Offset Business Still Strong at Ohio State
As one of a handful of in-plants running large, multi-color offset presses, the Ohio State University’s UniPrint operation faced a dilemma a couple of years ago. Its two workhorse presses — a six-color, 29˝ and a five-color, 40˝ Heidelberg — were 20 and 30 years old. Maintenance costs were sky high.
“We were at a crossroads,” reflects UniPrint Director Jeff Dible. “Our digital business has grown over the past years, while our offset business had decreased. We had to evaluate: should we get completely out of the offset business and go more toward digital?”
Dible did a careful analysis of UniPrint’s business, discovering that while the 36-employee in-plant was doing less offset work than in years past, there was still significant demand for that type of work.
“While most universities are experiencing a decline in offset printing, the reality is, it’s not going away in the next five years,” he maintains.
He queried the shop’s top offset customers, like the medical center, Advancement, Admissions, and Alumni and learned they had no intention of changing their print habits.
At the same time, the marketing department did its own analysis of UniPrint’s business and came to the same conclusion about offset’s viability at Ohio State. Encouraged by their support, UniPrint made the decision to replace its aging presses and consolidate all the offset work on one new, fully automated press.
As a full chargeback operation, responsible for covering its costs, the in-plant had built up an equipment reserve fund over the years, so it had the money for the new press. UniPrint issued a bid in late 2019 and received three responses, finally settling on a five-color, 25x37˝ Komori Lithrone G37 offset press (GL537) with a coater.
The press was initially scheduled for installation in April 2020, but the arrival of COVID-19 postponed that until July. It went live in August. Instead of going to Komori’s facility in Chicago for training, operators were trained at UniPrint’s Columbus facility over a five-week period.
The in-plant was the second in the U.S. to install a GL537, Dible says. With features like automated plate changing and ink key setting, the press has drastically cut makeready times, and that — combined with its rated 15,000-iph speed — has enabled the shop to print jobs 60% faster, Dible says.
“Everything that we were previously doing in about three shifts, on the Komori we can do in a shift and a half,” he reports.
This speed increase made up for the smaller format of the press. Dible and his team looked at 28x40˝ presses before deciding on a 37˝ format, concluding that the number of jobs requiring a full-size press was not high enough to justify the extra cost. Going to a 37˝ press dropped the price considerably, he says.
More Offset Than Digital
As the pandemic continues to impact the university, there’s a certain irony in the way things played out.
“During these COVID times, we’re doing more offset than we are digital now,” Dible contends.
That’s because much of UniPrint’s digital work is done to promote university events, all of which have been canceled. The offset work, on the other hand, is largely made up of recruitment mailings, publications, and materials for the medical center.
“We print high-end, four-color offset publications like alumni magazines, and do a lot of marketing materials for The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and its affiliates,” says Dible. UniPrint also produces 250 different educational packages for the university’s agricultural extension program, such as kits for 4-H Club students. Staff fulfills orders and ships these materials to all 88 counties across the state. Commencement programs will bring about 45,000 more impressions this spring. And with Ohio State serving as a COVID-19 vaccination site, the in-plant has been charged with printing 40,000 vaccine fact sheets a week for distribution.
“We already do about 80% of the university’s work, and this press will help get us the other 20%,” says Dible.
This is already happening, he adds. UniPrint recently printed a 60,000-run publication for the engineering department that had historically been farmed to an outside printer.
“We are starting to see work that we couldn’t get before,” Dible says. “We expect that to increase.”
In addition to the new Komori, the in-plant still runs a two-color Heidelberg Quickmaster press and a two-color Halm envelope press.
Print Center of Expertise
Another positive outcome from the marketing department’s evaluation of UniPrint was the recommendation that UniPrint be considered a “Print Center of Expertise” at Ohio State. All departments have been directed to send print requests to UniPrint, rather than to outside printers.
“We will do what we can do, and those [jobs] that we can’t do, we will farm to selected vendors that we vetted and approved for the university,” explains Dible.
This way the university will get the best pricing, and the in-plant will ensure brand compliance of the final product.
UniPrint does much more than offset printing in its 44,000-sq.-ft. facility, though. The in-plant has a full digital printing department, a wide-format area, and it manages all 2,500 multi-functional devices and 4,000 desktop printers on campus.
“We print anything and everything across the campus, from business cards all the way up through case bound coffee table-type books,” Dible says.
The shop’s main digital color device is a Xerox iGen 150, supplemented by a Xerox Color C60, a black-and-white Xerox D125, and a pair of Xanté Impressia digital envelope printers. Its wide-format equipment includes an EFI H-1625 flatbed printer, three Epson SureColor P8000 printers, and a Direct Color Systems 1800S for printing braille signage. The shop’s Zünd S3 M-1200 digital cutter has proven very useful during the pandemic for cutting acrylic “sneeze guard” dividers as well as stadium fan cutouts. UniPrint prints all university signage, including ADA-compliant wayfinding signage, and Dible sees a continuing and growing need for this. He notes that 3 million sq. ft. of new buildings are scheduled to be built on campus over the next five years, and all will need signage.
“Those are a nice new source of revenue for us,” he says.
During the pandemic, with demand for traditional items not as strong, UniPrint has had to constantly seek out new business opportunities. Dible feels the in-plant has done an admirable job at this, and in the process has demonstrated UniPrint’s value to campus customers.
“This whole period has shown us, we’ve got to take revenue where we can get it, and we’re finding those new opportunities,” he says. “We have to be ready to adapt and change to what the new requirements are, and I think we’ve been doing it pretty good."
Related story: Ohio State UniPrint: Always A Team Player
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.