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Vanderbilt University: Traditional, with Additional

Offset printing is king at Vanderbilt University Printing Services, but digital adds a crowning touch.

April 2013 By Dawn Greenlaw-Scully
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Nearly 88 years since its first radio broadcast, the Grand Ole Opry remains Nashville's number-one attraction by showcasing a carefully considered and ever-evolving mix of classic and contemporary country music.

Vanderbilt University Printing Services, about a 20-minute drive from the Opry in the country-music capital, has followed a similarly well-balanced and crowd-pleasing path. The 53-year-old in-plant continues to thrive by combining a well-established, bustling offset operation with burgeoning business opportunities and digital solutions to meet and exceed customer demand.

Like the Opry, the in-plant works hard to keep the show going strong.

Printing Services serves Vanderbilt out of two facilities, one on-campus retail store and a 25,000-square-foot main production facility located off campus. The in-plant is managed by Director Tom Fox, Assistant Director Sean Carroll and Production Manager Brian Waack.

The production facility handles about two-thirds of the university's printing needs, including jobs for admissions, recruiting, alumni relationships, development, fundraising and athletics.

"We manage 50 or so projects annually for the admissions office, with great success," Fox reports. "We make recommendations to clients based on their annual usage and look for sweet spots in terms of needs and cost."

With a staff of 30 and annual revenue of $4.5 million, Vanderbilt's shop isn't the largest university in-plant; however, it is among the busiest. It runs three shifts for offset production and two shifts for digital printing.

Offset Dominates

Traditional offset work is the in-plant's mainstay.

"Our offset-to-digital ratio is about three-to-one in terms of volume and dollars," calculates Fox. "The number of orders for each is probably similar; it's just that, of course, the offset projects are much bigger."

The in-plant operates five sheetfed offset presses, but the undisputed workhorse is its six-color Heidelberg, which produces 12 million to 14 million impressions per year—approximately 80 percent of the shop's offset workload.

"It's running 24 hours a day, five days a week, which makes it cost effective and allows us to turn jobs around quickly," Fox states.

Fox considers offset production well-suited to the university. "Vanderbilt casts a wide net to attract the top prospective students from a global talent pool, and our alumni base continues to grow," he says. "Our high-volume printing capacity has become integral to both the university's recruiting and fundraising efforts."

"Many universities have the same approach," chimes in Waack, who oversees offset production. "I have a [daughter who is a] high-school senior, and she is getting all kinds of recruiting materials similar to what we print here. I feel the products we produce compare quite favorably with other institutions."

Just last month, the shop put the finishing touches on a packet for newly admitted students. The packet's multiple components had been printed over the course of a year.

Offset capabilities enable high-end output at economies of scale. "When we print a large publication, they can be up to 48 pages and we may print as many as 100,000 of them," says Fox.

The ability to turn around high volumes quickly is further enhanced by the in-plant's capacious storage and fast fulfillment system.

"We have one publication for the athletic office that, if they gave it to us [on Monday], we could print it tomorrow and mail it on Wednesday," Fox relates. Conversely, the shop can also print six month's or even a year's worth of volume at one time to keep costs down and then mail periodically. Mailing and fulfillment serve both offset and digital operations.

Digital Demand

Demand for digital work has grown significantly in the last several years, ever since the shop began printing forms for the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

About three years ago, Vanderbilt began seeking a facilities group to manage what was then a copy shop operation within its Medical Center. Printing Services' RFP was successful.

"We agreed to combine in-house here, and four people from that operation came under our umbrella," says Fox.

Currently, one in-plant work shift is dedicated solely to the production of Medical Center forms. "We're generating about 25 projects a day, which are turned around in an average of 18 hours," reports Carroll, who manages the digital operation.

Printing Services produces about 10,000 different forms. However, Carroll estimates that 80 percent of total volume comes from about a third of those forms, including patient experience forms and encounter forms.

"We do see that market changing over time," he adds.

And although Medical Center forms are now 100 percent digital and represent a substantial portion of the shop's digital business, Fox points out that, ironically, "when we took over production, less than a third of the forms were digital."

In addition to boosting the in-plant's digital business tremendously, Medical Center work has also allowed the shop to pick up some traditional offset work for patient education and Medical Center marketing. That overlap is very much in line with the in-plant's intentions.

"We're trying less and less to distinguish offset from digital, as well as university from Medical Center, and rather to have one operation that provides solutions for both markets and both venues," Fox declares.

"We always have an eye on balance," he continues. "We are satisfied with the work we have, but we do have some capacity for growth and to squeeze more efficiency."

