In-plant ‘Saved by a Pandemic’
The decision was made. Vanderbilt University Printing Services would be shut down. Employees received layoff notices in March, and the Nashville in-plant was scheduled to close on June 1.
And then the coronavirus hit.
With the pandemic bearing down, Vanderbilt Medical Center had an urgent need for clinical forms, so it turned to its contracted supplier: Printing Services.
“They were pretty adamant that Printing Services remain in operation to print medical forms,” notes Sean Carroll director of marketing and communications for Business Services.
The university, too, realized it quickly needed to produce lots and lots of COVID-19-related graphics.
“There was a significant need for signage to support social distancing,” says Carroll, who served as director of Printing Services from 2015 until his promotion last October. “We quickly agreed that we were going to recall about six people. They’re running full bore now, printing signs and graphics.
“Printing Services is back,” he declares. “It was saved by a pandemic.”
The current operation is much smaller than the 19-employee shop that existed in February. With six-color, four-color, and two-color Heidelberg presses, Vanderbilt Printing Services was one of the few remaining in-plants with large offset printing capabilities. But decentralized purchasing and the loss of some major magazine jobs to outside printers, combined with the university’s potential interest in repurposing the in-plant’s current space, contributed to the decision to close Printing Services.
“We were not on a sustainable financial path,” acknowledges Carroll.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit, however, the university realized how vital an in-plant can be in an emergency.
“The priority was on quick response … and the fact that we had existing equipment that was ready to go, and an expert workforce, we were able to quickly ramp up production and meet demand,” says Carroll. That equipment includes an HP Scitex FB550 flatbed UV printer, an HP Latex 365, and a Colex Sharpcut SXC1732, as well as Canon, Ricoh, and Xerox digital toner presses.
Though the in-plant has been spared, Carroll doesn’t anticipate it will continue operating in its 25,000-sq.-ft. facility, but will relocate and become a digital-only operation. His many years of directing Printing Services have given him a strong appreciation of how valuable in-plants can be.
“Generally, the in-plant quietly hums in the background,” he notes. “But in a crisis situation, when you need to respond quickly, and you need a great deal of support and specific knowledge of print solutions, I think an in-plant really shows its value.”
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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.