IPMA 2023 Empowers In-plant Managers with New Ideas
Tammy Slone of Cedarville University summed it up best during a wide-format panel discussion on the last day of the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association (IPMA) conference.
“You have to go into this with the confidence that you can do it,” she said of the challenging wide-format pieces in-plants are being asked to provide.
That confidence is exactly what’s been driving in-plants to expand their service offerings and take on complex projects to help their customers succeed. It’s also what inspired 144 in-plant managers to travel to Bonita Springs, Florida, in June to attend the IPMA 2023 conference, the world’s largest gathering of in-plant managers. For five days they compared notes, learned from each other, and came away with new ideas.
The overall mood at this second “post-COVID” conference was very enthusiastic, as attendees networked, checked out new technologies in the vendor fair and cheered a succession of informative and inspirational speakers. Topics ranged from smart lockers to artificial intelligence, with more focus on production inkjet than in years past. There were fun sessions, like the Workflow Family Feud, which pitted teams of government and education in-plants against each other, and inspirational sessions, like the story of former inmate Talmedge Hayes and his path from prison to lead pressman at Palm Beach County’s in-plant. Hugh Halpern, director of the U.S. Government Publishing Office, shared his initiatives at GPO and offered leadership lessons as well.
The two-day vendor fair was jumping with activity as attendees visited the 49 vendors’ displays — 23 of which were first-time vendors. On Tuesday evening, the awards banquet celebrated the winners of IPMA Awards and In-Print 2023 awards.
After an opening presentation by In-plant Impressions Editor Bob Neubauer on equipment installations and applications, in which he revealed the results from a new IPI research report, motivational speaker, comedian, and member of the Speaker Hall of Fame Steve Gilliland took to the stage for his talk titled “Cherry on Top” where he discussed the importance of adding value to your employees’ lives. His humor had people in stitches, but he also fit in some valuable life lessons.
“You can’t add value to a person until you value them,” Gilliland said. “Too many days we have a chance to add value and we don’t.”
Gilliland used examples from his own life, like leaving hotel staff thank-you notes, and he told the crowd when they do go the extra mile to make people feel seen and appreciated, it goes a long way.
He also emphasized how building community and connection across hybrid, remote, and in-person teams can be vital to ensure success — something in-plant managers and employees alike can all benefit from.
“Remember that it’s not how we start this life or how we finish it; the true joy of life has been and always will be in the trip,” he concluded. “Along the trip, keep adding cherries, keep adding value.”
The second day’s keynote speaker, Chuck Gallagher, broached the topic of ethical lapses among professionals and what causes them. Entering the stage handcuffed and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, he related his own ethical lapse that landed him in federal prison, after he “borrowed” money from accounts he was overseeing.
When people have ethical lapses — taking office supplies, printing jobs for themselves, ignoring controls — they rationalize them to make them palatable, validate their actions, and repeat them until they become natural. They may start small, but can lead, as in his case, to some very serious consequences, he said.
Other speakers focused directly on in-plants, as when Ricoh’s Ken Tucker described the path from a “traditional” in-plant to an “integrated resource center,” with a fully integrated eCommerce site, management information systems, workflow automation, integration with company business systems, omnichannel communications, and more.
Lois Ritarossi talked about strategies leaders can employ to enhance operational efficiency in their in-plants. She encouraged them to set clear expectations, establish a shared vision, and foster a sense of accountability among employees. Seek innovation by encouraging your team to come up with ideas.
“Ten brains are better than one,” she said.
She discussed the benefits of data-driven decision-making and cross-functional collaboration, and encouraged leaders to break down silos and promote knowledge sharing across different departments. She also urged managers to focus on fixing their processes and automating to get better results.
“Some of you are experts at this. You have improved things. I’ve been in some of your shops and the floors are clean. It’s awesome. People know where everything goes. And they are making checklists, and they really have been able to adapt processes and behaviors so that your teams know how to make better decisions and get better results,” Ritarossi said.
