Inkjet Tips From In-plants That Use It
Festina lente: make haste slowly. There’s probably no sounder piece of advice than this ancient proverb for an in-plant planning its first investment in a production inkjet press.
The three in-plants examined here took the time and the care their respective investments required, and in each case, the introduction of inkjet was an unqualified success. But, it would have had to be nothing less, because, as Kristen Hampton reflects, “we knew that the purchase would drive the direction of the department for the next five to seven years.”
As director of the Print and Mail Management (PMM) division of the State of Michigan’s Department of Technology, Management & Budget, Hampton oversaw the acquisition and installation of a Ricoh Pro VC40000 continuous-feed inkjet press and a cut-sheet Xerox Brenva HD in 2019. This was prefaced, she says, by a solid year of research, including a trip to the Inkjet Summit, “to learn what inkjet printers were.” Then came consultation with bidding vendors, who had to supply proof of concept in the form of jobs run from the in-plant’s files on papers the shop regularly uses.
The Print, Mail and Fulfillment department of Western & Southern Financial Group installed a Konica Minolta AccurioJet KM-1 and a Xerox Brenva last May, at the same time it was relocating from the basement of company headquarters in Cincinnati to a new, more spacious plant in nearby Newport, Ky.
John Bartik, director of operations, and Ron Barth, manager of corporate and transactional print, first saw the AccurioJet KM-1 at a trade show in 2017. Their due diligence included observing the press in action at user sites.
Worth the Trip
“We drove 90 minutes to see a KM-1 at a commercial printer,” Bartik says, “and were able to talk with the owner, plant manager, and operator during the demo.” He adds that the in-plant has returned the favor by hosting demos of its AccurioJet KM-1 for other prospective adopters.
The Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance in-plant had a unique opportunity to tailor space to equipment when it brought a Canon Océ VarioPrint i300 into its Indianapolis facility in January of 2018, according to Michele Woodrum, team leader for Print and Mail Services. She explains that because the shop was in the midst of remodeling its space at the time, “we could build the room to fit the machine” and optimize the surroundings for press and personnel alike.
Woodrum says she met with representatives of all the “big names” among the inkjet OEMs in the search that eventually led her to select the VarioPrint i300. Customer site visits and conversations with “the employees who actually ran the machines” were key to the evaluation, she says.
In each of the three cases, having a clear understanding of how committing to inkjet would add more value to production than doubling down on toner was what made the final choice of an inkjet press the right one.
“It’s simple,” says Woodrum of her set of criteria. “Cost, speed, reliability, and environmentally friendly.” Reliability was the number one requirement, given the downtime issues the in-plant had experienced with the six toner presses that the VarioPrint i300 replaced. With the inkjet press, in contrast, “all you have to do is feed it paper,” Woodrum says. “That machine just goes.”
Inline UV curing, generous print dimensions, and color consistency are what Western & Southern’s in-plant desired, and got, in the AccurioJet KM-1, Bartik says. He explains that inline UV curing provides scuff resistance and does away with the need to pre-treat stock for proper ink interaction and drying. Thanks to the AccurioJet KM-1’s 23x29.5˝ sheet size, “you can get three four-pagers up on a sheet” and run them without cutting back on press speed.
As for color consistency, Barth says that “you cannot visually see the difference” between the first sheet of a run on the AccurioJet KM-1 and a sheet after thousands of subsequent impressions. “You can come back a month later and run the same job” he adds, “with absolutely no difference.”
Inkjet lets the State of Michigan’s in-plant in Lansing, Mich., wind down its dependence on offset lithography and toner at the same time as it gives its customers — a network of 19 state agencies — more opportunity to print in full color.
The agencies, Hampton says, “are starting to take notice” of what the Ricoh Pro VC40000 and the Xerox Brenva HD can do for their transactional output and other print projects. In fact, she expects an “explosion” of demand for inkjet color as word gets around.
With Toner, ‘All but Crawling’
The managers agree that everything their shops wanted to accomplish with an investment in new digital printing equipment pointed them toward inkjet and away from additional toner. Woodrum, for example, notes the sharp difference in mechanical stability between the two processes.
When printing with toner, she says, “we were all but crawling into the old equipment” to clear jams and replace worn-out parts. The VarioPrint i300, on the other hand, is much easier to operate and maintain. “This speaks to running ink instead of, for lack of a better word, ‘dirt’ through the machine,” Woodrum observes.
As high-output printing devices, new inkjet presses tend to overshadow older presses that can’t keep up with them and thus stop being as essential to the operation as they once were. This frequently means taking legacy equipment offline once the inkjet system is fully up and running — a transition that the three shops managed without interrupting production or sacrificing backup capacity.
At the State of Michigan’s in-plant, the inkjet-for-legacy swap was extensive, with the Ricoh Pro VC40000 replacing a Ricoh InfoPrint 4100 twin printing system and the Brenva HD taking over for three Xerox Nuvera 288s, a two-color Shinohara offset press, and two Xerox Nuvera 314s. Hampton acknowledges that, at first, there were concerns about how well the new complement of equipment would meet the state agencies’ strict service-level stipulations for overnight printing and mailing.
