I was in a presentation early last week and someone complained about the size limits of digital presses. That was echoed later in the week during the Graph Expo preview on WhatTheyThink by Frank Romano and David Zwang. During David’s presentation, he mentioned that sheetfed electrophotographic (toner) based digital presses had hit a wall in terms of productivity. And at the end of that presentation the audience was asked, “What’s Your Next Big Equipment Investment?” The two top answers were 43% digital press and 24% production inkjet. The focus on production based inkjets was a real shock and together these comments got me thinking and, as you will see, took me down a strange hypothetical road.
I think both points are true. Except for the manufacturers that have put two machines in tandem allowing the first to print on one side and the second to print on the second side there has not really been an increase in productivity in the sheetfed toner-based devices for a few years. But let’s keep this straight – the productivity concern is really two issues, size and speed. Let’s just focus on format size for this discussion.
As they ask in the Godzilla movies, “Does Size Matter?” For larger sized applications it does – for smaller sizes it may not. The reason it may not is because increasing the speed with a tandem based configuration can help with applications that fit. (Except when a larger device can print it multiple times up on a sheet and be faster or more cost effective.)
But if that last international show showed us anything about format size it appears that size limitation is more of a toner issue than an inkjet issue. If you remember, one of the manufacturers announced that they would bring a 32” inkjet press and then showed up with a 36” press. As a result, we are learning that the inkjet heads are grouped into specific widths and can be added or subtracted and the toughest challenge is to the paper handling function. However, there are rumors that there is a width barrier for the toner-based devices due to the electrophotographic nature or ability to hold a charge across a sheet.
What does all this mean? Clearly this is speculation but it could mean that understanding your application mix based on size may become a more important consideration in the future when deciding which digital print technology best suits your needs. Of course quality and equipment cost is important too, and there are critical differences with these technologies, but lets take quality and cost off the table for this conversation and see what happens.
One more disclaimer. Admittedly at this point in time what I am about to suggest is more of a bizarre idea, but if quality, cost and speed were comparable and you could buy either a electrophotographic 2 up press or an inkjet 4 up press for $500,000, which would you buy?