Razorbacks Fight to Keep Offset Alive
In June of 2014, 16 employees of Print, Mail, Copy (PMC) Solutions at the University of Arkansas were called into a conference room. Each one received a letter explaining that in two years, offset printing, which had been losing money, would be phased out of the in-plant and they would not be part of the plan moving forward.
Now, almost a year into that timeframe, PMC Solutions is continuing to make its case to keep the presses running in its Fayetteville, AR, plant. Thus far, the university’s plan remains unchanged, but Melissa Couch, the interim director of offset printing and production copiers, says the time has come for the in-plant to redouble its efforts.
“I think everyone is still in a little bit of a state of shock because it was two years away,” she explains. “Well guess what? Three quarters of the first year is gone and it’s happening very fast, and it’s going to continue if we don’t get moving.”
A Costly Upgrade
Located in the mountains of northwest Arkansas, where its Razorbacks sports teams enjoy a fierce loyalty among students and residents alike, the university boasts more than 26,000 students. With 34 total employees, PMC Solutions is one of the country’s 20 largest university in-plants. No slouch in the digital printing arena, the in-plant added a Xerox Color 1000 digital press two years ago to replace its Xerox iGen3, and also runs a Xerox D125 monochrome printer.
About 15 years ago, PMC Solutions was running all of its process work on a two-color press. An upgrade was needed badly, so Couch says the in-plant purchased a five-color, 20x29˝ Komori Lithrone 28 with an aqueous coater on a bond payment. At the same time, PMC Solutions also bought a large-format folder and a large-format cutter.
To accommodate the anticipated increase in volume the new capabilities would provide, Couch says plans were made to expand the facility. However, after the equipment was added, print jobs decreased.
“There was some serious downturn in the economy and people stopped printing,” Couch explains. “With the development of the Internet and all these things that are affecting our business, there were several of us who wanted to halt at that point and not finish out the building because it was not necessary.”
However, Couch says it was too late to stop the construction, and while having the extra space has been nice, it was expensive and nonessential.
“So we’re paying for a building, which is very nice, but was more than we needed,” she says. “We’re paying for some poor decisions that were made, unfortunately. No one has a crystal ball. You make what you think is the best decision at the time, and sometimes they turn out to be good, and sometimes they turn out not so good.”
Despite these payment issues and the deficit that offset has provided, Couch explains that it’s important to note that last year, PMC Solutions did not finish in the red. Digital printing and the departmental copier program are making up the difference, so overall the in-plant did not lose a dime last year.
Why Offset Matters
While costly purchases have been made, and offset has not been a moneymaker, Couch says that losing in-house offset capabilities will be detrimental to the university. One of the primary reasons is specific to the state of Arkansas: a constitutional amendment requires the purchase of offset printing with state money to go through a bid process—unless it goes to a state printer, such as the university’s in-plant, Couch explains. Without the in-plant’s offset department, navigating the bid process will add extra time and work to the print buying process, she says.
“That’s a huge part of this whole thing because when we’re gone, there’s going to be a heavy load on purchasing departments,” she says. “I don’t know how they’re going to handle that additional workload.”
Plus, Couch explains, if a rush job is absolutely necessary, it will need to be printed digitally, which can be costly.
“If they need a job and they need it fast and they can’t wait for the bid process, they’re going to have to pay the digital price—and it’s going to cost more,” she says.
To help make her case to the university, Couch says she has been documenting recent occasions in which PMC Solutions came to the rescue to perform a rush job. For example, when the No. 21 nationally ranked men’s basketball team earned a postseason berth, PMC Solutions was there to answer the call from the athletics department.
“When the Razorbacks made the NCAA Tournament this year, they needed some items for basketball for the media,” she says. “They called us and said, ‘We need this in a short period of time. Can you do it?’ We said, ‘Yes,’ and we did.”
A Top-quality Shop
If PMC Solutions was spitting out sloppy work, then looking to outside printers might make more sense. But the in-plant has demonstrated that it consistently produces high-quality work. The shop just won Gold and Silver awards in the prestigious In-Print 2015 contest for a brochure and a magazine it printed on its five-color Komori Lithrone, beating out scores of other in-plants nationwide.
Additionally, being an in-house operation gives the staff of PMC Solutions an intimate understanding of the university’s branding requirements and the importance of them. Though an outside printer can certainly become accustomed to the various logos and university graphics, being a part of the university helps PMC Solutions better grasp the nuances of these images.
“We take our university’s guidelines for use of the graphic identity very seriously,” Couch relates. “I can’t tell you how many things we’ve caught that are technically against the rules, but it’s because we know the rules and we care.”
As PMC Solutions continues to make its case, Couch explains that she has looked into potential alternatives. She says that one of the solutions is staff restructuring to cut costs. Although she doesn’t want to lose anyone, there are some positions the in-plant could eliminate and not affect production.
“There are a few positions that are basically overhead,” she explains. “They’re positions that we could, in theory, do without, but not lose production employees.”
Another staffing option that Couch says could be effective is implementing hourly positions to reduce the cost of fringe benefits. For example, Couch explains that if an hourly employee came in as needed for hand bindery or to take phone calls, it could reduce costs.
And while she’s still determining the best ways to react to the situation, Couch says that the in-plant’s customers within the university have expressed a desire to help. For the most part, customers understand the implications of losing the offset department, she says, and have offered to step in where they can to express their support.
“They are aware of the quality of the work that we do,” Couch states. “They are aware of the times that we have bailed them out when a rush job needed to be done. They’re aware of the bid process and how long it can take. The customers that I’ve spoken with at this point want us to take the lead and tell them how they can help.”
If all else fails though, Couch says that the reduction of staff and offset capabilities will require the department to gain more automation on the digital side. In particular, she explains that the in-plant will need to implement a Web-to-print solution and add a slitter/cutter/creaser.
“If we’re unsuccessful in saving offset, the digital unit will have to have more automation because it will not have enough employees and will probably not have a big enough footprint to handle this big offset bindery equipment,” she says.
Making Their Voices Heard
Because of the delicacy of the situation, Couch says she has not wanted to stir the pot too much. However, she says the time has come to speak up about the potential alternative solutions that could save the offset department.
She says she hopes to arrange meetings with the chancellor and vice chancellor for finance and administration to talk about their options and make their case.
“There are many good people here in this department who want to do a good job for the University of Arkansas,” she says. “There’s a lot of pride here.”
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