Doing It All in Ithaca
It’s a familiar story in the in-plant industry.
“Sixty percent of our students don’t know we exist,” laments Glendon Harris, digital and prepress specialist at Ithaca College — though it’s certainly not for lack of effort or outreach on the part of the in-plant.
Faculty and staff at the private liberal arts college, on the other hand, are quite familiar with the small but thoroughly equipped Center for Print Production. They know it as a valuable resource for keeping costs down while ensuring that professors stay well supplied with the hard-copy instructional materials they depend on. A Web-to-print production workflow automates that essential task, while other assets, most notably a new wide-format printer, let the in-plant produce a range of high-quality items that can save money for everyone on campus.
With a staff of eight, the in-plant operates in a 5,400-sq.-ft. space on the edge of the Ithaca, N.Y., campus, located in the scenic Finger Lakes region of New York. It’s overseen by Karen Serbonich, director of General Services.
Running only digital printing equipment, the in-plant produces up to 85% of the printing that the college uses, including course packs, postcards, name tags, recruitment materials, tuition billing paperwork and programs for football games. Only the highest-volume work goes off campus to commercial offset printers, and even then, says Harris, the in-plant will opt to retain jobs that are “right on the verge of being too expensive” to print digitally. Fast turnarounds, scrupulous attention to detail, and dedicated customer service keep the bulk of the printing within the in-plant despite the fact that it does not have right of first refusal on the work the college requires. (Though it's a couple of years old, this 2014 Xerox video gives a behind--the-scenes look at Ithaca College's in-plant.)
Bringing Students Into the Fold
Harris wants more students to be able to enjoy the same degree of customer care whenever they need printing. Online templates make it easy for them to design and order what they want for a fraction of the price they would pay at a commercial copy shop, he says. Harris hopes to increase awareness by establishing a satellite facility closer to where students congregate.
If the student body isn’t as well acquainted with the in-plant as Harris would like, there’s no shortage of attention from the insourcing customers that he and Peter Kilcoyne, the facility’s operations manager, have succeeded in attracting. These external clients include the City of Ithaca, Cortland Regional Medical Center and various not-for-profit organizations, as well as local artists and photographers.
Money earned from this work goes back to Ithaca College, helping to cement a stable and trusting relationship between the school and the in-plant. No attempts have been made to place the in-plant under outside facilities management supervision during the three and a half years that Harris has been a member of the team. He notes that although faculty and staff don’t have to utilize the in-plant, “they’re pretty loyal, and we try to help them as much as we can.”
‘Very Little That We Can’t Do’
As a 28-year veteran of the printing industry who once was a chain copy shop employee and a field technician for Xerox, Harris knows what kinds of capabilities a printing office needs in order to take proper care of its customers.
The vendor he used to work for is well represented in the production department in the form of Xerox iGen 150 and Xerox Color 800 digital presses and a Xerox 125 printer. The wide-format complement includes devices from Roland, Canon and Epson. The in-plant also gets creative with a Sawgrass Virtuoso SG800 dye-sublimation printer, heat and mug presses and laminating, folding, slitting and cutting equipment.
With these resources, says Harris, “there’s very little that we can’t do,” and usually at prices that off-campus print service providers can’t match.
For example, brushed aluminum name tags that outside shops charge $13.50 for can be made for $3.50 on the dye-sub printer, which adds a gloss coat. Using a combination of gold foil and white ink in the Roland SOLJET Pro 4 XR-640 printer-cutter, it’s possible to simulate costly embossing on rolls of stickers that seal graduation-day envelopes. The in-plant has even experimented with printing campus parking tags on material that crumbles when anyone tries to illicitly move a tag from one windshield to another.
“It’s all about saving the college money,” Harris says.
The everyday work is less exotic, consisting mainly of course packs, postcards, recruitment and registration materials and tuition billing notices. Course-related printing, the single biggest component, “varies wildly” in order size depending on the head count of the class and the number of items the professor wants to reproduce.
Go With the Workflow
The in-plant stays ahead of the task with the help of WebCRD automated Web-to-print software from Rochester Software Associates (RSA). Installed two years ago, the solution lets customers place online orders for black-and-white course materials in compliance with rules set up in AutoFlow, a WebCRD module for hands-off production. Conforming jobs then run automatically on the Xerox 125. Finished work can be picked up either at the in-plant or at drop points on campus.
The RSA solution has saved “tons of man-hours” in processing course-related jobs, according to Harris, who was pleasantly surprised by how readily his customers accepted the new routine. WebCRD contains costs, he says, while helping to keep the college’s print spend on campus where it belongs.
The highest-margin work that the shop produces comes from the Roland SOLJET Pro 4 XR-640 wide-format printer/cutter, which was put in about a year ago. This device, says Harris, “opened realms we couldn’t do, or couldn’t do well.”
Now the in-plant can custom-print and cut large items (signs, banners and “Fathead”-style wall graphics) as well as small ones (computer skins, stickers and “tassel toppers,” the flat upper surfaces of graduation caps) with equal quality and ease.
Objective: Build Awareness
Harris says that making everyone at Ithaca College aware of this rich assortment of affordable, quick-turnaround graphic services remains “a huge goal” for the in-plant. He believes that having a satellite location nearer to the heart of the campus will help, even if it’s just a sales desk. Another idea he thinks is worth considering is adding literature about the in-plant to the welcome kits that new students receive.
Harris declares that however they come by the knowledge, students will find their work handled with the same personal care, quicker-than-quick turnarounds and “crazy” attention to detail that have kept the in-plant a respected fixture of campus life at Ithaca College.
“It’s who we are, and what we do,” he says.
Related story: Ithaca College Adds Value With Dye-Sublimation
Patrick Henry is the director of Liberty or Death Communications. He is also a former Senior Editor at NAPCO Media and long time industry veteran.