A Virginia Turnaround Tale
Fresh ideas and an infusion of new energy have helped Virginia Tech Printing Services decrease turnaround times, improve customer satisfaction and strengthen its financial situation.March 2013 By Chris Bauer
Sometimes, even the most experienced and well-run business needs a shot of new energy and fresh ideas to get it back on track.
As early as 1923, The Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg, Va., recognized the benefit of having an in-house printing facility. However, several years ago, the shop found itself in a financial hole.
So in 2009, Catherine Chambers arrived on campus from the State College (Pa.) Area School District's in-plant with a vision and a plan to turn around the ailing shop.
"I have always been involved with higher education, and I have always managed in-plants," explains Chambers, who serves as Printing Services manager. "When I was brought in, I was brought in as a change agent."
Over the past four years, Chambers says, the 17-employee in-plant has worked hard to improve its processes, upgrade equipment, streamline production methods, automate functions, add new services and "just generally pay attention to measuring what we manage so we can see why we were in the hole."
Through the in-plant's transformation, it has decreased turnaround times, improved customer satisfaction and has been turned into an auxiliary unit by the university. As an auxiliary, Printing Services pays all of its own expenses including employee wages, rent and utilities, and makes a financial contribution back to the university.
"Last year we paid all of our bills, we finished in the black, and we were able to contribute even more back to the university than we had planned," Chambers proudly reports. The shop was also able to put money away in a maintenance reserve, she notes.
Printing Services is located in a leased space within a mile of campus, in the town's old Kmart building.
"We pretty much are a Heidelberg shop," Chambers notes, pointing out that the in-plant is home to a five-color Heidelberg Speedmaster 74 with coater and a two-color, 36˝ Heidelberg press, as well as a two-color Hamada E47, a Hamada 600 and a two-color Komori Lithrone 36.
Recently, Virginia Tech Printing Services installed a Heidelberg Suprasetter 105 chemistry-free computer-to-plate system, moving up from its previous Heidelberg Prosetter violet platemaking system.
"Our sweet spot, or specialty market, and one of the things we do really well, is high-quality color work," Chambers says. "So the Speedmaster is important to our success. And while we could have experimented with other platemaking manufacturers, I really didn't want to lose the quality and new reputation for quality work on campus by going off and buying something less expensive and changing the Heidelberg workflow."