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UTHealth: Adapt and Thrive

A busy offset operation with a booming digital color print business, UTHealth Printing and Media Services is a well-rounded in-plant, ready to take on any job that comes its way.

June 2014 By Bob Neubauer
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When you sit down and talk with Donna Horbelt, you immediately feel like you've been friends for years. So it's no wonder that her engaging personality and the interest she takes in her customers has led them to view her in-plant at the University of Texas Heath Science Center at Houston as a supportive ally, committed to their success.

For example, when the Harris County Psychiatric Center came to her to reorder 5,000 pocket folders, each stuffed with 23 inserts, a job the client had been printing twice a year for ages, Horbelt and her team pulled them aside.

"We sat down and talked to them, and said, 'What is your end goal for this project?' " recounts Horbelt, director of Auxiliary Enterprises, Printing and Media Services at UTHealth.

After discussing it, she suggested the customer stop printing the job as a pocket folder with inserts and switch to a black-and-white perfect bound book.

"We're saving them more than 50 percent on that job," she remarks. "It cost me revenue…but we're going to be able to provide the customer with something that really fits their needs. The client's much happier. It's amazing what you find out when you just sit down and say, 'What do you need this for?' "

Customer care like this is just one reason UTHealth Printing and Media Services is one of the busiest in-plants in the U.S. Its six-color offset press is booked weeks in advance; its Xerox iGen4 routinely pumps out 350,000 color impressions a month.

"There aren't a lot of services that I can't offer here," Horbelt says. The 20-employee in-plant handles everything from design to bulk mail—even fulfillment.

Located in an off-campus university building, the in-plant's 21,124-square-foot facility includes a loading dock with eight bays and a large warehouse area. The centerpiece is its six-color, 29˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster perfector. Providing plates for this and the shop's two-color presses is a Heidelberg Suprasetter A75 Gen III thermal computer-to-plate device with the Prinect Prepress Interface. A Xerox iGen4 90 digital color press and a Xerox 4127, fronted by the Xerox FreeFlow print server, make up the digital printing section.

The in-plant produces about 8,000 jobs annually, such as newsletters, magazines, brochures, pocket folders, stationery, invitations and more than 3 million envelopes a year. Nearly half of the in-plant's revenue (45 percent) comes from the MD Anderson Cancer Center, part of The University of Texas System. Another 8 percent comes from state or non-profit clients, such as Sam Houston State University.

Offset Brings in the Bacon

UTHealth Printing is one of only a handful of in-plants with a six-color offset press. Horbelt's reasons for sticking with offset are simple.

"Because it's 68 percent of my revenue," she proclaims, punctuating it with a laugh. "My six-color is booked all the time. I have a lot of large runs that you can't do digital"—such as a recent run of 49,000 20-page conference brochures for MD Anderson Cancer Center, she notes.

A year and a half ago the in-plant overhauled its prepress operation to improve productivity. An old, maintenance-prone CTP system was replaced with a Heidelberg Suprasetter A75 Gen III thermal platesetter. The Prinect Prepress Interface presets the ink zones on the press.

"This system is wonderful," she proclaims. "The quality of the plates…we never have issues on press any more. This system has really streamlined my production area."

The automation also allowed her to eliminate one position in prepress.

Though digital jobs account for 32 percent of the in-plant's revenue, they make up 78 percent of the shop's jobs, says Horbelt, who tracks the numbers closely. This is all due to the iGen4, she adds, which brought a surge of color printing in-house when it was installed in 2009.

"The iGen saved the shop," she contends.

This isn't an exaggeration.

18 Months to Turn a Profit

"When I came to work here in '08, I was basically given 18 months to turn the shop around," she reveals. The in-plant was $1 million in debt at the time and a liability to the university. Her boss, Charles Figari, wanted her to reorganize it and turn it into a profit center. If that didn't happen, closing it was the only viable alternative.

Having served as assistant director from 1990 to 2002, Horbelt was quite familiar with the operation. She knew it needed equipment upgrades and better customer service if it was going to survive. The iGen4 was part of that overhaul.

"I told him, you put it in and I'll go find the business," she said. And she did. Today about 6,200 digital jobs a year come through the shop, most of them done on the iGen4. Color impressions have jumped from 1.4 million in fiscal year 2012 to 2.1 million in 2013. This has helped boost the in-plant's revenue from $2.6 million when she arrived up to $3.2 million today—with six fewer employees. She lauds Figari for his behind-the-scenes help.

"My boss has been my number one supporter," she says.

The in-plant now shows a profit each year—revenue that is turned over to UTHealth.

"All of our profits and all of our extra revenue goes back to the institution and is spent on whatever the institution decides they need," she notes.

Though this may seem frustrating, Horbelt looks on the positive side.

"Financially, I'm contributing to the institution. If I wasn't contributing anything to the institution, they'd really have to look at that, because [then] I'm not part of the mission."

She also contributes by comparing prices with outside providers and keeping the in-plant's prices lower.

"I need to show a profit, but I also need to contribute to the institution with low prices," she explains.

She says she has lowered her digital print prices three times in the past four years, something made possible by the growing digital impression count.

Web-to-Print and Brand Control

Another way the in-plant adds value is by policing the use of the UTHealth and MD Anderson brands to make sure they comply with brand standards. Aiding in this process is the shop's PageFlex iWay Web-to-print system. Horbelt's staff built all the templates for letterheads, envelopes, business cards, notepads and other items in that online system. This keeps customers from altering the logos to fit their creative purposes.

Using this automated system has also improved productivity over the days when the in-plant had to typeset business cards, wait for proof approval, then gang them up on a plate to print them. The Web-to-print system has also proved to be very popular with customers, Horbelt adds.

"It's unbelievable how many jobs we get through the online system," she says—5,345 a year, to be exact.

To bring in more business and improve its services and value, the in-plant now handles fulfillment work. One big client is the Children's Learning Institute, part of the Department of Pediatrics. Some of its kits involve binders, peel-and-stick labels, post cards and even the odd specialty item, like toy animals or puppets, all of which the in-plant is in charge of ordering, storing, assembling and shipping. One of these fulfillment projects netted the in-plant more than $800,000 in billing Horbelt reveals. This is work that, prior to her arrival, the in-plant had turned away, sending the client to an outside provider. Not any more.

"As our customers change, we change," says Horbelt. "I will do anything for a client. If I had stayed stagnant…my doors would be closed."

Through all these changes, her employees have adapted. She lauds the dedication of these "true craftsmen."

"Overall, I've got really, really good staff," she says. "And I wouldn't be where I am without them."

University of Texas Heath Science Center
Auxiliary Enterprises, Printing and Media Services
Houston, Texas

Employees: 20
Annual Budget:
$3.2 million
: 21,124 square feet
Jobs Per Year
: 8,000

Key Equipment:

  • EFI Monarch MIS system
  • Pageflex iWay online order system
  • Heidelberg Prinect software
  • Heidelberg Suprasetter A75 Gen III
  • Epson proofer
  • HP Spinjet proofer
  • Xerox Free Flow server
  • Xerox iGen 4 90
  • Xerox 4127
  • Six-color, 29˝ Heidelberg Speedmaster perfector
  • Two-color, Heidelberg perfector
  • Two-color Heidelberg Quickmaster duplicator
  • Two-color ABDick duplicator
  • Heidelberg KORA
  • Astro envelope feeder
  • Polar 45˝ and 36˝ cutters
  • Stahl 20˝ and 40˝ continuous-feed folders
  • Heidelberg Omnibinder
  • Stahl ST 70 Multibinder
  • Morgana CardXtra business card slitter


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