Colorado State Printer Mike Lincoln and Mayo Clinic’s Donna Macht told stories in a panel discussion of how Solimar software has aided and advanced their in-plants. When the Colorado Department of Revenue closed its in-plant during COVID and sent the work to Lincoln’s operation, Solimar eased this transition, providing the ability to review, suppress and divert individual mailings before they were printed, obviating the need to seek and find one problem mailing in a stack of thousands. When another customer needed to add a call to action on the cover page of its mailing, Solimar software enabled this to be done and approved in two days, with no upcharge.
“Our customers … value what we do for them like never before,” Lincoln said.
At Mayo, Solimar software allowed the in-plant to stop printing and inventorying patient brochures by redesigning the information to be printed on a single sheet with its inkjet press. This has saved lots of time and resources.
Another panel discussion featured three in-plant managers discussing wide-format printing. Erica Linn (Lockheed Martin), Tammy Slone (Cedarville University), and Wesley Troup (The World Bank Group) talked about the substrates they are using and their quest for more sustainable substrates to replace PVC and foam core. Troup’s shop is starting to use Neenah conVerd board, and Lockheed is moving to Crezon board.
As for installing graphics, each in-plant has a different strategy. Cedarville’s in-plant does some installations, particularly those that use “more forgiving” materials, Slone said, such as removable wall graphics. More complex installations are outsourced. The World Bank’s team handles most installations and has gotten quite good at them. At Lockheed, though, the in-plant talks with Facilities at the beginning of such projects so they’re prepared and lets Facilities handle installation.
During the conference, managers broke into smaller groups for roundtable discussions. At the educational roundtable, managers talked about issues such as the labor shortage and whether they can support an inkjet press. Judy Bankson of Oregon State University revealed her shop plans to add inkjet. University of Nebraska - Lincoln just installed an inkjet press and plans to move a bindery person into the pressroom to run it because it is too expensive to hire someone with offset experience.
In the government roundtable, GPO representatives said they are using a 3D scanner and 3D printer to created replacement parts for equipment. Managers also discussed inkjet, the labor shortage, and problems getting equipment serviced due to understaffed service providers.
Staffing issues also came up at the healthcare and insurance roundtable, specifically the need to replace retiring employees and having to compete with institutions like Amazon, where the starting pay is above $20 per hour. Some in-plants are wrestling with how to properly compensate their staff. As companies raise their minimum wage, new hires may earn the same wages as employees with 10 years of service.
Web-to-print solutions were also on the docket, with some in-plants kicking around installing systems so they can better insource work. Those looking to add Web-to-print were urged to know what their shop needs and shop around before signing a contractual agreement.
The Future of Mail
During his breakout session, Leo Raymond, owner and managing director of Mailers Hub, discussed rising USPS rates and what that means for the future. We can expect an emphasis on packaging, he said, a loss of hardcopy mail with a transition to electronic media, new business (e.g., fulfillment or campaign management), and minimized handling of mailpieces.
Raymond said everyone has been wondering, “what if mail doesn’t come back?” He answered it like this, “After the 2008 recession, what left did not all come back. We might see that circumstance again.”
In a breakout session about paper shortages, Sylvamo’s AJ Layo discussed the navigation of the current paper market and how to think ahead for the future. Layo pointed out that demand for uncoated freesheets has declined by 18% since April 2022, and cut-size has declined by 5%. She expects overtime demand to level out, but this year alone is already facing a 10% decline in demand due to factors like heavy inventory, budget cuts, and imports trending downwards.
Layo warned that the market may get tight and advised managers to stay in touch with sales representatives of paper distributors to maintain a working relationship. Still, she is optimistic inventories will level out.
During the conference, the dates and location of next year’s gathering were announced. IPMA 2024 will move to the Midwest and take place in Des Moines, Iowa, from June 2-6.
Related story: IPMA 2023 Highlight: ‘Insource the Outsourced’
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.