BYU Print and Mail: A Constant State of Reinvention
Though Brigham Young University (BYU) Print and Mail may be the country’s largest university in-plant, its future success is not guaranteed.
“I do believe that if we don’t reinvent ourselves about every three years, we’re toast,” declares Managing Director of Production Services Doug Maxwell, who has been with the Provo, Utah-based in-plant for 32 years. “You just have to keep right at the front edge of it, or you get left behind.”
Part of that reinvention has included the in-plant’s 2019 acquisition of a Ricoh Pro VC60000, making it the first university in-plant to install an inkjet press.
And now it’s looking to add another.
Serving a university with more than 33,500 students, BYU Print and Mail has 48 full- and 20 part-time employees, while utilizing between 200-250 student workers depending on the time of year and the amount of work. In addition to its 150,000-sq.-ft. facility, the in-plant has six satellite copy centers and two satellite mail centers strategically located around the campus. With annual revenues between $14-15 million, it ranked first among university in-plants in IPI’s 2020 list of the largest in-plants.
“We are 100% cost recovery,” says Maxwell. “We don’t make it, we don’t stay around.”
According to Maxwell, BYU Print and Mail’s reinvention has also involved expanding beyond its magazine and course packet offerings to T-shirts, stationery, labels, catalogs, banners, and posters, along with variable data printing for Admissions recruiting materials, donations, philanthropies, wedding announcements, financial statements, and more.
“We do just about what you can think of,” he adds, noting that most of the in-plant’s work is still course packets and the hundreds of thousands of perfect-bound books it produces for different publishing companies.
While the in-plant insources work from BYU’s affiliates and other Utah universities, its work for publishing companies and various departments and entities within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) primarily prompted its inkjet investment.
Identifying the Inkjet Need
The need to reach a price point that cut-sheet toner couldn’t meet was a key driver of inkjet, but the in-plant was also looking for a better way to print scriptures for the LDS church, which were becoming expensive due to the lightweight paper and varying run lengths for different languages. So, Maxwell and his team looked into options to produce them digitally that would not only enable the shop to run lightweight paper — already a difficult feat — but to set the ink higher on the page.
“The paper is so thin that you don’t want to read both sides of the scriptures from one side; you want to have at least some opacity there,” shares Maxwell. “We started looking at different types of inks from dyes to toners to pigments, and found that the pigment actually sat higher on the sheet than the other inks, so we had better opacity.”
These requirements, along with speed, finishing, and other factors, ultimately narrowed BYU Print and Mail’s search down to the Ricoh Pro VC60000.
“It has been a phenomenal piece of equipment and does everything that we want it to do,” praises Maxwell.
The in-plant, he shares, does a lot of IT printing, relying heavily on its Web-to-print system and a digital library of tens of thousands of books, some of which are out of print. The system allows people to click on a book, indicate the quantity, and hit submit, queuing up the shop’s devices. Moving from book to book to manage what could be 200-300 orders for different books daily requires a process with no human intervention, says Maxwell. But because the inkjet press is fairly busy producing longer books and scriptures, Maxwell sees the potential need for a second inkjet.
“When I put scripture paper on, that’s 22 miles of paper that takes about six hours to print, and so all of these other little jobs that are collecting — the onesies, fives, even 200-300s — have now gotten stuck behind these longer-run jobs that we really didn’t expect to put on here,” says Maxwell. “But [it’s] worked really well — you skip the folder, you skip the prepress, all of it’s ready to go — and so we’re saying maybe we need to have one [inkjet press] to do the longer runs and one to do the shorter runs. And if we have the volume to justify it, we’re going with it.”
Before adding the Ricoh Pro VC60000, he says the in-plant would receive 15,000 online orders a year. With the current inkjet press, he anticipates this will grow to 200,000 orders, and increase even more if the in-plant acquires a second inkjet press. With that inkjet system in place, “the first time we would really physically even touch the job would be to go from the finisher to the binder,” says Maxwell. “We’re able to print a book from electronic file to finished book in about four minutes.”
With the in-plant recently changing divisions on campus, Maxwell has a new VP whom he must run prospective equipment purchases past to justifying the returns on investment. Proposals are then reviewed by a committee Maxwell is on.
