Inkjet Buying Tips From Users
Why did you decide on inkjet and not a toner-based device?
Bill Clockel: Initially the reason was cost, specifically consumable costs. Additionally, the roll-fed inkjets tend to be faster and now wider than toner-based presses, so their productivity is significantly higher.
Tammy Golden: Inkjet is faster and more reliable. (Read about her in-plant's inket installation.)
Dave Johannes: The combination of run length, run speed, and total cost of operation.
Steve Priesman: With inkjet, reproduction in color is no longer a significant increase in cost. (Read about how his in-plant has gone "all-in" on inkjet.)
Adi Chinai: Each technology has its advantages and disadvantages. Toner isn’t the best fit for our products, specifically around turnaround time and total cost of print. In those categories, inkjet is the hands-down winner.
How did you justify the cost of inkjet and calculate ROI?
Clockel: We did an extensive analysis with our customers on the cost savings they would get from this new technology as well as provided samples of the quality from each press so they knew in advance what to expect. As we were getting commitments that the pricing and quality would [get them to] place work with us, we justified the investments based on these discussions. It has worked out well to date.
Golden: We inherited equipment that was past its end of life. Our emphasis was on the comparison between replacing our existing equipment with two toner-based or one inkjet printer. The low run cost of inkjet made up for the increased equipment cost.
Johannes: We analyzed our book of business to determine which machines best met our needs based on customer expectations and requirements, including quality, turnaround time, and cost per piece produced. We also considered our production needs such as speed, utility costs, maintenance costs, service support, uptime, duty cycles, ink, and supply costs. The goal was to determine the most cost-effective device for our environment.
Because high-speed color inkjet is still a rapidly evolving technology, we also required a quick payback period in case new investments became necessary to maintain our competitive edge.
Priesman: We did a comparison of our current costs, with a combination of offset and toner-based digital operation, to inkjet. We also compared training costs for replacement of offset operators to training costs of an inkjet operator. In addition, offset presses of the nature we needed were becoming unavailable.
Chinai: Every business needs to look at their own ROI, which can vary. The key metrics to evaluation, however, aside from the obvious capital acquisition cost, are the overall cost of operation: ink, service, uptime, maintenance, environmental, utility, etc. Another important note is that inkjet presses require volume; they aren’t for the faint of heart. If you cannot provide a press with enough financially sustainable volume, there is no case for ROI.
How did you research and evaluate inkjet?
Clockel: Drupa was always a good overview starting place. The IBI team also visited the press manufacturers’ R&D centers and spent a day or more running our files, viewing that output and [assessing] production workflows.
Golden: We worked with vendors to learn about their offerings. We also took into consideration recommendations and advice from other In-plant Printing and Mailing Association (IPMA) members, other state governments, articles in In-plant Impressions, and information learned at conferences, such as the Inkjet Summit and IPMA conference sessions.
Johannes: The first press is always the most difficult because that is where you define the analysis process. We did on-site live testing with several manufacturers using multiple combinations of paper stock and art files to determine the range and limitations of each press. Obviously, we spent a lot of time with the manufacturers to get to know them and their equipment.
Priesman: At the time of our initial evaluation, there were only two reasonable [sheetfed] alternatives: Canon and Xerox. The space requirements of Canon removed them from consideration. We had insufficient space.
Chinai: Discussions with all interested OEMs is important. Site visits, demos, customer references — all are important to learning the true operational essence of inkjet. Each application can also have its challenges, so be sure to engage on your true applications, and don’t hope that it will eventually work. If you cannot see it, don’t believe it.
What would you have done differently?
Clockel: I don’t think we would do anything differently today. Customer involvement and buy-in was a big key to success, I think, as well as being on-site at the manufacturing vendor and installation sites.
Golden: I would probably jump on board more quickly. I had a really hard time with the lack of redundancy. Everyone told me it wouldn’t be a problem, but I was skeptical. It hasn’t been a problem at all. We have almost no downtime. The only part that’s been a bit of an issue is the pre- and post- equipment.
