Learning Inkjet Lessons at Omaha Public Schools
Each year, as the long, warm Midwestern days began to wane and summer vacations came to a close for the students, faculty and staff of the Omaha Public Schools, the district’s in-plant stood ready to meet their ever-changing needs with a capable assortment of printing equipment.
“We were a digital shop with both monochrome and color,” notes Steve Priesman, manager of the Omaha, Neb.-based Printing & Publications Services team. “We were also an offset shop, and had two 12x18˝ Ryobi perfectors that ran beautifully all day long. They were workhorses for jobs long enough to justify going on a press.”
When classes started this year, however, there was one profound difference at the in-plant. Almost all of that equipment had been replaced by a single production inkjet press: a Xerox Brenva HD. In total, the in-plant removed four digital and two offset presses to make way for the Brenva and a new color toner device.
The decision to make this transition to inkjet stemmed from Priesman’s concern over the long-term viability of offset. It was becoming increasingly difficult to obtain replacement parts for the Ryobi presses, he says. He also worried he would eventually have trouble finding skilled offset press operators.
“For that kind of work, I felt that offset’s days were numbered,” he concedes.
Seeking a productive alternative solution, Priesman first looked at toner-based devices, but found them to be too service-intensive.
“It is just in their nature,” he states. “It doesn’t matter who builds the box, they all require a certain level of support and service. That is just the nature of the beast.”
So about two-and-a-half years ago, Priesman started investigating production inkjet presses, and attended the Inkjet Summit. He recalls departing the 2017 event feeling impressed with inkjet technology.
“That opened my eyes to the possibilities,” he admits.
Priesman continued to do his research and collaborated with other inkjet press users, including the in-plant for the Houston Independent School District, which had already installed an inkjet press. After attending the Inkjet Summit again in 2018, Priesman decided the time was right to transition to inkjet.
Replacing Offset and Toner
Priesman opted to remove all of the shop’s existing offset and digital color equipment. He also considered getting rid of all the in-plant’s digital monochrome equipment.
“But that would have put all our eggs in one basket,” he points out. “And no matter whose basket it is, and how good their service is, machines go down. It’s just a fact of life.”
So, as a compromise, the shop kept an existing Xerox Nuvera 120 monochrome machine. Joining it this summer was a new Xerox Brenva HD cut-sheet production inkjet press and a Xerox Versant 180 digital color machine.
“Between the new Xerox Versant 180 color machine and the [Nuvera] mono machine, we have backups,” says Priesman, a 28-year veteran of the school district’s in-plant. “So if the inkjet were to be down, I would still be in operation.”
Priesman notes that the school district holds an annual surplus equipment auction, where he sold the shop’s offset presses, Mitsubishi platemakers and a Mutoh wide-format printer, which the in-plant replaced with an Océ Colorado 1640.
He selected the Brenva because he felt a sheetfed inkjet device would best match the shop’s needs. He also knew he could do without a press that handled coated stock or heavy cover stock.
“Most of the time, 80-lb. cover is plenty for us, and coated stock is not that critical,” he explains. “We are a tax-supported institution, which is sort of a double-edged sword. You want your work to look as good as possible for your customers, but you also don’t want it to look lavish or wasteful.”
Priesman felt that the Brenva’s capabilities were sufficient to handle 99% of the in-plant’s work. But he didn’t add the Versant just to handle the other one percent.
“I put in the Versant as a backup and, in reality, the Versant may go hours without a click,” he confides. “But the Brenva and Nuvera do not go hours without a click. They are running pretty much constantly.”
The in-plant has implemented a second shift in order to be more responsive to its customers’ needs, without adding to the staff. The shop is home to 18 full-time employees and one part-time worker and boasts an annual operating budget of $2.2 million.
Priesman says the cost justification to the school district for the new inkjet equipment was not a difficult process; the combination of lease and maintenance charges on the old equipment was similar to those of the new equipment. Where the in-plant really saved money, however, was by eliminating the costs of the offset equipment. The Brenva’s operating costs are also lower than those of the previous toner equipment.
Color Helps the Learning Process
Offering the school district more color printing options was important to Priesman, who notes that the in-plant wants to help provide students and teachers with attractive materials that assist in the learning process.
“A student can have a worksheet with an illustration on it, and instead of the grass being one shade of gray, and the sky being another shade of gray, it can be green grass and blue sky,” he says. “I think everyone would agree that color improves comprehension.”
To assist in the print ordering process, the in-plant developed simple terminology to give customers an easy way to choose the best printing process for their needs. “Everyday color” is the term used for jobs run on the Brenva, while higher-end “prestige color” work is produced on the Versant. Everyday color is considerably less expensive, while prestige color is only recommended if there is a need for fancier coated stock or 100-lb. cover.
The ability to print color for almost the same cost as black-and-white toner has enabled customers to add more color to their work. Priesman cites a recent mailer the shop ran on the Brenva. The job was printed in color on both sides and cost approximately $242.
“Had we done it on traditional toner-based color equipment, the cost would have been around $636,” he notes. “Had we done this in black on toner-based equipment, the cost would have been around $235.”
To show customers the difference, the in-plant has sent out samples.
“We printed the exact same [sample] document in prestige color on the Versant and everyday color on the Brenva, and we also did it in black-and-white on the Nuvera,” Priesman says. “I sent that document to our customers with a memo explaining the difference and illustrating some of the costs.”
While it is too early to tell what the annual volume will be with the new equipment, Priesman expects it to be similar to 2017, when the in-plant churned out 50 million impressions on 33 million sheets of paper, while fulfilling 37,000 individual print orders. Fortunately, Priesman feels he has installed a reliable printing option to seamlessly serve the school district for years to come.
“As a general rule, for the same number of clicks during a week, with toner-based devices, we might see a technician two or three times a week for one machine or the other,” Priesman concludes. “At this point we have gone, at times, up to seven days without any hiccups or issues on the Brenva. I am very comfortable in saying that indeed the uptime is higher with inkjet.”
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