New Inkjet Press Brings ‘Significant’ Savings to Excellus BCBSMarch 1, 2014 By Bob Neubauer
For Rochester, N.Y.-based Excellus BlueCross BlueShield (BCBS), the transition to inkjet color production printing in October has been a resounding success.
“The cost savings are significant,” reports Catherine Ciardi, corporate director of Document Services.
After a rigorous investigation of available inkjet devices, the 33-employee in-plant installed a Ricoh InfoPrint 5000 AD3/AD4, which prints 420 feet per minute (fpm) on an 18˝ wide web. It is configured with Standard Hunkeler unwinding and finishing gear—including the Hunkeler DP6 dynamic perforator—along with an IBIS Smart Binder.
With this installation, Document Services joins a handful of other in-plants that have moved into production inkjet printing. According to a recent IPG survey, 2.7 percent of in-plants have already installed an inkjet press, while 7.7 percent have either budgeted to install one or are seriously investigating the technology, with plans to install within three years.
Document Services replaced several Océ cut-sheet and continuous-feed toner devices with the InfoPrint 5000 and three other cut-sheet MICR-capable black-and-white printers: two Kodak Digimaster HD300s and a Digimaster EX138.
“We did an entire print room refresh,” notes Joe Ferrara III, workflow analyst at Excellus BCBS, upstate New York’s largest non-profit health insurance company.
The InfoPrint 5000 is now printing long runs of marketing materials, provider directories, transactional materials and more, with a speed and efficiency never seen before at the in-plant. The Standard Hunkeler DP6 dynamic perforator alone is allowing the shop to perf specific pages on the fly, saving time that used to be spent opening reams of pre-perfed paper.
Additional time savings comes from the increased uptime of inkjet equipment compared with toner devices.
“We’ve learned over the years, with toner-based printing, inherently, there’s a lot of moving parts,” explains Ferrara. “With inkjet, you’re basically just moving paper and spraying ink on the page.” So mechanical failure points—drums, pressure rollers, fuser oil—are all out of the picture now, he points out.
“Your operational uptime is increased dramatically,” he says.
But the biggest benefit of going to inkjet—and the reason the in-plant was able to afford the device—is the cost savings it brings. Ferrara analyzed the costs associated with toner printing vs. inkjet and found inkjet to be far less expensive—so much that it more than offset the accompanying increase in paper costs.
This impressive savings helped Ferrara convince Excellus BCBS’s marketing communications department to move away from toner printing and produce its marketing campaigns, letters, booklets and other collateral using inkjet technology. The savings have been impressive. Ciardi cites one example of a monthly health summary statement the in-plant printed. The company saved 7.5 percent on the cost of consumables for that project by going to full-color inkjet, she says.
Marketing has increased the large-volume campaigns it’s doing for various market segments due to the advantages inkjet printing has brought. Ferrara expects all transactional documents to move to full color and have marketing messages added to them (i.e., transpromo) thanks to the press.
No question, the quality of the pieces produced on the inkjet press is not on par with offset or top-tier digital toner presses, but the cost savings have made this a worthy sacrifice.
“They got a huge savings out of it, so they’re willing to downgrade the quality for the financial savings,” remarks Ferrara, quickly adding that inkjet quality holds up very well against comparable toner devices. “I think it looks good in comparison to continuous-feed toner-based systems. You shouldn’t be comparing it to a NexPress.” For those jobs where quality is crucial, the in-plant uses its Kodak NexPress 3300, which has brought the shop several In-Print awards in recent years.
At its top speed of 420 fpm, the InfoPrint 5000 prints resolutions of 360x360 dpi, Ferrara says, though that jumps to 720x360 dpi at slower speeds. He also points out that paper can make a huge difference in quality.
“The higher grade [the] paper…the better that inkjet output looks,” he notes. He’s currently evaluating upgraded stocks for applications that demand higher quality.
Paper, Ciardi reports, was probably the most complicated factor in the whole inkjet press decision process.
“Paper’s probably one of the biggest challenges,” she admits.
Ferrara became acutely aware of this when he attended the Inkjet Summit last year and got a chance to hold in-depth discussions with vendors and other printers.
“The biggest education was more on the paper side of things,” he says. He made several great connections with paper vendors at the Inkjet Summit.
Document Services conducted numerous paper tests, both at Ricoh’s Boulder, Colo., facility and in the in-plant. The latter tests were the most critical.
“You don’t know until it gets into your environment how that paper’s going to react,” Ciardi notes.
In hindsight, she wishes the in-plant had run at least 50,000 impressions during testing to get a clearer picture of the adverse effects of each stock during long runs, both in the printing and finishing processes.
With the InfoPrint 5000 up and running for more than five months now, Ferrara estimates that half of the work printed on it is transactional documents, with contract booklets and provider directories making up another 20 percent, and the remaining 30 percent comprising marketing campaign materials. He anticipates even more high-volume full color work to migrate to the inkjet press in the months ahead.