Inkjet: Ready and Waiting
Production inkjet printing may have been an up-and-coming technology a few years ago, but today it’s a proven, profitable market that’s bringing big success to those printers wise enough to take advantage of it.
That was the message heard repeatedly at the recent Inkjet Summit in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, where more than 100 printers—including a dozen in-plant managers—met in April for an in-depth education about production inkjet printing. All attendees were hand-picked by the summit’s organizers, nGage Events and NAPCO Media (owner of In-plant Graphics and Printing Impressions). They spent three days networking and learning from one another, while enjoying a non-stop program of keynotes, panel discussions and case studies.
Attendees were split into four market segments: books, direct mail/marketing, general commercial and transaction. Sponsors presented case studies for each segment, experts offered industry research on those markets, and inkjet users lent their experience to some insightful, very interactive discussions.
Among the in-plants in attendance this year were Yale University, Briggs & Stratton, Pennsylvania State -University, OGE Energy, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, Transamerica Life & Protection, Washington State University, Fidelity Investments, Urban Lending Solutions, U.S. Bank, the LDS Church and the University of Texas at Austin.
The enthusiasm of attendees and sponsors alike was very high, with many compliments going to organizers for bringing the two groups together in such an intimate setting. The event included scheduled one-on-one meetings between individual printers and appropriate vendors, an approach that drew praise from all sides.
A Strong Market
Technology advances and substrate improvements in recent years have led to a steady increase in inkjet press users; already 390 billion pages have been printed on inkjet presses, proclaimed Conference Chair Marco Boer, vice president of IT Strategies.
“There’s probably no better market to be in than this production inkjet market,” he told the packed auditorium in his opening keynote. In 2014 alone, he said, 164 billion pages were printed on inkjet presses.
Boer noted that R&D investments in inkjet have been substantial—more than $10 billion since 2008—resulting in very reliable presses. Print head life now averages 18 months and substrate options have blossomed over the past few years. He did note that ink prices are unlikely to decrease dramatically due to high development cost and a lack of economies of scale, since production inkjet accounts for a mere 0.001 percent of the ink market. But he expected inkjet treated paper to reach price parity with offset paper in four or five years.
Boer went over the various inkjet press options, from the entry-level Canon VarioPrint i300 (formerly Niagara) and Xerox Rialto 900, to the high-volume Canon JetStream 5500 and Kodak Prosper 5000XL. He talked about the industry’s desire to print on coated and uncoated offset stock with inkjet equipment, and said advancements are coming toward that end.
Though inkjet quality has drastically improved, he said, it is not offset quality. He pointed out, however, that not every application needs offset quality.
“There’s a market for any kind of quality,” he said.
Still, some attendees were impressed with how far inkjet quality has come.
“Looking at some of the samples that were provided by the vendors during our case studies, I was pretty shocked at the level of quality of some of the devices,” admitted Jeff Blue, printing manager at The University of Texas at Austin, one of 12 in-plant managers who attended.
Keeping the Press Busy
Where previous Inkjet Summits focused more on the technology, this year sessions emphasized the need to generate enough work to keep presses busy. Speakers repeatedly encouraged the audience to meet with customers, analyze their current applications, show them what inkjet technology can do for them and help them discover new printed products that will improve the value they offer their clients.
Don’t think of inkjet as merely offset or toner replacement; you’ll have to create new types of work and find new places to sell your services. It’s not “build it and they will come,” noted Roger Gimbel, of Gimbel Associates, in his keynote; you will need a strategic business marketing plan to ensure you will have enough volume for an inkjet press before you get one.
Also, it’s critical to have someone in your company who will champion the technology and drive the culture of change, because to succeed you will have to reinvent yourself. As InfoTrends’ Barb Pellow pointed out, failing to reinvent is the most common reason companies fail. Leaders, she said, are not afraid to upset the status quo.
One great example of this is the Belgian company Symeta, which shut down its offset presses in July 2014, losing millions in revenue, and went in a new direction by adding HP T400 and T230 inkjet presses. Two representatives from the company explained their digital vision during a keynote at the Inkjet Summit. Symeta now focuses on providing personalized communication featuring customized content based on customer data and behavior. Their inkjet products—which are more relevant and effective than static offset pieces—include personalized magazines and direct mailers with coupons tailored to consumer behaviors.
A Great Investment
In her keynote, Pellow said she talked with 20 production inkjet press users about their decision to get into inkjet early, and all said it was a good investment. Fast press speeds have brought tremendous value, press reliability and inkjet head life have far exceeded expectations, quality is meeting customer expectations and vendor support has been phenomenal, she said.
She cited three in-plants that have profited from adding inkjet:
- The state of Colorado replaced three Xerox Nuveras with a Ricoh IP 5000 MP. The in-plant is printing 7 million impressions a month and has saved 20 percent in monthly costs.
- World Bank Group added an HP Inkjet T-230 and has also saved about 20 percent in costs while capturing work it previously couldn’t handle.
- Excellus BlueCross BlueShield is leveraging its InfoPrint 5000 AD3/AD4 to create innovative campaigns for the company.
Pellow noted the need to ensure you have the workflow in place to support an inkjet press before adding a machine. This includes variable data software and composition systems.
Throughout the Inkjet Summit, users told their inkjet success stories.
- Dave Johannes, senior vice president of operations, IWCO Direct, described how his company’s Image-Stream 3500 was used to combine 14 individual conventional campaigns for a leading insurance company into one monthly inkjet campaign that yielded great results.
- Dayton Mailing Services reported huge sales growth after adding a Screen TruePress Jet 520S last year.
- Access Direct brought in four Canon Océ ColorStream 3900s to replace offset and toner devices and now runs 20 million inkjet clicks a month.
One in-plant manager, Brett Birky, of Urban Lending Solutions, recounted how his company decided to stop using outside print vendors, add inkjet presses and bring all printing in-house. The company built a 25,000-square-foot production facility near the Denver International Airport, where it installed two Ricoh InfoPrint 5000 GP inkjet presses. Running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the in-plant now prints 1.8 million inkjet pages a day.
Volumes like these, however, could not have been achieved without preparing customers for the changes they will have to make to accommodate inkjet. Modifications to file preparation and design are required, noted Elizabeth Gooding, so customers must be educated long in advance. Dispel their preconceived notions about inkjet quality, the type of work inkjet is good for and environmental concerns, she said. Educate them about substrate availability. Show them samples so they’re prepared for the way their pieces will look on inkjet papers. After all, she noted, educated customers will be easier to work with.
Attendees of the Inkjet Summit were extremely satisfied with the event, if overwhelmed by the amount of information they came away with. Those without inkjet presses left with a much different outlook on inkjet than they started with, and a strong desire to start preparing their operations for this new technology. One in-plant manager who had signed a deal to add a four-color offset press just weeks before the event remarked that, had he come to the Inkjet Summit first, he never would have bought that press.
Related story: Key Takeaways From the Inkjet Summit
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 nearly 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, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.