry.
“So it’s nice to be able to have that ready to go,” he says.
The main reason the in-plant decided on this particular press, however, was because of its 23x29.5ʺ sheet size, which allows it to print multiple pieces up on a sheet. This has enabled the inkjet press to easily print some jobs that had been slated for the 29ʺ Manroland. In the ramp-up period, the shop has been moving some offset jobs to the inkjet press, along with some toner jobs such as postcards, which can be run multiple-up on a 23x29.5ʺ sheet. Chaplin is still in the process of developing metrics to determine the crossover point where inkjet becomes more economical than offset and toner.
Another advantage to inkjet is its ability to cost-effectively add color to black-and-white documents. One customer that prints research surveys is already excited to do that to improve participation by highlighting certain information. Another customer wants to add color to the books it prints.
Sneak Preview for Peers
Yerger gave attendees of the Association of College and University Printers conference a clever sneak peak at the press in April when they toured the plant. The shop placed a life-sized cardboard cutout of the inkjet press in the facility, which was still being refurbished at the time. That construction is now complete, with new lighting, air conditioning, and humidity controls in place, and the cutout has been swapped for the real thing.
To run the press, the in-plant trained one of its seasoned bindery workers, Paula Wenzl, who took quickly to the press.
“She’s doing an excellent job on it,” Yerger praises. Others have also been trained as backup operators.
Asked why so few university in-plants are moving into inkjet, Yerger cites two concerns he’s heard mentioned by peers: quality and cost. But he feels they should not be inhibited by these things. Inkjet quality, he says, is excellent. And he anticipates a four-year ROI on the inkjet press, after which it will generate major savings for UNL.
“As far as in-plants, inkjet is the way to go because of the factors of lower operating cost, lower waste, less technical skills,” he says. “I think more people need to go to the Inkjet Summit.”
As UNL Print & Mail Services celebrates its 100th year and looks to the future, Yerger expects inkjet to play a big part in convincing customers of the relevancy of print and its ability to pull in a better response rate than social media and other digital methods. But inkjet isn’t the in-plant’s only focus, says Chaplin.
“We want to continue to increase our value to the university and to broaden our expertise beyond just print,” he says.
Related story: New Offset Press Increases Business, Staff Size in Nebraska
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.