Inkjet Launches University of Tennessee Into 'Next Stage'
When University of Tennessee Printing & Mail installed a Kodak NexPress 2500 in its Knoxville operation in 2006, it was a revolutionary move, bringing high-quality digital color to what was a mostly offset operation. Upgrading to the NexPress SX3900 in 2015 hiked the quality even further.
But after eight years, time has taken its toll on the NexPress. Its limited sheet size and substrate availability, long duplex path, and streaking on dark solids were clear signs to Director Tim Price that it was time for his eastern Tennessee in-plant to move on.
Rather than looking for an updated version of the same technology, though, Price wanted to look toward the future.
He wanted an inkjet press.
“It really didn’t make sense for us to think about going back to another toner-based device with the same sheet size constraint,” he says. “I really wanted to take the next step and say, ‘Hey look, let’s get greater speeds, let’s get greater quality, let’s get a bigger sheet size, let’s improve the number of substrates we can run.’”
Production inkjet could provide all those advantages, he believed, launching the in-plant into an exciting future bursting with opportunity.
“I just felt like it’s the next stage for us,” he explains. “It made no sense to stay with the status quo.”
In February, the 49-employee in-plant became only the third U.S. university in-plant to install an inkjet press. It added a 3,000-sph cut-sheet UV inkjet digital press with 1,200x1,200- dpi print resolution and high-precision color-matching technology. Printing on B2-size (23x29.5") sheets, the press allows for six-up letter-size printing, an exciting benefit for Price as it will greatly enhance productivity.
Accompanying the inkjet press is a new digital finishing press, which will enable the in-plant to embellish printed pieces with spot varnish and foil to make them stand out. Price sees great opportunities to embellish UT recruitment materials, book covers, invitations, parking passes, and more.
The new additions will expand the in-plant’s client list, Price says, hopefully growing revenues beyond last year’s $5.6 million.
“I’m counting on being able to bring in a lot of outside work,” he says. “We’re not limited to just the Knoxville campus, but the entire UT system and the Board of Regents schools can take advantage of the technology.”
He expects to run almost all types of work on the inkjet press: letterhead, surveys, pocket folders, post cards, posters, programs, and even short-run publications.
Unlike many other in-plants that have added an inkjet press, UT is not immediately replacing other printers. The NexPress will stay in operation until the inkjet press is up to speed, and the shop plans to retain its four-color, 40" Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105 with coater, which it uses to print all university publications, as well as its Heidelberg Quickmaster and Halm envelope presses. Price hopes to eventually migrate some offset jobs to the inkjet press.
“The quality is exceptional, and the color has just really proven to be fantastic,” he lauds. “All of our departmental users have just been thrilled with the color.”
He has tested some offset jobs on inkjet and was very pleased.
“They have very nearly offset quality,” he says. “Some of the samples I’ve run, they have been full saturation. The blacks are solid and there’s no streaking.”
But can it hit UT’s official Tennessee Orange, PMS #151?
“It’s come really, really close to hitting that 151,” Price says. “We’ve been exceptionally pleased with the color match.”
Price loves the expanded B2 paper size and the press’s ability to print on a variety of coated or uncoated stocks, art papers, textured stocks, and more, without any pre-coat or treatment. The press can print 1,500 sph in duplex mode and requires no drying time.
Price anticipates doing more sophisticated variable data printing with the inkjet press.
“We’ll be able to add some real variable, not just name and address data,” he says. “I can see us doing variable imaging in addition to variable data.”
This will help UT’s printed pieces stand out.
“It’s all about differentiation,” he says.
That’s the main reason the in-plant added the digital finishing press as well. His team has already used it to lay down intricate foiling patterns and spot UV coating.
“All of the customers are blown away by what it will do,” he says. Admissions, Athletics, and Development, among others, are abuzz with excitement and trying to come up with new ways to embellish their printed pieces.
“I think the industry as a whole is talking about the value associated with embellishment,” he says.
Price envisions adding spot UV to the cover of university viewbooks, something that was done outside in the past.
“We’ll do that here now,” he says.
He’s also experimenting with embellishing packaging to make custom boxes, which can be cut and scored on the in-plant’s Colex cutter.
Another possibility is using the press to put a holographic UT-branded foil onto parking passes, topped with a UV varnish.
Price says the university was very supportive of his decision to add these advanced technologies.
“I had a very, very supportive senior level management,” he says. He also had the benefit of an equipment reserve fund, with money set aside to replace the NexPress.
The in-plant is advancing in other areas too. Its wide-format printing section is very busy printing wall graphics, window clings, sidewalk graphics, acrylic standoffs, stickers, labels, decals, and more. The shop uses a 64" HP latex printer, a Mimaki flatbed printer, and a Colex cutter. Price has his eye on a dedicated label printer, a laser engraver, and a new, faster flatbed printer to keep up with demand.
“We’re going to go turbo capacity on flatbed,” he reveals.
He’s also intent on expanding the in-plant’s promotional product sales business. The in-plant is a member of SAGE, a promo products organization, and Price plans to hire a manager to oversee this business. He recently added a marketing manager to promote Printing & Mail on campus and expand its reach.
Apparel printing is another area Price wants to expand into. He plans to add a direct-to-garment printer, as well as dye-sublimation and embroidery equipment.
The in-plant took over management of a campus copy center previously run by Student Life and upgraded it, giving the in-plant a retail location. Price also intends to open a store on the other end of campus to handle outbound shipments, walk-up copying, and photo printing.
“I’m just trying to find ways that we can more effectively serve the entire campus community,” he says.
Price acknowledges that he’s gotten some of his ideas and motivation from visiting other leading university in-plants, like those at the University of Oklahoma, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
“I’m trying to learn from some of the best that are around,” he says. “We want to be positioned and be in that class to try to work toward best in class.”
With its new inkjet press and embellishment capabilities, UT may have moved ahead of the in-plants Price looks up to. But it’s not technology alone that makes a world-class in-plant, he says.
“It’s a matter of being able to look forward and project what are your possibilities,” he says.
Related story: The Flatbed Opportunity
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.