High Speed Inkjet: Can You Build a Reliable Business Case?

By | January 21, 2013

Since the advent of high speed color inkjet presses that approach the quality of offset, printers and data centers have begun struggling with the decision of integrating this new technology into their operation.

The decision to move print volume to high speed inkjet is complex and one that does not always have a clear ROI.  Since inkjet brings new and different ways of thinking about everything, you have to implement the system and related changes into your existing operation.

In small-to-midsize printers, this decision will impact nearly every facet of the organization’s processes, including the markets you pursue, how you estimate and price your product, production flow, quality, materials and warehousing, and personnel skills. In many cases, precise navigation these decisions can determine the very survival of the establishment.

But before you get to any of that, first you have to decide if the move to color or monochrome inkjet printing is right for you.  In some cases, modification of your current printing environment is all that is necessary to keep you competitive.  For instance, if you print offset now and have only long runs and little or no variable printing, switching to inkjet most likely will not provided any benefits.  Your efforts should probably be focused on tuning your current production processes.

If you have some of the factors that often make going to inkjet a decent return on investment, that is, you have short runs, need to print variable data, or are overprinting on preprinted material, actually calculating that ROI can be elusive.  Every business case that I have built has been has been completely unique.  Little of any previous analysis was usable. This is mostly because every shop I worked with has accounted for their usage and cost so differently, and each have their own business processes.  Because of that, a single model to capture all of the possible permutations would be so complex that it would lose its value as a template.

And each shop has a different starting point:  Some are all digital already, leveraging the best of the toner technologies, some are all offset, some print variable information on preprinted shells, some carry finished product and some don’t, and some need to meet incredibly tight SLAs.  Some are sheetfed and some are web shops.

Yes, there are common components that remain the same. This includes all the things you may normally think about:  Skilled prepress, press, and finishing labor; Press maintenance and cost of downtime; Plates chemicals and other consumables costs; Toner and click charges; Paper waste and energy costs.  You need to look at ink, paper cost differences, throughput and uptimes, waste, time to produce, cost of shells, and inventory obsolescence. I like to look at some things that you may not consider, like the efficiency gained by consolidating your longer runs to an offset press (if you use offset) and being able to capture business you could not reach in your current state. And if your customers are somewhat flexible, you can add to the business case by demonstrating the efficiencies that minor changes in format or color might give them a marketing advantage or you a cost advantage.

Although you probably have a great handle on your current costs, capturing which of those costs could be eliminated by inkjet, and most importantly, understanding what your new costs REALLY will be, is even more of a challenge. Often, the use of an outside expert could be a very valuable investment. They can help you understand exactly what your new costs will be as you transition to inkjet, model your production with real world data that will give you uptimes for both the printing and finishing environments, help you select and value the new kind of operator labor, and more.

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One thought on “High Speed Inkjet: Can You Build a Reliable Business Case?

  1. Chris Lynn

    Good summary, Bill. I especially like your look at “…some things you may not consider”. Cost savings are always nice to have, but real value is created when a business can build competitive advantage through new product offerings, or unique services that help to lock in a customer. Digital has the potential to do this, and an economic analysis based on speeds and feeds alone often misses the bigger marketing picture.

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