Lessons From an In-plant Shutdown
My greatest fear at the beginning of the pandemic was that organizations would use it as an excuse to shut down their in-plants for good. A year later, I’m pleased to see this hasn’t happened on a large scale. By and large, organizations have continued to support their in-plants, despite their diminished printing volumes and revenues. They recognize the value their in-plants provide and anticipate needing their services as the world rebounds.
Not every in-plant has been so fortunate, however. Over the past year I’ve heard about a handful that were permanently shuttered. One recent closure announcement was particularly disheartening because of the advancements the in-plant made over the past few years in building up its wide-format business and upgrading its toner technology.
This is an Australian government in-plant whose manager I got to know at in-plant conferences. He told me the decision was made at a higher level, without any input from him. The rationale was essentially this: to aid in post-pandemic recovery, the government should be supporting businesses, so any internal services that can be outsourced should be. As a result, the entire wide-format operation the manager had built up in recent years and 14 dedicated employees will be eliminated. (Its agency customers are in for a shock when they see how much more their wide-format projects will cost.)
I asked my friend if he could have done anything differently to alter this outcome, and he shared a few thoughts. There may be some lessons here that will help your in-plant avoid a similar fate.
First and foremost, he said, not having a Print MIS or Web-to-print system in place greatly hindered his in-plant.
“We were unable to prove exactly what we were doing and for whom,” he noted, in a lengthy email.
Without these tools, the in-plant could not easily show the cost of individual jobs or calculate how much departments were spending on print. In essence, the operation couldn’t prove the savings it was providing. Without this data, the organization could blindly decide to outsource, without realizing how much more that would cost.
Senior management, he continued, did not understand the in-plant’s business. When his director, who had a graphic design background, retired, he was replaced by “bean counters” who saw only the expense of the in-plant, not its value.
In hindsight, the manager felt he had gotten too complacent in recent years and wasn’t driving the business as forcefully as he should have. After building up a successful wide-format business with numerous printing devices and contour cutters, then upgrading the shop’s toner production equipment, he got too comfortable.
“Probably patted ourselves on the back too much, instead of engaging with our customers, highlighting what we have,” he lamented.
He also looked critically at procedures and habits in his shop and found some room for improvement. His staff was not well cross-trained and didn’t often help out coworkers in other areas, or communicate well with them about the jobs they were all working on together. This lack of coordination slowed down productivity at times, he admitted.
He also noted that his employees were almost all over 40 years old, and five were over 60. With so many near retirement, upper management was less concerned about laying them off.
There’s no way to know if improvements in any of these areas would have changed this in-plant’s fate, but guarding against them in your own operation can only strengthen your in-plant and make it a more valuable resource.
Related story: Outsourcing Out! In-plants Back In
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.