UK University Completes Full In-plant Transformation
When Helen Clarke took over as Print and Post Services manager at Loughborough University in Leicestershire, U.K., in January 2020, she had ambitious plans for an overhaul of the department, and a determination to roll out those plans as soon as possible. However, like many of us with plans in January 2020, that swift implementation was put on hold.
Anyone in Clarke’s position would be forgiven for a change in tack as the university found its new normal in the wake of the pandemic, but that’s not in her nature. She mapped out what needed to be done at the 6,566-sq.-ft. facility when she took up her post that January, and nearly four years later, Clarke and the Loughborough Print and Post Services team are putting the finishing touches on a more efficient, more cost-effective, and more valuable department.
In an In-plant Impressions feature from 2020, Clarke outlined how COVID was a “blessing in disguise,” allowing the shop to demonstrate to the university why the department was a crucial campus resource for the student body and faculty. Its parcel service, PPE production, and safety signage in particular removed any doubt the in-plant was essential.
Four years on, it seems there was another hidden benefit: “I already had a plan as to what needed to be done, then COVID hit and halted it, but also gave me a massive opportunity to take that plan, develop it a bit more and go, ‘Actually we can be even better than I’d originally thought we could be,’” says Clarke.
A departmental revamp is a costly endeavor, so the first changes Clarke planned to make were financial.
“Instead of being full cost recovery, we only charged some of the direct costs,” she explains. “So, we charged on the paper and the click, and that’s it, and all of a sudden everybody’s print jobs are significantly cheaper, and they’re using us more than they did before. Because during COVID we proved the point that we’re very accessible. It made it even easier to convince people that actually they should be printing in-house. Students also felt the impact of that cost change as well, because we were able to look at our costs and say, ‘We can bring everything down a little bit.’”
As a result of this strategy, she says, campus printing income has gone up by £65,000 ($82,337) in comparison to the previous 12 months.
Once the wheels of a stronger financial strategy were in motion, equipment was next in the firing line. It became clear to Clarke that the department’s inventory was not fit for purpose as part of its new direction.
“We used to have a four-color lithographic press, three mono machines, and one color. What we were finding is most of our work was going on the color, because the minute that went down, we had no backup, and I was then paying for machines that, quite honestly, weren’t being used,” she says. “So I did a review, had a look at what we were currently outsourcing, and then basically threw the whole lot up in the air and said, ‘Right, we’re going to tender. What is it that we need?’”
The tender, starting in October 2022, was a “hugely valuable exercise,” says Clarke. Letting the suppliers come to the in-plant helped her determine exactly what the equipment setup of the new, improved print department could, and should, look like. Clarke’s litmus test involved giving each OEM a selection of files of the university’s most common print products so they could print samples.
“We got them to produce business cards, pull-up banners, we got them to do 32-page booklets, postcards,” she says. “Everybody had to produce exactly the same, from exactly the same artwork, so it really leveled the playing field.”
Ultimately, Clarke and her team selected Canon. “They were able to give us exactly what we wanted,” explains Clarke. “We now have three color digital machines with varying finishing products. We’ve then got a flatbed printer, a flatbed cutter, and a UV Gel roll machine as well, which has dramatically changed our capabilities, because all of a sudden, we’re able to do things we’ve never done before in-house, which is brilliant.”
The in-plant has introduced a Canon imagePRESS V1350 with a Morgana BM5035 bookletmaker and waste conveyor; two Canon imagePRESS V1000s, one with a punch unit; a Canon Arizona 135 GT flatbed UV printer; a Canon Colorado 1640 roll-to-roll UV printer; and a Vivid Veloblade Nexus flatbed cutter. Also new to the in-plant are three Morgana machines: a BM4035 bookletmaker, an AutoCut pro, and a DigiBook 200 PUR perfect binder. The last piece to the puzzle (for now) was the December 2023 installation of a Polar 92 electric guillotine cutter.
By now it is likely evident that Helen Clarke is not one to do things halfway. Completely refreshing the equipment inventory of the print department was not just a case of “out with the old, in with the new,” as Clarke outlines: “I wanted to improve the space, so we also changed the entire floor. We had the floor replaced, we’ve had all new [LED] lighting, a new fire alarm system, we’re getting new security cameras. We’ve done literally everything other than painting the walls, which is the last little bit we’ve got to finish.”
This didn’t mean downtime for the Print and Post Services team — all the work was completed as they continued providing their valuable services to the campus, located in the English Midlands, about 110 miles north of London.
During COVID, the in-plant’s online ordering system received a boost, enabling students and staff to access print services off-site via VPN and improving the in-plant’s workflow. Even before then, Clarke had growth plans for the online shop, and, unsurprisingly, she and the team are bringing those plans to fruition.
As part of the bigger picture for the future of the in-plant, the team structure has also been reconfigured: “I changed the three team structure to four, and we now have an online systems team who look after the [eProductivity Software] MarketDirect storefront as well as our scanning service for exams and document archiving. They also look after the swipe card printers we’ve got across campus. And we’ve now managed to launch a new storefront, with one for staff, one for students, and now a community online shop, which means anybody out in the wider world can order from us — whether it’s print or other products — because we’ve got a range of other stuff on there as well.” These other products range from gifts and souvenirs to university honey that’s produced on campus. All told, Clarke says income from online purchases has gone up by £42,000 ($53,200) in comparison with the previous 12 months, £30,000 ($38,000) of that through print orders.
Clarke’s forensic assessment of the department included analysis of the MFD fleet, leading to the removal of 50 machines, bringing them all out into communal spaces, and quashing the misconception that some are for staff and some are for students.
“It’s allowed us to take about £100,000 [$126,644] off the bottom line,” Clarke says. “The university [was] happy with me that week.”
Secrets of Success
An obvious question for Clarke when considering all that has been achieved in just four years against the backdrop of a pandemic is, how do you do it all? For Clarke, a more appropriate question is, why aren’t more in-plants doing it?
“Whenever I’m talking to other universities I try and talk about this, because I don’t think it’s as common as I perhaps think it should be,” says Clarke. In response to how she does it all, Clarke makes clear that bringing her vision for the in-plant to life couldn’t have been achieved without a great deal of support from her team and the university itself.
“I couldn’t have done any of this had I not worked really hard at the relationships within the university. Talking to our IT and procurement colleagues, they have had complete faith in me, even considering the scale of what we wanted to achieve,” she explains. “When I talk to other universities they say, ‘I don’t know how you’ve managed to get the university to invest what they’ve invested,’ and I do think it’s about building those relationships and getting people on [your] side and fully explaining to them what you want.”
Clarke concludes with an acknowledgment of the teamwork required to pull off the feat that Loughborough’s in-plant has accomplished.
“No one can do this if you haven’t got the team on board. I wouldn’t have been able to turn the department into a building site had [the team] not seen that there was a real future for them here, and this project is part of securing it,” she says. “Without their support, patience, and tolerance, all of this wouldn’t have happened at all, so a huge shout out to my team. They made this all happen.”
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Karis Copp is a U.K.-based journalist and communications specialist. With a background as a writer and editor in the print industry, she writes about print and technology news and trends, reports on industry events, and works with businesses to help them tell their stories and connect with their customers. Follow her on Twitter @KarisCoppMedia.