But, the shop still had some redundancy for color in a Xerox iGen 150, and it took a while to fully appreciate how dependable the inkjet presses, particularly the Ricoh Pro VC40000, would turn out to be. The press has been down “but a handful of times,” Hampton says. “The more we run it, the better it runs.”
Robust Replacement Ratio
The Western & Southern in-plant shifted production of marketing materials to the AccurioJet KM-1 from a four-color Heidelberg Speedmaster SM 74, which it subsequently retired. Transactional print now belongs to the Brenva, a press that Barth says “does the work of three toner devices, if not four,” by virtue of its 278 ppm top speed in duplex mode (an option that the in-plant elected to purchase).
The Brenva did, in fact, replace two black-and-white and two highlight-color toner presses, Barth adds. The shop has backup for transactional work in a trio of toner presses — a Xerox Iridesse, a Konica Minolta AccurioPress C6085, and a Ricoh Pro C7110 — that it continues to operate. But Bartik says that so far, the shop has been successful at meeting its deadlines with inkjet.
The prospect of going from six toner presses down to one inkjet VarioPrint i300 didn’t faze anyone at the Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance in-plant.
“We weren’t worried one single bit,” declares Woodrum, “and haven’t been.” Supplementing the inkjet press is a Canon imagePRESS C10000VP color toner press that Woodrum says the shop uses primarily for “our clean, crisp marketing materials” while the VarioPrint i300 handles transactional output.
The three shops found that the ease or difficulty of installing an inkjet press will have more to do with the environment the press goes into than with anything related to the equipment itself.
Bartik says the move-in was smooth for the AccurioJet KM-1 and the Brenva, which went directly to the Western & Southern in-plant’s new quarters while work at the former facility wound down. Woodrum says the only thing she’d now make a point of remembering when installing an inkjet press is “not to bring it into the building on the coldest day of the year.” That was the 2º bone-chiller on which the VarioPrint i300 came to the Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance in-plant on a crane that hoisted it through a fourth-floor opening where a window had been removed to make room for it.
Hampton, in contrast, says the State of Michigan’s in-plant “had a $150,000 concern with power” that became a costly speed bump in the installation of the Ricoh Pro VC40000. She explains that because the machine needed a certain type of phased electrical connection that staff electricians weren’t able to implement, the work had to be bid out to private electrical contractors at the aforementioned price tag.
Load, Run, and Smile
The managers all say that as they gained post-installation experience with their inkjet equipment, they found more to appreciate. Substrate compatibility, for example, hasn’t presented significant issues.
“We haven’t found any,” says Woodrum, noting that her shop sent all the papers it intended to run on the VarioPrint i300 to Canon for testing and approval. So did Hampton and Bartik to the manufacturers of their inkjet equipment, which they say runs everything they customarily use without problems. Bartik points out that Xerox recommended a less curl-prone stock to use with the Brenva, which not only ran better, but was cheaper to buy.
Some of the lessons these in-plants learned were surprising. Hampton, for example, says she has found that when printing a job on the Ricoh Pro VC40000, “running on the highest speeds isn’t always the most productive way to get it out the door.” This is because pre- and post-print equipment straining to keep up with the press’s 590 fpm top speed has a tendency to jam, slowing down job output overall. To avoid this, Hampton says, “we just run it a little bit slower” without any compromise in productivity.
Although all the managers report handling more than enough monthly volume to make investment in inkjet economically viable for their in-plants, none has a strict ROI target in view.
“Not in the traditional sense,” says Hampton, noting that as a shop with a break-even financial model, her in-plant has better service, more uptime, and improved quality — but not extra profit — as its business objectives. Bartik likewise says that at his shop, “we knew we would be growing into the equipment” and gaining the volume needed to recover costs. “Being an in-plant is an advantage here,” he observes.
Looking back, managers say they learned a few lessons in the process that may help others. Bartik points to the challenges of managing the large data files that drive inkjet production. “It took us months to get really efficient with that,” he acknowledges.
Hampton says that because of the high running speed of an inkjet press, managers should pay attention to the capacities of supporting production equipment to make sure it’s not struggling to keep up. Woodrum, on the other hand, says that apart from checking the weather on installation day, she wouldn’t change a thing.
Go and Do Likewise
Their advice to other in-plant managers contemplating inkjet adoption is straightforward and pragmatic.
Because in-plants typically depend on toner output, counsels Bartik, “be prepared for the kind of volume [inkjet will] take away from your toner machines.” As for the incoming inkjet equipment, correctly estimate its ink consumption based on coverage, and be sure its operators are qualified and properly trained. “It does help to have the right people,” he says.
Patience is the virtue Hampton thinks all inkjet adopters should practice, just as her shop did in acquiring the Ricoh Pro VC40000.
“We knew the importance of the purchase, and we took our time,” she says, noting that getting the knack of running an inkjet press may require a few months of practice. “Take your time, and don’t rush into it.”
First, says Woodrum, “look at your space.” Then, bring the team into the acquisition planning process, as their buy-in and involvement are essential to success.
Looking back, she rates inkjet adoption as a “great decision” for her shop, and she senses that other in-plants are preparing make it for themselves.
“Years ago, it was, ‘oh, no, not inkjet,’” Woodrum says. “But now, it’s the future.”
Patrick Henry is the director of Liberty or Death Communications. He is also a former Senior Editor at NAPCO Media and long time industry veteran.