Johannes: Nothing really. I think we established a good process. Discipline is the key. We try not to allow ourselves to become distracted by price before we have validated capabilities. Doing so often leads to mistakes.
Chinai: Further refinement on the true cost of operation is critical. As run lengths change, every opportunity to save on waste is important. Those topics could always be further discussed.
What lessons have you learned?
Clockel: We use our 20-plus years of digital printing as our “production database” of knowledge, and always discount the vendors’ monthly productivity claims. As a general rule, we try and build a business model on getting half of the productivity that is advertised by any press manufacturer.
Golden: Pre- and post- equipment is an important part of the equation, and you need the best from it as well as the inkjet engine.
Johannes: Buying the press is the easy part. What comes next requires detailed planning and training. Basically, when you move from conventional print to digital, it requires re-engineering your workflow from prepress to data processing. The output of the press is only as good as the input. This workflow is more complicated because it combines several disciplines into a single output file, and there is less ability to fix mistakes at the press.
So, the bottom line is don’t underestimate what it takes to feed the press, and appropriately invest in the front end needed to ensure you can properly feed the press.
Priesman: Teamwork between vendor implementation staff, vendor training staff, vendor maintenance staff, and our operators is critical. I’m aware of an installation of sheetfed inkjet equipment in another organization that didn’t go well. Training or operator understanding were issues and that seriously impacted productivity. Equipment with good capabilities was not used efficiently because of that.
Chinai: It is never as easy as it looks. (Even my Ron Popeil rotisserie required some fine tuning and maintenance.) There are a lot of variables that should be truly vetted by any potential buyer. Be sure to focus on your application and any desired future applications. Factor what you need for a true ROI into your research so that there are no major surprises post-installation.
What new product applications has inkjet enabled?
Clockel: With the HP T490 and the Muller Martini Sigma 3 folder, we can now do mass market, and trade-size work efficiently. That was a big market that opened up. On the color side, the Canon i300ix has opened up the ability to economically produce color books that traditionally required offset quality. This press definitely can produce a fine-quality printed page.
Golden: We have started moving some of the inserts that were previously printed offset to the inkjet, which has expedited the mailing time and enabled us to bar code those documents.
Johannes: The biggest thing that our digital color inkjet has done for us is allow us to use data to drive the content and graphics in the output. This eliminates excessive versioning while maintaining presort integrity. It also improves response testing.
Priesman: Use of color on materials that were previously printed in black has increased significantly.
Chinai: Inkjet has allowed us to widen our portfolio of product offerings inside our existing focus of book manufacturing.
Any unexpected installation issues?
Golden: Yes, we had issues with the Tecnau stacker that caused some delays.
Johannes: Not really, all the manufacturers offer site assessment services as part of the sales process. Take advantage of these, and you should easily avoid these issues.
Chinai: This wouldn’t be printing if there weren’t any surprises. Detailed project management is critical with any inkjet press installation. Looking at the entire ecosystem of work mix, workflow, plant, infrastructure, etc. are all very important to minimize surprises during the install.
Tips for researching finishing solutions?
Clockel: In-line and near-line solutions are generally the options that are the most complicated. Additionally, most newer finishing lines are automated with the use of bar codes. I can’t offer precise advice because so much of that depends on the main types of business and product you are producing. We have both in our facility, but I think each manufacturer needs to look at how these solutions work with the product mix they are producing each day.
Johannes: The biggest factor is determining whether there are significant advantages to going in-line versus near-line. This is driven by a variety of factors ranging from work mix, operator skills, run speeds to run length, number of makereadies that involve changeovers, and utilization of in-line features.
Priesman: In-line finishing should be used when possible. In our case, we had a [Standard Horizon] Stitchliner saddle-stitching system previously used that we no longer needed.
Chinai: Finishing is the other side of the coin for a complete system, and it is critical to test, test, test. Research without testing will lead to many issues, near and long term.
Related story: Inkjet Tips From In-plants That Use It