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University of Washington: Keen on Lean

Faced with a deficit just two years ago, the University of Washington’s in-plant has turned its financial situation around and repositioned itself for success by implementing Lean production practices.

April 2012 By Dawn Greenlaw-Scully
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In fact, the operation decided to shut down its large-format offset presses in 2010.

"The equipment had been paid off for years, but we no longer had enough offset work even to justify their existence in our facility," Davis explains.

So the in-plant sought improvement, not by bulking up with equipment, but by slimming down via Lean process-improvement practices developed by the Japan-based Toyota Motor Corp. The basis of the Lean philosophy has been described as "preserving value through less work."

The Lean Journey Begins

In January 2010, the in-plant's parent department, UW Finance and Facilities, launched a department-wide Lean initiative under the direction of Senior Vice President V'Ella Warren. Creative Communications was among the first units to be tapped. It created its first Lean team in April 2010 and a second three months later.

The Lean teams have become the catalyst for positive and practical improvements that have repositioned the in-plant for profitability. Currently, Creative Communications has seven teams (Account Managers, Creative Services, Production, Copy Centers, Mailing Services, Managers and Accounting) that meet or "huddle" weekly. Davis serves on the Managers and Mailing Services teams.

"We do meet a lot," Davis chuckles, "but we're not just talking and we're not sitting around—literally." He points out that team members stand at the team's main Lean board. Working the board, they define their 30-, 60- and 90-day goals and suggest solutions.

Initially, some employees were skeptical of Lean. "Some thought it was a flavor of the month and [were concerned about the] amount of time needed to commit to Lean," Davis relates. "But, over time, teams became successful, implemented results and received very positive and public recognition from upper management."

"The impact in Creative Communications has been transformational," declares Davis' supervisor, Ann Anderson, associate vice president and controller of financial management. "The unit has experienced a rebirth of sorts, one that has brought the organization together to develop a shared strategy and shared goals, and which has energized the staff in positive ways not seen before.

"And they are coming to understand, through Lean, that they had this within themselves all along," she continues. "Creative Communications is not just surviving, it is thriving."

The Results of Lean

So, what exactly have these Lean team meetings achieved? Davis reels off a number of success stories.

"The Copy Centers Lean team proposed that we put a centralized copy center in our main production facility," he relays. "It made perfect sense: Before, we were always moving materials back and forth. Now, the copy center is right next to the bindery and the stockroom, and near the [Xerox iGen3 and wide-format digital printers]." Ironically, the new copy center fit perfectly into the space once filled by the offset presses.

The idea to expand mail services also originated on a Lean board. In 2011, Creative Communications opened a new mail center in its largest copy center on campus and expanded its services to handle personal mail in addition to university mail.

"We even sell Husky-themed stamps," Davis notes, referring to the nickname of UW's athletic teams. The 40-employee mailing operation processes 15.5 million pieces of mail per year.

"We have strong relationships with the USPS, FedEx and UPS, and working agreements with them," Davis notes. "The USPS was especially pleased, as their budget cuts have resulted in long lines at their postal station in the University District. Our new service will take pressure off that station, and they will still retain the business."

Yet another Lean recommendation led to the use of the in-plant's hybrid mail trucks for advertising. "This was a brilliant idea that gives us a three-way revenue stream," Davis exclaims. "We design the signs, we print them on our wide-format printers, and we sell the ad space on the trucks."

Of nine mail trucks, seven are used in the program and there's a waiting list for the advertising space. "UW Medicine recently used all of our trucks for a month for a campaign," Davis adds. Other customers have included Housing and Food Services, the university's Burke Museum, UW Alumni Association, and Trademarks and Licensing.

In general, wide-format printing has been an area of growth for the in-plant. It has acquired two wide-format printers in the last couple of years: an Epson Stylus Pro GS6000 and an HP Designjet Z5100. Other developing services include variable data printing, Web design and maintenance, and designing for mobile devices. High-quality digital color printing via the Xerox iGen3 is also flourishing, especially for variable data and print on demand.

"For example, we used to outsource production of the UW annual report and had to print in the thousands," Davis remarks. "Now we print them internally on the iGen, and the run length has been reduced into the hundreds."

Presently, the in-plant is exploring insourcing opportunities and expanding its EFI Digital StoreFront to accommodate online ordering of all products.

"Customer outreach and marketing is now key for us," Davis stresses. "We used to wait for customers to bring work to us, because we could. Now we have to go to them."

The in-plant finished its 2010-2011 fiscal year with a $300,000 profit.

"That money will be used to pay down the deficit we acquired, and we expect to finish with a profit again in the 2011-2012 fiscal year," Davis reports. By all accounts, within UW Creative Communications, Lean production has been well met.



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