Thoughts on Power Consumption in the Golden Age

By | October 12, 2010

We are truly in the golden age of printing. It’s an exciting time full of technology convergence, disruption and acceleration. Along with all of this is the necessary sorting out true cost/benefit of any technology including the energy used to run it. As the old adage goes, you can’t track what you don’t measure. This writing explores that philosophy as it pertains to power consumption.

It is generally accepted that digital printing costs less to both you and your customers in terms of both time and money in specific situations, and although this can be true, the question here is how does power fit into the equation?

Hybrid printing facilities have a variety of options when it comes to jobs that at the outset seem more efficient through the use of one technology over another. Do you run it offset or digital? Preprint shells and imprint data or run an otherwise black-only variable data color job on a digital color press? Sure, time and cost can be calculated in terms of BHC and necessary turn around, but for each piece of equipment what is the true cost of the power used to run it?

The power it takes to run digital versus offset equipment can and should be measured on an isolated basis. There are many permanent and portable power meters and data-loggers on the market generally ranging from $600 to $3000 for a three-phase-capable unit. This cost can be viewed as a quick payoff investment to get a true picture of how much power is consumed by each piece of equipment in the shop for a specified duration, either under load, idle or “off”, provided the results are utilized to proper advantage.

For instance, platesetters, digital presses, cutters &c. all are under idle power when not in use. By calculating the idle time power draw and then isolating a production run under full load, a true picture of the actual cost can be achieved. Now how about warm-up time? Obviously a cutter doesn’t have much of one, while a digital press does. Most shops have these machines powered up all day long, idle or not. How much money could be saved by turning off idle devices when not in use? Of course the same can be said for idle workstations, lighting and climate control, but that’s not the focus here.

On the other hand, offset presses, with the exception of associated compressors, chillers, agitators, recirculators, UV units, thermal oxidizers… well, you get the point, along with folders, stitchers and some types of packaging equipment do not draw active power when not in use. They do however draw at the very least phantom power. In all cases, the question comes down to whether there’s a warm-up time, and how much power that activity consumes and whether or not a lockout device should be employed to completely power down when it would otherwise be “turned off”.

Once the true power consumption costs are calculated for any given piece of equipment how could this play into your organization’s strategy? Here are some thoughts:

1. Benchmark costs for power used for jobs on specific equipment;
2. Track unused idle time and phantom power draw, and find ways to eliminate the same;
3. Report on isolated power consumption as part of a formal Life Cycle Analysis (LCA);
4. Use power consumption as an evaluation tool to cost one technology over another;
5. Integrate power isolation metrics into upper management’s continuous improvement dashboard;
6. Incentivize and empower employees to reduce energy use;
7. Empower customers to make the choice of technologies partially based on energy use;
8. Integrate a power reduction strategy into the organization’s sustainability reporting;
9. Normalize power conservation into the organization’s DNA;
10. Become a champion and tell your story to the masses.

What other ideas can you come up with?

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One thought on “Thoughts on Power Consumption in the Golden Age

  1. Hal

    Excellent thoughts, Vic. Since I’ve done quite a bit of consulting in this area (accompanied by an electrical engineer), my input is that digital draws a lot more power than conventional “driveshaft” presses, but that the power consumption of the new servo-driven presses is nearly equivalent to toner-based digital. If more press buyers let the manufacturers know that power consumption is an important consideration, they could engineer the servo motors to be more efficient.

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