Inkjet Brings Flexibility to Miami-Dade County In-plant
The year 2020 was difficult for many printing operations with the onset of COVID-19. For the Miami-Dade County Internal Services Department (ISD) Print Shop in Florida — which added inkjet printers and other equipment last October and November — 2020 also entailed navigating the pandemic’s labor and resources challenges to successfully print 10 million-plus ballots for the presidential election cycle.
“Between the census, the election, and with COVID, it was crazy,” says Graphics Services Manager David Campos. “There were some pretty scary moments there. During an election, we bring a lot of temps to help us with the logging. We were losing people every other day to the COVID scare. It had its challenges, but I’m proud to say that we got it done.”
The ISD Print Shop prides itself on being a full-service, commercial-type print operation that offers quick and easy, high-quality print services to all Miami-Dade County departments — from animal services to the Board of County Commissioners. While it does not insource work from outside the county — so as not to compete with the local community — it can provide printing services to other municipalities within Miami-Dade County.
Totaling a combined 29,000 sq. ft., the ISD Print Shop comprises three operating units: an offset facility; a digital print center and mail center; and a graphics and signage unit. The latter two are high-rise operations, occupying space on the 18th and 24th floors in the downtown Miami Government Center. Generating 10 million printed impressions per year — which can reach 20 million in a major election year — the in-plant has an annual operating budget of $7.9 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The 24-employee operation prints an assortment of transactional and marketing materials, including collateral, forms, ballots, tax bills, public hearing notices, animal citations and permits, and envelopes.
According to Campos, of the 50-60 departments it services, the biggest two for the in-plant are the elections and tax collection departments.
“My No. 1 client is the county. The county departments don’t have to compete in the commercial market to get service. Why we are what we are and why we exist is so that we can, at a moment’s notice, turn a job around,” says Campos, noting that while the operation handles run-of-the-mill everyday jobs, his staff is prepared for, and excels at, what can be common last-minute emergencies.
And with a creative director, production manager, mailing services expert, and more, Campos says the ISD Print Shop has “all these different pieces to that puzzle” for helping departments with their products. “We come in and we try to understand what their needs are, what are they trying to accomplish, and then we help improve that process,” he adds, noting how the shop recently helped transform what were archaic jury summons forms to more efficient, faster, lower-cost, and more premium postcards.
Bringing in New Solutions
To help the ISD Print Shop maintain flexibility in delivering fast and inexpensive print-on-demand work, Campos started looking into inkjet options for the Digital Print Center. In the past, he says, personalized forms and bills were produced in a two-step process.
“We would first preprint color shells and later feed the shells through digital printing equipment for personalization. Though the process worked, it lacked the ability to make last-minute changes because of the preprinted shell component,” he says.
As part of the government, Campos says the ISD Print Shop has to enter into competitive bids for equipment acquisitions. For digital equipment, he decided it was best for the county to enter a lease agreement instead of purchasing the equipment.
“With digital, that technology moves so fast and evolves and improves dramatically over one or two years,” says Campos. “It’s not like the offset world, where you could buy an offset press in 1975 and it probably didn’t change much in 2021. So, we decided that we would enter into lease agreements to allow us to stay modern and current every so many years.”
Campos and Digital Print Manager Rolf Strackman did their market research together and learned more about different equipment options. They also visited various vendors and showrooms.
“[We] would show up, not unexpected, but we didn’t want to allow the suppliers that were pitching us too much time to prepare because … sometimes we don’t have a lot of time to prepare … in the printing business,” says Campos. “We’ll have a job walk through the door — it might be complex, it might not be complex, but we have to figure it out. So, we essentially went on this field trip with USB drives in hand and paper samples [of the stock the shop uses], and essentially said ‘Here you go, load this on the machine, and let’s see how long it takes you to get up and running.’”
The Right Mix of Tools
Ultimately, they chose two Riso Valezus T2100 inkjet printers and a Riso GD 9630, which replaced two Canon Océ monochrome printers. The shop also leased two G7-certified Konica Minolta AccurioPress devices: a C14000 and a C6085, which replaced two Xerox Color 1000 presses. Campos says all of the new equipment is fantastic.
With the Konica Minolta printers, he says the shop was looking to increase its premium color, digital output capabilities in a large and small footprint. And footprint, along with not having to be concerned about venting fumes and chemicals, was also a major factor with the Riso inkjet printers due to working out of the Miami-Dade official government headquarters with thousands of employees.
“These inkjet printers [are] small in size [and] run on 120V. You could almost plug it into where you plug in your microwave oven,” says Campos. “And they don’t require any special venting or any special exhaust to run them.”
While Campos says the double-engine T2100s are fast production workhorses with their high-capacity feeders, he leased the GD 9630 because of its finishing capabilities.
“[The T2100s] didn’t come with a lot of in-line finishing options because really the machine is designed for speed,” says Campos. Adding the GD 9630 gave the in-plant in-line hole punching and stapling capabilities.
Inkjet Eliminates Shells
Using its new inkjet equipment, the ISD Print Shop has printed tax bills, public hearing notices, voter ID cards, local business tax cards, and bills, and no longer has to preprint tax bill shells, allowing for greater flexibility with last-minute creative or legislatively mandated changes. The shop has also been able to upsell inkjet on some booklets that were previously printed black and white because color was cost prohibitive.
However, Campos emphasizes inkjet is not for everyone or every job, and he knows to only offer inkjet to the right assignment. He advises other in-plants considering inkjet to get samples from OEMs and to make sure it’s the right fit for their operation and its applications before making the commitment.
“It’s transactional-quality printing,” he adds. “If you’re looking for super high-quality rich colors [or] real sharp images, that’s not the kind of equipment. We knew that going in, which is why we were very happy with our choice. We knew what we were looking for, we tested it, and it was exactly what we were expecting.”
Adapting During the Pandemic
Campos notes how installing all the new equipment during the pandemic was tricky, due to challenges with the Government Center shutting down and the electrician he was working with going home sick.
And while Campos acknowledges all change comes with a learning curve, and the team did adapt some processes to accommodate the new inkjet technology, he is happy with how quickly his highly skilled and experienced team adjusted.
While the county’s administrative employees were able to work remotely, departments like the ISD Print Shop have been considered essential during COVID-19. Campos put staff on a rotation to help maintain social distancing, required masks, and made sanitizing stations available.
“We encouraged our team members to be as careful as they could be,” he shares.
With county employees working remotely, the shop did see a reduction in in-office type forms and booklets, but it remained busy with its core business (e.g., mailers, notices, citations, and bills), along with printing informational COVID community flyers and mailers.
Looking ahead, Campos wants the ISD Print Shop to continue to help streamline the printing needs of the county through improved technology, cost savings, and its in-house expertise.
While he’s currently looking to potentially purchase a new cutter for the Digital Print Center, he says, “Outside of that, I think we’re in good shape; I’m very pleased with our printing capabilities at this time. I think we are at the right capacity and the right mix of tools.”