“It’s a lot more difficult now to purchase equipment than it was a year ago,” he says. “We usually still get the equipment that we want.”
Along with its inkjet purchase, the in-plant acquired Hunkeler in-line finishing equipment for cutting and stacking, C.P. Bourg and Horizon binders, a Challenge three-knife cutter, and an MGI I Foil press for cover embellishments.
Like many university in-plants during COVID, though the campus was closed, BYU Print and Mail was deemed essential. It printed labels for the LDS church’s welfare program that provides food to people all over the world, in addition to COVID floor graphics and signage for the school and church seminaries. And, because more people were spending time at home reading, online book orders were keeping the in-plant and its inkjet press busy.
COVID Staffing and Sourcing Issues
Despite this work, Maxwell says the in-plant was greatly impacted. It faced problems sourcing paper and glue to bind books due to mills closing or being backlogged. Following what Maxwell says was a miserable holiday season, the shop faced further difficulties sourcing glue to bind books when Texas experienced its deep freeze.
On top of losing employees due to the lack of demand for course packets and other jobs, the school closing meant the in-plant had no student employees for several months, except for a handful who lived locally. And, though the operation took the necessary safety precautions — while having as many people work remotely as possible and only accepting orders by phone or online — Maxwell says a few employees did get COVID, himself included. Fortunately, the staff has recovered and all returned, but the in-plant is still bouncing back from the financial loss so many experienced in the past year.
“We have been in the black every year for 20 years until last year, and we lost about a million dollars,” says Maxwell, noting the in-plant opened its doors to the public just last month. “We’re still struggling to get back to where we need to be. This might be the first month that we actually make money since COVID.”
But, he notes, COVID also presented a chance to focus on some of the in-plant’s ongoing initiatives and programs, such as adding embellishment, further developing IT for its book publications, and implementing EFI Pace and Digital StoreFront systems.
For Maxwell, having print and mail services under the in-plant’s supervision is extremely advantageous in setting up jobs from Web to post. Each job has a bar code that includes the job ticket, inventory, billing, and shipping information, so when the job reaches the mailer, simply scanning the bar code creates a label for the package, prompting a confirmation tracking email. This, he says, addresses completed print jobs sitting at the mailer.
“That’s a nice service to say, ‘We can take care of all your needs,’” he adds.
‘A Very Positive Partner’
Maxwell is also now overseeing the school’s laundry division, as the university looks to combine BYU Print and Mail with other internal departments.
“The fact that we had a lot of revenue saved up in the bank, that we donated millions of dollars back to the university and scholarships, and even into the building fund, made us a very positive partner for [the university],” says Maxwell. “They’re actually combining us with other organizations, such as our dining, which is huge here, [and] the bookstore, to see if we can create some synergies to allow us to have more marketing power and keep more of the money at the university,” says Maxwell. The in-plant currently does not have a right of first refusal as the university wants it to keep its prices competitive.
In addition to referrals within the university, Maxwell says the in-plant utilizes organizations within the LDS church and publishing companies to help market its capabilities to a worldwide audience.
The church, he adds, is its biggest wide-format customer, using banners and posters for the seminary classes taken by ninth through 12th graders around the country.
For now, the in-plant continues to look ahead and stay on the forefront. Though e-learning became the norm during COVID, Maxwell says the in-plant is working on a process to convert e-files back into print files.
“It has some challenges, but we think it’s honestly going to revolutionize the higher-education industry again, because ... there’s no way to do it right now; we’re getting close,” he shares. “Studies are finding kids still like printed materials, and they learn better [from print], so we’re trying to position ourselves to be in a spot to take that forward.”
Maxwell is also excited about the opportunities the in-plant’s streamlined front end is opening up.
“We really believe the print-on-demand/Web submission gives us such a huge market. We’re now not limited to [the] campus ... the world is ours. We are making arrangements in China, Asia, Honduras, and different places to bring in apparel [and] we’re even opening up with the laundry some different stores that we can bring apparel in, and silk screen onto it,” he says. “I’m still really excited about what we’re doing.”
Related story: New Video Highlights BYU’s Inkjet Press