Finding ‘Pockets of Value’ at Penn State
For Abbas Badani, the old in-plant model — waiting for customers to bring work and then printing it — is out the window. In his 12-plus years as director of Penn State University’s Multimedia and Print Center (MPC), he has steadfastly sought out and implemented attractive new services that have brought customers knocking.
“We continue to find new ways to bring value,” Badani explains. “We find new opportunities where we can … leverage what we know about Penn State to do something different.”
Case in point: Undergraduate Admissions has always fulfilled new student acceptance packets by hand, reasoning that because each packet was personalized with varying materials, there was no other way to get them done right. Badani found a way.
In the fall, the in-plant installed a new Neopost DS-200 folder/inserter with OMS-500 multi-channel communications management software and took over the job.
Now barcodes on the acceptance letters tell the insertion system how many pages the letter is and which additional inserts — brochures, literature, magnets, etc. — should go into each envelope.
“Our cycle time for admission offers has shrunk tremendously,” Badani reveals. Students now receive these packets in as little as three days after their acceptance letter is posted online. Badani knows of no other university able to get these materials out faster. (And with his daughter currently receiving multiple acceptance letters, he has some idea of how much longer this takes for other schools.)
“To me, that’s an example of how … we try to find pockets of value that haven’t been there before,” he says.
Personalized Products a Hit
This same spirit of entrepreneurship inspired the in-plant to add dye-sublimation capabilities and launch its new “Personalize It” service for printing specialty custom products like apparel, caps, blankets, door hangers, tags, coasters and more.
“Anything from clocks to socks,” says Badani.
Purchased from Imprints USA, the dye-sub system comprises a tabletop Ricoh SG3110DN Gel Sprint Printer, a heat press and a digital mug press. Products are printed on a one-off basis, Badani says, not in large runs.
“It was never supposed to be our cash cow,” he remarks. “We use it for marketing. It gets us lots of exposure.”
Customers are always drawn to the in-plant’s display of personalized shirts, hats and other items, and this leaves them with a positive impression of the in-plant, and a feeling that if MPC can do this, it can do anything, he says.
The “Personalize It” business is just another example of how Badani is striving to keep things fresh at the in-plant, to avoid becoming stale. This approach has endeared him to upper management, which is supportive of his ideas.
“We continue to find ways to excite them,” he says.
As a result, his conversations with his boss no longer include any discussion of whether MPC is saving the university money; the administration implicitly understands the value the in-plant is bringing.
An In-plant Leader
With 55 employees and a $14 million budget (which includes postage), MPC is one of the largest university in-plants in the country. It ranked No. 2 on IPG’s list of the largest university in-plants according to annual operating budget.
Part of Penn State since the 1930s, the in-plant moved into its custom-built facility in the Hostetter Building in 1975. A mailing wing was added in the 1980s, bringing the plant up to 48,000 sq. ft. MPC also operates a satellite center in the student union building.
Perhaps because of its remote location in the hills of central Pennsylvania, about two hours from the nearest city, the in-plant has a little of everything in its facility: large and small offset presses, toner and inkjet printers galore, nearly every type of bindery and mailing machine, as well as graphic design services.
In an era when in-plants are shedding their offset presses in droves to go digital, MPC installed a new four-color, 23×29˝ Ryobi 764E press in the fall of 2015 to join its four-color Presstek DI, two-color, 40˝ Heidelberg; Halm envelope press; and other small presses.
MPC makes 40% of its revenue from offset, he notes. The new Ryobi can handle jobs like four-color magazines, newsletters and brochures in the 5,000-12,000 range. Adding the press brought up to 15% more work to the in-plant, he says. But he also wants to make one thing very clear: “We outsource a lot of printing,” he says.
Print Portal Levels the Playing Field
Penn State generates a lot of projects that are beyond the in-plant’s capabilities, and all of this work is outsourced through a print portal that Badani designed. All vendors must bid electronically through the portal. Jobs are awarded based on which vendor offers the best value. To keep bids on a more level playing field, the in-plant provides all the paper for each job (with no markup, which Badani feels enhances MPC’s credibility).
Overseeing the portal gives Badani the opportunity to see all the work being outsourced, which lets him benchmark current market pricing and position the in-plant to deliver value where it can be most effective.
Complementing the in-plant’s offset strength is a robust digital printing area. Its Xerox iGen4, Xerox Color C75 and a pair of Xerox Nuvera 144s produce lots of quick turnaround work, like direct mail, schedules, programs and scores of variable data jobs. Badani says between 30% and 40% of MPC’s digital work is personalized, using Objectif Lune PrintShop Mail software.
Though the iGen4, which the shop purchased about five years ago, has served it well, Badani is starting to look for a replacement. He’s keeping an eye on production inkjet presses, having attending the 2015 Inkjet Summit.
Wide-format printing is a booming business for the in-plant, Badani says. The shop uses an HP Latex 330 printer and a 42˝ HP DesignJet Z6200 aqueous printer complemented by a Seal laminator and a Graphtec contour cutter, which was busy carving out Nittany Lion paw print decals during a recent IPG visit.
To show off these capabilities, the in-plant designed an impressive wide-format showroom. One long wall has been wrapped with a graphic to make it look like the wall of an art museum, with a dozen framed paintings and a very realistic-looking “wooden” chair rail that fools most visitors.
One recent high-profile job had the in-plant printing wall wraps for each of the private suites in the Bryce Jordan Center arena, home of the men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Badani feels that services like wide-format and dye-sublimation are great opportunities for in-plants, and he encourages his peers to look for services like these that will enable them to add value.
“Figure out where your new opportunities are going to come from,” he advises.
This strategy has worked well for MPC, which has placed a high priority on finding new ways to add value and better serve the Penn State community.
“That’s what keeps us fresh,” Badani says.
Related story: From the Editor: Penn State Road Trip
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.