For example, Fox would like to level out the operation's peaks and valleys, which so often occur in in-plants that serve academia. "We don't need any more business in August, September and October, but we could use some right now," he says. "Because it's less tied to the academic calendar, Medical Center work has done that to some degree."

Online Ordering

Very recently, Printing Services redesigned its website for online ordering to include medical forms ordering.

"The Medical Center is a 24-hour operation, so the staff is not satisfied with reaching us from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.," Carroll says. The new website has been operational for about three months, and the in-plant is already receiving 50 percent of medical forms orders online.

"It wasn't that expensive to do," he adds. "It took more blood, sweat and tears than money."

Printing Services is looking at emerging markets, such as signs, banners and posters. It dabbles in variable data in the form of barcodes and personalized information for donations and annual giving campaigns, but the demand is not as high as you might expect.

"It's usually an up sell," Fox notes. "And the variable data we do print is typically done on offset shells, which speaks to the good relationship between our offset and digital operations."

Sustainable Printing

The in-plant also recently achieved Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) chain-of-custody certification through the new InGreen group certification program for in-plants.

"One of our Chancellor's major campus-wide initiatives was to reduce our carbon footprint and become more sustainable as a university," Carroll notes. "It was just the right thing to do for us."

Certification required a lot of work and training, Carroll acknowledges. "It helped that our current suppliers were already certified," he explains. "We were just the last link in the chain."

Now, nearly all of Vanderbilt's flagship publications are FSC-certified.

"It helped us maintain business with clients," Fox says, explaining that certification matters to some, but not all, customers.

"If we hadn't been FSC-certified, some might have gone out and found a vendor who was," he reveals.

All in all, Fox believes that both the university and the Medical Center are strong advocates of Printing Services.

"They appreciate the value of producing work internally and the quality of the work we produce," he declares proudly. "We are fortunate that happy customers are telling others. Word of mouth is invaluable."

Fox realizes the importance of keeping people talking. "There are 25,000 people working here at Vanderbilt, but as with any large employer there is some turnover, so it's a challenge to keep tabs on who's new and who's gone," he admits.

On the other hand, turnover tends to be very low within the in-plant, with some having worked there as many as 40 years.

"Printing Services employees average 10 to 16 years with the company," reports Carroll, who joined the operation two years ago. "I guess I messed up that ratio."

Waack is an 18-year veteran (and even the six-color Heidelberg is 20 years old).

"Our employees are highly skilled people who know how to serve the university and know what to expect," Fox declares. "For example, for eight to 10 weeks in the Fall, we work six days a week. They know that's our peak and have to work around it, and they are dedicated and committed to that.

"Everything we do ties back to the core needs of Vanderbilt, and I put our quality, efficiency and cost up against just about anybody," Fox concludes. "We have good equipment, a good workflow and good people."

Vanderbilt University Printing Services

  • Nashville, Tenn.
  • Employees: 30
  • Annual Revenue: $4.5 million
  • Main Facility: 25,000 square feet

Key Equipment:

  • Six-color, 19x25˝ Heidelberg MOSH
  • Four-color, 14x20˝ Heidelberg PM 52
  • Two-color, 19x25˝ Heidelberg MOZP
  • Two two-color, 18.11x13.39˝ Heidelberg QM
  • Xerox 700 digital color press
  • Xerox 560 color copier/printer
  • Xerox Nuvera 100
  • Xerox Nuvera 120EA
  • Two Canon imageRUNNER 7095s
  • Canon imageRUNNER Advance iRC-5035
  • Epson Stylus Pro 9880 wide-format printer
  • Epson Stylus Pro 9800 wide-format printer
  • Epson Stylus Pro 7900 contract proofer
  • Epson Stylus Pro 7600 content proofer
  • Kodak Matchprint inkjet proofing system
  • Screen PlateRite 4100 thermal platesetter
  • Stahl B24 pile folder
  • Stahl 28 continuous feed folder
  • Baum UltraFold folder
  • Six-pocket Muller Martini Minute Man saddle binder with cover feeder
  • Bostitch stitcher
  • Powis Parker Fastback binding system
  • Polar 115 EMC programmable cutter
  • Challenge Titan 230 cutter
  • MBM Triumph 4850A cutter
  • Heidelberg Cylinder diecutter
  • Heidelberg Windmill press
  • Kirk Rudy Winkjet addressing system
  • Six-pocket Bell & Howell Philipsburg inserter
  • Four-pocket Inserco inserter


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