University of Delaware: Essential, Pandemic or Not
When COVID-19 forced the University of Delaware’s campus to shut down, Michael Czerepak, manager of the school’s on-site in-plant, University Printing, knew he had to make the case for why his operation was essential. As an in-plant serving not only the university’s mission, but insourcing work from local businesses, it was closed for just two weeks before gradually reopening.
“We take pride in the fact we support the school academically and administratively,” says Czerepak. “I was able to petition the executive branch to label part of our staff essential so we could come on campus. We started out working two days a week at reduced hours and calling in staff necessary for that day. We made sure people knew we were here, and they started calling us right away.”
With its full range of printing and finishing services, University Printing provides a valuable service to the University of Delaware and the greater Newark community. The quality of its printing has earned the operation numerous In-Print awards, including two In-Print Best of Show awards in 2004 and 2006. These accolades, Czerepak says, are the result of the 13-person staff staying current with its skills and equipment.
“Our staff has been here for quite a while — many for 25 to 30 years — and they continue their path of excellence,” he says. “Most importantly, we keep our equipment up to date, making sure everything’s calibrated and that we’re reproducing our school’s brand colors exactly.”
That commitment to the University of Delaware along with the variety of jobs the in-plant can handle are what Czerepak says distinguishes University Printing. On any given day, the in-plant may be producing postcard runs for incoming students, course packets, event flyers, cut vinyl signage, perfect-bound books, business cards, promotional materials, donor packets, communications from the president’s office, and programs for concerts and other student events. Additionally, the in-plant is the primary printer for several local businesses, providing all types of jobs from large postcard runs to signage.
“We do not turn anyone away,” Czerepak says, noting that the in-plant strives to be a one-stop shop, with staff assisting in every step of the process.
“We try to be everything to everyone,” says Czerepak, who also helps install graphics. “We walk customers through their ideas and bring them to fruition, and try to add a lot of value to our service to make it as user friendly as possible for those who come to our in-plant. If someone has an event, we’ll walk them through what they might need, such as signage or a booklet. We’ll throw in extra proofs and work with clients until their colors are perfect; we take a loss to keep them in-house. We want to be able to be as helpful as possible. Even if we have to outsource, we will do that.”
Building on a Solid Foundation
Staying current and focusing on internal and customer relationships has been part of Czerepak’s mission since joining University Printing in 2016, following the long tenure of retired former director Rodney Brown.
“Rodney left a very good base for me to work with, but with anyone that’s worked in a place for a long time, there were some workflows and technologies that were outdated,” he says. “When I came here, I took a step back to get a feel for how everything worked. I replaced old equipment, bringing everything to a higher maintenance standard.”
The ratio of University Printing’s equipment is currently 60:40 digital to analog. It runs five sheetfed offset presses: a five-color Komori Lithrone L528-III, a two-color Hashimoto KBA 26-2P, and three Ryobi presses. On the digital side, the in-plant runs a Xerox iGen 5, Xerox Versant 80, and Xerox Nuvera, along with some smaller devices. Czerepak expects the in-plant to continue increasing its digital capabilities.
“As digital and high-speed inkjet technology continues to evolve, I can see moving toward even more expansion,” he says. “Reproducible results, especially with our brand colors, as well as variable data on large runs, reduced to non-existent makeready, and real-time proofing on clients’ chosen paper are big factors.”
Equipment Acquisitions on Hold
Despite recently installing a new Standard Horizon BQ-280 PUR perfect binder and pre-melter, which has greatly improved the quality of the in-plant’s perfect binding, some of the in-plant’s equipment expansion plans have been put on hold due to COVID-19, including the addition of a Xerox Iridesse press, for which the shop was just about to sign the lease prior to the closures.
“Everything’s up in the air,” he says. “We were bottlenecking with our Xerox iGen so this would have picked up the extra work. The metallic colors and the clear toner and the white were going to be a big selling point for us. Our alumni society uses gold in their logo, so to reproduce that would’ve been a real benefit.”
A new Standard Horizon diecutter is also in the works for the in-plant. Czerepak says the automation will be key for producing stickers, business cards, stationery, pocket folders, door tags, and event tickets.
In addition to the in-plant’s technology, he says University Printing maintains its focus on sustainability, utilizing only papers and substrates with an FSC or other sustainable certification. Czerepak has also worked to improve communication between the front office and operations staff while focusing on customer outreach to avoid complacency.
“I spent my first year here meeting our clients and prospective clients and letting them know what we can do for them, and what benefits there were [from] coming to us versus other local places,” he says. This has also included rectifying relationships with past customers who may have had a negative experience.
“In any service industry, something bad happens 10-15 years ago and people never forget, and they pass that knowledge onto the next customer,” he says. “People have seemed to be pretty happy with us, and even when we make mistakes, I 100% stand by our work, and work with those clients [to make sure they’re satisfied].”
Promoting University Printing’s services has proven to be critical now more than ever, since Czerepak says May and June tend to be the in-plant’s “Christmas” with alumni weekend, commencement, and other end-of-year events.
“We are definitely not at the level we would be. There are a lot of big events we’re not printing for,” he says. “It’s always been touch and go, how we can advertise around here. One of the aspects of us being deemed essential is that we’d be working on mission-critical products. We reached out to Admissions [and] the [Office] of Communications and Marketing to let them know we were here. We reached out to our facilities to let them know we can print signage, such as floor and wall graphics. We’ve had a flurry of floor graphics right now.”
In addition to the recent surge of signage resulting from COVID-19, Czerepak says wide-format printing has been a steadily increasing market for the in-plant. Over the past two years, it has gone from accounting for 2% of the in-plant’s income to 10%. The acquisition of a Mutoh ValueJet hybrid flatbed UV printer, and Czerepak’s active marketing of these services have enabled this growth.
In recent months, University Printing has produced thousands of floor decals, elevator signs, directional arrows, building entrance signs, stairway travel signs, and bus signage. For finishing these items, the in-plant uses its Mutoh ValueCut contour cutter.
Along with signage, the in-plant has printed and addressed numerous mailings to get information out to current and incoming students as well as to university employees. With the campus mail department closed, in-plant employees have been taking these mailings to the post office, as well.
University Printing’s insourcing business has benefited from a recent decision to allow the in-plant to advertise to the public, something Czerepak says it was unable to do in the past.
“People knew and wanted us to be here, and we were happy to provide services for them,” he says.
Just as essential as the services University Printing is providing is the safety of the in-plant’s staff during the pandemic.
“I brought in cleaning supplies, [and we’re] constantly disinfecting the plant,” says Czerepak. “We wear masks and maintain our 6 ft. of physical distance, which is easy to do since we have a large space.” The facility is 9,964 sq. ft., he notes.
Czerepak adds that all staff members are receiving their salaries — even those unable to come into the facility and a part-time employee he hired before the shutdown. Prior to COVID-19, he says University Printing was in a good place financially, and has a substantial reserve that should help the in-plant break even.
“We will most likely have to dip into our reserve to close out the year since we are self-supporting, but hopefully not too much,” he says.
For the immediate future, Czerepak says, the in-plant will continue doing what it does best: providing valuable services to the University of Delaware.
“The university is devoted to not let any of their full-time employees go. So far, our operation continues to ramp up. We had been planning to hire more people, and I hope to do so,” he says. “I’m doing everything I can to keep that trajectory going up.”