From the Editor: Offset in the Inkjet Age
Some of In-plant Impressions’ more enthusiastic readers may have noticed a curious trend in the Social section of our print edition. For two months running, we’ve cited social media posts by in-plant managers informally announcing their acquisitions of six-color sheetfed offset presses.
These are no small purchases and imply an expectation of years of high-volume non-variable printing yet to come. The in-plants in question are at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where a six-color, 40˝ manroland press with a coater is being installed as I write this; and Ball State University, which expects delivery this month of a six-color Heidelberg SM 74 with a coater.
At UNL, Manager John Yerger says large runs of direct mail, booklets, catalogs and marketing collateral demand the in-plant stick with offset, which generates 46% of the shop’s revenue. The new press will let the in-plant bring outsourced work back in-house and expand its insourcing business, particularly from other University of Nebraska campuses.
At Ball State, the new press was needed because the in-plant’s two existing offset presses were no longer able to handle the more complex offset work required by the university, chiefly due to sheet size limitations. With the new press, says Manager Ken Johnson, the in-plant will bring that work back in-house.
So why am I beating the offset drum in an issue that’s otherwise pretty focused on inkjet technology? Isn’t offset so old school?
Well, apparently not. It’s bringing business and revenue to a number of in-plants out there. I know of two others — one at a health system, one at a public utility — that just added presses. Like UNL and Ball State, they determined they have enough long-run work to keep a press busy, so they’re sticking with offset.
And that’s the thing with in-plants: their applications and requirements are all so different that it’s hard to make a one-size-fits-all recommendation. Even as we profile operations that are finding success with production inkjet technology — like BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, our cover story this month — we hear about others that are upgrading their offset presses.
I’m certainly not saying offset’s on the rise, though. Over the past couple of years, I’ve watched several offset diehards finally give up the fight. The University of Oregon, Southern Illinois University - Carbondale, Pennsylvania College of Technology, Yale University, Rowan College at Burlington County (RCBC) — all of them recently decided it didn’t make sense to keep messing with chemicals and platesetters as run lengths dropped.
RCBC, for example, now outsources its long-run jobs to three local printers, who return printed sheets to the shop on skids for finishing. The shorter-run jobs are handled by six black-and-white and color Ricoh digital printers.
When Omaha Public Schools’ in-plant decided to eliminate its two Ryobi perfectors, it went a different route by installing a Xerox Brenva HD cut-sheet production inkjet press. The difficulty of finding replacement parts for the presses — and finding skilled operators to run them — along with the fact that the Brenva could handle 99% of the in-plant’s work, convinced Manager Steve Priesmen to move from offset to inkjet. Now he’s thinking about a second inkjet press.
But operator and part shortages have not been enough to convince in-plants like UNL, Ball State, the University of Oklahoma, Amway or the University of Texas at Austin to give up on offset. In their markets, those decisions are serving them well.
As Consultant Howie Fenton told me in a video interview posted on our website, “In the last six months I’ve visited two in-plants: one that was really embracing offset, another one that was discontinuing offset, and both, in my opinion, were world class.”
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 nearly 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, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.