A Beacon in the Storm
On Sept. 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike slammed full blast into Galveston, Texas. Within hours of the storm's arrival, Paul Kida, plant manager at Texas Health and Human Services (HHS) Printing, received word that his in-plant would need to produce 3.5 million applications for assistance—a four-part snapout form, to be distributed along the Gulf Coast portion of the state.
"When Ike came through, we received a heads-up call, and the paperwork came through within a few hours," Kida recalls.
Normally a two-shift operation, HHS Printing worked around the clock and produced the order for delivery in less than 48 hours. Herein lies the value proposition of HHS Printing: Speed, flexibility and prioritization. When disaster strikes, HHS Printing drops whatever it's doing and plays a critical role to ensure that assistance is quickly within reach. Employees are thoroughly cross-trained, allowing Kida to mix and match people where needed, which is of particular importance during a state emergency.
"With a commercial printer, how fast they will respond depends on how big of a customer you are," notes Kida. "Having us in-house, [the state] knows when they need something right away, they can have it within hours."
While it might not have the hands-on impact of the Red Cross, this 47-employee in-plant plays a significant role in coming to the rescue of the Lone Star State's 25 million residents whenever a storm rears its head. And while the Austin-based shop is not always called on to play the role of Superprinter, in this age of headline-grabbing catastrophes and epidemic outbreaks such as H1N1, HHS Printing is constantly kept on its toes.
A Busy Operation
Located on the northern edge of the city, about 13 miles from the state capitol, the in-plant primarily produces forms, brochures, booklets and mailers in its 37,900-square-foot facility. Backed by a $7.5 million operating budget, the shop falls under the auspices of the Health and Human Services enterprise, which is comprised of five agencies: Department of State Health Services, Department of Aging and Disability Services, Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, Department of Family and Protective Services and the Health and Human Services Commission. Other state agencies, such as Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Attorney General's office and the Department of Public Safety, also avail themselves of the in-plant's services.
HHS Printing produces work on web, sheetfed and digital presses. About 40 percent of its jobs are four-color process printing; no process color work is done on the webs. Traditionally a forms shop, HHS Printing has seen digital work increase during the past decade. It uses variable data printing to tap a raw database and crank out employee service awards to the tune of 700 per month.
Buoyed by a full prepress department, HHS Printing also provides consultative services and project management, assisting the five agencies during the genesis of an assignment. Its staff has a wealth of experience, averaging 10 years per employee, with some having logged 30 or more years in the shop. This wisdom enables HHS Printing to dole out advice on the most efficient and cost-conscious methods to produce a needed job.
"If state health services is rolling out its immunization program, part of that project is printed educational pieces," Kida explains. "But there might be a need for electronic media [and] screen-printed items, such as magnets and clipboards, and they will contact us to procure a majority of those items. As a unit, we probably produce more requisitions that generate POs to get the consumables or services, more than any other unit in the enterprise. Anything dealing with graphics, they just don't have the expertise, so they rely on us."
The bread and butter work for HHS Printing is the application for assistance; the in-plant produces an average of 500,000 of these per month (300,000 matching sets of instructions accompany them). The state's immunization program calls for 10 to 15 monthly pieces that vary in run lengths from 30,000 to upwards of 200,000. A majority of them are printed 11x17˝, then folded and perforated inline on the webs.
With the application for assistance, the job ticket is generated and the file is sent to prepress. After the job is plated, the plates are sent to a supervisor who schedules the assistance form. Being a snap-out form, an Form All Edelmann web press is used to run each part individually.
After each page of the double-sided form is printed, they're wound back into rolls to be loaded onto a roll collator. The forms are collated—a bead of glue is administered—then perforated (a micro-perf is added) and cut into individual pieces at the end. The forms are boxed and distributed through a sister materials and distribution division co-located with HHS Printing.
Not Just Offset
The shop has certainly found niches on the digital end; two Océ VarioPrint 6160s and a Ricoh Pro C900s handle various quantities of color work for jobs with run lengths under 20,000. Training manuals are a popular application for the Océ machines, with page counts ranging from 150 to 600. Training instructors submit jobs electronically or send along links to Web sites that have the PDFs or other files.
The Océ 6160s are used for the overprints on the service awards; they're separated by divisions and years of service in order to be later inserted into corresponding holders based on tenure benchmarks (five and 10 years, 15 and 20, 25 or more).
The in-plant strives to keep its equipment up to date. Its latest acquisition is a Heidelberg Polar 92XT cutting system that includes a cutter, lift, jogger, scale and second lift for finished pieces. Kida sees the need to replace a second cutter in the not-so-distant future, and a third four-color press would help address backlogs in four-color process work.
Since HHS Printing is a full cost-recovery business without subsidies, it operates like any private-sector printer. However, unlike a commercial printer, it needs capital authority to obtain significant equipment and is limited to a fixed amount of dollars for purchases. Thus, the in-plant must compete with the fiscal needs of other departments that fall under HHS.
Kida believes HHS is behind the shop 100 percent—there have been no serious attempts to privatize—and he is hopeful the in-plant will be able to address its press needs in the near future.
"Executive management is very aware of our needs, and they appreciate our contributions," Kida says. "Right now, the state is having severe fiscal woes, and everyone's been asked to cut back by 10 percent. The deputy commissioner has an open door policy and is always willing to listen. They're very appreciative of what we do."
Spreading the Word
Their appreciation is augmented by HHS Printing's promotional campaigns. Kida contributes information to newsletter articles about the in-plant. He attends meetings and provides the COOs of the five agencies with information about services. He also answers questions as to how HHS Printing can serve their needs. The shop produces an annual topical calendar that goes out to the agencies—a popular self-promo piece. Kida plans to invite the agencies to submit their own pictures for the 2012 calendar.
While there has been talk about making some of the more common forms available on the Internet, state procedures and law changes often move at a methodical pace. Many forms have disappeared over the years, only to be replaced by others. The state's budget is the biggest obstacle for HHS Printing at this point, and Kida is confident the in-plant can continue to adapt in tough circumstances. After all, this is a shop that answers the call of emergencies.
"We're going to learn to be a leaner, more efficient operation," he says. "We'll continue to demonstrate our value to the parent organization by utilizing strengths like speed and flexibility and quality of product.
"It's nice to see the experience we have here, with some employees having 35 years on the job," he concludes. "We must be doing something right."