With Campuses Closed, Few Print Jobs for Higher-Ed In-plants
College campuses around the world are closed due to COVID-19. Students are finishing their courses online. As a result, print work has dried up for most college and university in-plants. The materials they would normally be printing for spring activities, including graduation, are no longer needed.
Some university in-plants are closed, their staffs working from home, while others are busier, particularly if they oversee mail or if their university has an affiliated hospital. Most are somewhere in between, with small crews venturing onto campus periodically to handle jobs, such as admissions materials, surveys, books, bulk mailing projects, and COVID-19-related items.
At Fox Valley Technical College, Printing Services Manager Jessica Van Dyn Hoven has been coordinating the outsourcing of print orders to an external vendor and leading her staff through professional development courses. They are also filling their time creating maintenance logs and doing other organizational tasks that are normally hard to find time for. The in-plant has built up a reserve fund from chargeback revenue that will carry it through a few months, Van Dyn Hoven says. She hopes to be back on campus by the summer, and is expecting to take delivery of a Konica Minolta AcurioPress 6136 and AcurioPress C6100 in August, usually the busiest time of the year.
On the other hand, Printing and Mail Services at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has had a lot of work lately. The in-plant took charge of an important project that involved shipping 3,800 boxes to graduates filled with items like mortar board caps, tassels, honor medallions, confetti launchers, pennants, postcards, alumni pins, decals and letters from the chancellor and dean. The Communications department had planned to order printed boxes, but when time got tight, the in-plant stepped in to handle the project. It sourced the boxes, printed them and affixed labels. Then staff inserted all the materials, applied a decorative outer label and shipped them to students.
“We had mail staff, bindery staff and any other hands we could get to pack the 3,800 boxes which we sealed on two sides with tape,” notes Director John Yerger. “All in all we had about 300 labor hours just in the packaging.”
Another big project for the in-plant was printing 50,000 labels for containers of hand sanitizer produced on campus for hospitals and healthcare workers. The shop printed labels on 23x35˝ peel-and-stick label stock using its Canon imagePRESS C10000VP, then cut and round-cornered the labels.
About 500 miles east at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Liz Bowden, manager of Duplicating Services, works from home now and comes to the shop twice a week to meter mail, print a few jobs, respond to questions or problems, schedule pick-ups or drop offs of mail, and many other organizational tasks. Managing all of this has proven to be very stressful.
“I honestly haven’t even been able to really think about the impact this will have. I am solidly stuck in production mode,” she says. “But I also know that when the university is back up and running, we will be busy.”
Bowden anticipates a hiring freeze and will have to rely on student workers once that happens.Oregon State University Printing and Mailing Services is open for mail and package pickup three mornings a week. Staff hours have been reduced and print work has slowed to a crawl. The shop recently received an order for 3,000 tabbed books from the state, work that was sorely needed.
“Our customer service staff are awesome,” praises Judy Bankson, assistant director. “They have been hard at work lining up projects and doing all they can to help us keep work coming in.” She lauds her staff for keeping a positive attitude and coming up with ideas for new projects to show customers.
The University of Virginia’s in-plant is open but slow, with most academic work having dried up. The shop does some work for UV’s hospital, as well as insourced work from government agencies, school districts, and nonprofits. An annual spring project, a state testing program, is still moving forward, and Director Kelly Hogg expects it to keep his staff busy for a while. Otherwise, his staff has been cleaning and organizing the warehouse, reducing its supply of obsolete toner, and repairing equipment. For some university in-plants, campus closures are working to their advantage.
“We used this opportunity to secure a couple big signage projects on campus — replacing all the old logos on the 185 campus vehicles and replacing the logos on our building signage across campus,” says Dylan Turner, manager of Printing Services at Northern Arizona University. “It’s working quite well since most are working remotely at the university, and we have access to all the vehicles.”
NAU’s in-plant is using an HP Latex 365 printer to print these projects and has plans to cover shuttles and buses with partial wraps and refresh the Human Resources area with wall wraps.
Others are using their wide-format equipment to print personalized lawn signs for graduates who have been robbed of their graduations. I spoke with one of them, Ed Arning, director of market development in the Creative Marketing Solutions unit at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), which has printed 75 yard signs so far.
“We do so much yard sign work for our college campus community,” he says. “So this was very easy for us to ramp up and get into this market.”Besides providing a needed service to students to ease some of their disappointment, the yard sign work is giving the in-plant some needed business at a time when its usual print work has “gone to sleep,” Arning says.Despite the work slowdown, most higher-ed in-plants I contacted are hopeful about their future, feeling that their universities respect and support them.
Administrators have emphasized that everyone is in this together. Still, they acknowledge that budgets will be tight for some time.Though some in-plants, like University of Virginia Printing & Copying Services, have operating reserves to keep them going for several months, managers are unsure of what lies beyond that.“The university has not provided any plans beyond June 30,” notes UVA’s Kelly Hogg, “but we are continuing to contact our customers to let them know we are open and ready should they need any printing.”
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.