Whether in-plant operations have made the jump from toner-based systems to inkjet, plan to do so, or are considering doing so, one thing is clear: in-plant managers hold strong perceptions about inkjet’s ability to fulfill their operations’ needs, and also have concerns about both stock limitations and print quality.
Amid recent developments in inkjet technology, some of these perceptions may be outmoded. One correct assumption, however, is that inkjet is fast — in some cases, too fast to justify the cost of an inkjet press as compared to needed volumes.
All of the in-plant managers interviewed for this article
have attended the Inkjet Summit, where they received detailed, compelling information about inkjet technology, including its array of platforms, capabilities, and flexibility. Emerging from these events, however, these managers elected to continue their reliance on toner-based systems. In some cases, their resistance to inkjet is quality-focused; they feel it is not the right tool for the job. In others, it isn’t resistance so much as patience. They’re waiting for the right time, based on capabilities or budget.
Interviewed for this article were:
- Stephen Amitrano, director, Print & Mail Services, Rowan College at Burlington County (Mount Laurel Township, N.J.). This operation has a staff of six, and runs a Ricoh Pro C7100sx for color jobs, and a Ricoh Pro 8200 for black and white.
- Blaine Gabriel, director, Printing Resources, Ohio University (Athens, Ohio). His shop has 13 full-time staff and two students who work part time. The in-plant runs a Xerox iGen 150, a Xerox Iridesse, and a Xante Impressia.
- Danny Kirkland, director of Print Services, HealthSouth Print Promotions Group (Birmingham, Ala.). His operation has a staff of 13 people, and runs Xerox Versant 3100, D125, and Iridesse systems, as well as an HP Indigo 7600.
- Tami Reese, Design & Print Center operations manager, Intermountain Healthcare (Salt Lake City). This facility has a team of 16, and runs three Kodak HD Digimasters, a Kodak 8220, two Ricoh 7110s, and a Ricoh 9200.
- Nathan Riggins, Graphic & Production supervisor, EMC Insurance (Des Moines, Iowa). His in-plant has a staff of five, and is currently using Konica Minolta C12000, Konica Minolta C6100, and Sharp MX-6500 printers.
The Current State
None of these in-plant managers has yet invested in inkjet presses. Gabriel, of Ohio University, says his team has looked at the technology, and is still doing so, but they have yet to see the print quality they require. Riggins, of EMC Insurance, feels his shop’s toner-based systems are providing the quality needed for the applications the in-plant produces.
Beyond color, the other primary reasons these in-plant operations are not making the jump to inkjet are two sides of the same coin.
The first is print volumes. Riggins, for instance, says he could fully justify a high-speed inkjet system if his print volumes supported it, but they do not.
“If my shop did one million impressions a month,” he says, “I could justify it.”
His current volumes, however, are declining. The payment of insurance premiums continues to move online, thus limiting print volumes.
Amitrano, of Rowan College at Burlington County, also mentions volume as a reason he has not pursued inkjet. He notes the focus of his shop is on short runs, using a variety of stocks ranging from offset text to glossy card.
Kirkland, of HealthSouth, says the inkjet systems he has investigated have not been able to fulfill the production requirements for some of his most complex jobs.
“The right inkjet system for us should include acceptable speed, easy runnability, and pleasing color,” he explains.
The second side of the coin is speed. While printers like Amitrano and Kirkland find the capabilities of high-speed, roll-fed inkjet impressive, they also feel inkjet just does not fit with the increasing short-run needs of their operations. Overall, these in-plants present a strong preference for cut-sheet machines, yet several of them felt high-production roll-fed inkjet presses were the primary focus of the Inkjet Summits they attended, when cut-sheet solutions were what they were seeking.
It should be mentioned that while inkjet is not being used as the primary imaging technology in these particular facilities, these in-plants are not devoid of the technology. Amitrano, for instance, reports his shop uses inkjet for its wide-format applications. Riggins is using the technology for envelope printing.
Finally, the sales angle presented by inkjet OEMs that a single, color, high-production inkjet system can replace a full fleet of toner-based systems seems, to these managers, a bit risky. Simply put, these in-plant managers, particularly Kirkland and Amitrano, want redundancy in their shops. They want the flexibility to manage short runs on multiple stocks at the same time, and they don’t want to find themselves with extended downtime should a significant technical issue occur. While this is a common concern among print providers when they first consider inkjet, those that have replaced multiple toner and offset devices with a single inkjet press say the impressive uptime of inkjet makes them very comfortable with the lack of redundancy. Simply put, inkjet presses rarely need service, they say.
What, then, would it take for these and other in-plant operators to move more intentionally toward inkjet systems as a replacement for their toner-based workhorses? What is the good news for vendors who are building their futures on inkjet?
None of these in-plant managers expressed an aversion to inkjet technology. They are instead waiting for what they consider to be the right system for their shops, their volumes, their needs. Kirkland, for instance, shares that his operation, “is currently in an RFQ process, and we’re giving inkjet another look.” This additional look includes attending this year’s Inkjet Summit.
Gabriel is also keeping a positive outlook on a future with inkjet technology.
“The systems I saw two years ago had color that looked washed out on our stocks, though I think that has changed,” he says, noting that inkjet is getting closer to meeting his specific needs.
Another significant change is that the ability of inkjet to perform as needed on a wider variety of coated and uncoated stocks is a growing reality. Riggins, Kirkland, and Amitrano all mentioned a need for better paper compatibility, and inkjet is now starting to deliver.
Making the Move
Unlike her peers, Reese, of Intermountain Healthcare, is moving forward with inkjet. The budget has been approved for a major inkjet purchase, and the operation’s timeline is to do so in the first quarter of 2022. While Reese shares she is not completely convinced on color quality, she is committed to purchasing a roll-fed color machine. She is able to report an expected ROI of 13 months. For her operation, which serves the largest hospital system in Utah, and is expanding into Idaho and Nevada, the goal is more about increasing volume than it is about quality.
“We’re working at capacity,” she says, “and we have to increase.”
She reports her operation could save a lot of money with a new inkjet system, and adds that justifying the investment internally required making a strong business case. The new inkjet press will ultimately be used to replace the current output of five black-and-white toner-based systems. She expects the company will see a savings over the click charges of its current systems, but notes that “it’s a trade-off.” The new investment will be part of a major change to the operation, which entails locating to a new, larger space (partially to accommodate the new machine) and investing in updated bindery equipment.
The Elephant in the Room
If the pandemic-driven events of 2020-21 could be erased, it is possible that the current in-plant playing field might look somewhat different. Instead, budgets have shrunk, in-plants have found themselves with significant disruptions, and uncertainty has reigned.
As the post-pandemic recovery takes hold, it will be enlightening to see how equipment purchases will transpire, and how, if at all, the long-term needs of in-plant operations will have changed.