Evaluating the Transition to Inkjet
We all knew that the exciting day would come when inkjet was no longer the future but “the here and now.” With the introduction of new solutions including UV inkjet technology, there has never been a better time for an in-plant to transition from offset or toner-based digital to production inkjet.
Inkjet quality has now been accepted in the marketplace. Also, the inkjet break-even point today is much better than it has ever been. Other benefits to transitioning to production inkjet include:
- It allows dramatically more applications to be printed in-house.
- Inkjet increases your department’s relevance by bringing more internal clients’ print spend back in-house.
- With UV inkjet, a wider array of substrates is available to the market.
- Inkjet decreases job waste and reduces power consumption.
- It has lower emissions, CO and VOCs.
- It brings labor savings.
- The ability to print more up on a sheet increases capacity, letting you produce more volume with the same staff.
- Inkjet reduces the number of assets, bringing lower fixed operating costs.
- Broad Scope of Solutions
The broad scope of production inkjet solutions available can be confusing and even overwhelming to analyze. UV inkjet is a relatively unique offering at the high end of the market. Many of the major players are new or entering into it by way of acquisition. Each production inkjet technology has its own unique strengths and challenges.
In-plants are looking for the kind of quality and consistency they get from traditional offset presses and toner-based digital devices but at a more attractive total operating cost. They want a high-quality printing system that is reliable, easy to run and self-service, and produces an array of applications at compelling costs.
In past decades, evaluating digital printing technology was much simpler. Quality was relatively equal, so we could focus on the cost model differences. The focus would often be on the purchase price or financed amount comparisons, monthly maintenance fees and the operational click cost or ink cost comparisons.
When compared to offset there was also a clear break-even point where it was more economical to put applications on offset versus traditional toner-based devices. Offset was often a choice over digital because of the flexibility of substrates, run length, sheet size, specific Pantone requirements and the need to keep the “big iron” running because of the labor that was on site.
A Whole Different Approach
In today’s fast-evolving transition to inkjet, there are double-digit factors that operations need to consider before diving in. In-plants need to take a whole different approach. Marketing departments, in conjunction with their in-plants, want to make sure they protect their brands and offer new and exciting marketing materials to increase brand awareness.
Pre-evaluation research is the key and will position you to quickly narrow your search to the inkjet technologies that could fulfill your needs, build your brand and enhance customer experience.
Before even entertaining inkjet technology discussions with vendors, start by stepping back and analyzing your in-plant’s applications mix:
- Summarize your current applications and percentage breakdown (i.e., books, direct mail, flyers, reports, posters, business cards, proposals, spec sheets, instruction sheets, letters, etc.).
- Meet with your marketing department. List out and collect samples of all outsourced applications (even applications you would never dream you could bring in-house). Also, ask which potential future applications could result from new company products or services.
- Consider your quality needs. How important is your brand to the organization? Do you need graphic arts quality?
- What are your applications’ finished cut sizes, and what is the percentage breakdown of the total mix? Don’t study the sheet size you print on today; rather, break it down based on the final finished piece. Which need full-bleed?
- Which substrates and stock weights would you like to print on, in a perfect world?
- What percentage of this work is four-over-four, versus four-over-one, -two or -zero?
- Can you open your shop to outside work? Do you want to?
- What workflow are you using today to get jobs through the in-plant? What automation do you need to move more jobs through the shop?
- What post-print finishing needs do you have?
Getting Maximum Flexibility
In-plants are looking for inkjet solutions that provide greater flexibility of substrates. First, the easiest transition from offset to inkjet includes the ability to run your existing offset stock types that you have worked with for years. Operations do not want to be limited to a list of approved stocks, nor do they want to pay a premium for pre-treated substrates.
Second, to maximize business development and volume growth opportunities, in-plants want to be able to print on the widest array of media. Operations want to be able to print on everything from thin stocks, such as parchment paper, to thick stocks, like 24-point, with a single inkjet press investment. By maximizing the types of substrates that can be printed on — from coated, uncoated, cover, textured stocks, synthetics, canvas, paper-backed cloth and even light-weight packaging — in-plants maximize the ability to bring outsourced work in-house.
Shaw Industries Group, a Berkshire-Hathaway company, is a perfect example of this. (See IPG’s October cover story.) By maximizing its substrate options with UV inkjet, the in-plant is now printing everything from heat-sensitive synthetic labels to oversized instruction sheets, neither of which could be produced on its previous equipment. The savings justified the inkjet investment, and the new print capabilities continue to make the Content Delivery department more relevant to the billion-dollar manufacturer and its business partners.
Third, in order to maximize operational costs, the more automation you can insert into your shop the better chance you have at success. Automation comes in many forms and starts with easily getting work into the shop through a Web-to-print system. It also includes maximizing the number of images you can put on a large sheet, automatically perfecting/duplexing a variety of substrates, making sure your color is consistent between devices, automating finishing routines and providing comprehensive data to show the in-plant’s value to the organization. The major in-plants we are talking to across the country are looking to get more work out in less time.
Finally, no one can know for sure what the future will hold, but those manufacturers that have the significant R&D resources are investing in inkjet solutions for the long term.