University of Washington: Keen on Lean

UW Creative Communications’ Senior Management Team stands with the iconic W on the University of Washington’s campus. From left: Patrick McNelly, manager, Copy Services; Steven Roberts, manager, Mailing Services; Heather Prenevost, manager, Client and Creative Services; Frank Davis, director; Michele Mancuso, production manager, Printing Services; 
Jim Heneghan, Manager, Finance & Administration. 
(Not pictured: Katy Folk-Way, associate director.)

Director Frank Davis

Wide-format printing has been an area of growth for the in-plant. Here, Peggy McKinley, Copy Center supervisor, prints a poster on the HP Designjet Z5100.

Prepress Supervisor Ken Beres leads the Production Lean Team meeting in a discussion of their cross-training goals. By slimming down via Lean process-improvement practices, the in-plant has greatly improved its operation.

Ken Dirks, digital press operator, checks the quality of the sheets being printed on the Xerox iGen3.

Operator Charlee Hicks runs a Kodak Digimaster EX110 in the new Copy Services Production Center.

Lean team meeting

One Lean recommendation led to the use of the in-plant’s hybrid mail trucks for advertising.

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.

“There was less work for all of our operations,” Davis reports. “We had to continue to transform ourselves and look for new revenue streams. It was about survival for us.”

Rethinking Equipment Investments

In the past, the in-plant had looked to new technology to boost revenue.

“We’ve spent millions of dollars around here on equipment over the years, but we got to the point where that wasn’t an option anymore,” Davis admits. “This time around, we couldn’t invest in new presses. We couldn’t responsibly request funding for them as there wasn’t enough work to do to justify a major press purchase. Equipment investments are still made as needed, but on a much smaller scale.”

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.

Related story: CTP, iGen3 Come to University of Washington

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