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A Printer's Nightmare : Unhappily Ever After

August 2012 By Erik Cagle, Senior editor
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At an early age, we are conditioned to hearing stories that wrap up nicely in the end. The good guy prevails, the evil doer is foiled and our hero gets the girl. The stock ending line, "and they lived happily ever after," adds a pretty bow to the wrapping of life's little travails. Yes, our work is done, and everyone gets to go home happy.

But shortly after the time we tuck away Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy into our cherished memories, we are confronted with—and apologies to Al Gore—an inconvenient truth; in fact, many of them. Not only is life sometimes unfair, it can be cruel, harsh and unforgiving. The black and white absolutes of right and wrong that were introduced to us begin to blur. No one said anything about a gray area, but lo and behold, look how big it has become.

The life of ink on paper can be an inexact, imperfect science in a world that demands perfection. Printers expect, hope and plead that their equipment can help deliver that perfection, as promised and on time. Breakdowns are inevitable, however, and it is the timely response of service technicians, dealers and manufacturers that gets the ball rolling to sort out the problems and enable a printer to punch the green button once more.

But, when is a machine “fixed?” Is someone responsible for the machine's malfunction, either through misuse or neglect? Does it fall under warranty—expressed or implied? Are parts AND labor covered? And what if that press you agreed to buy off another printer's shop floor arrives with bits and pieces broken or missing? Just when does the warranty kick in, and should you be on the hook for damage that happens to a piece of equipment before it arrives?

Welcome to the gray area. What follows is the tale of a printer whose story is still ongoing, but it is far too late to enjoy a happy ending. The white knight has been replaced by a legal team and a stack of invoices and contracts. In the end, the printer received no satisfaction from its manufacturer, dealer and technicians. And the printer is still on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars while saddled with gear that is the printing version of the automotive lemon.

In the interest of fairness, we will not reveal the name of the manufacturer. Perhaps this story can serve as a cautionary tale.

Every month, Steve Olson, owner of North Chicago-based Steve Olson Printing and Design, writes a check for $700 to pay for a glorified paper weight—a near-worthless CTP system acquired two years ago. At press time, Olson still owes $21,000 and he cannot, in good conscience, sell it to another printer.

"When we first set it up, we were getting some pretty good images coming off our Ryobi 662H; it's stochastic as opposed to a conventional screen," Olson notes of the platesetting system, which the dealer said could handle a four-up format. "Then, we started running into little problems. Maybe the image would rub off, or we couldn't gum the plates. We still can't get the gumming right in order to re-use the plates."

Olson tried to work through the issue, but the system's inkjetting system began to experience "spit-ups." One of the four plates would be out of line or register, and the manufacturer's engineers—who flew in from overseas—could not determine the issue. The manufacturer cited the Ryobi press as being problematic, but Olson had owned the Ryobi since 2005 and never experienced a line-up issue using plates made by film from his imagesetter. As a test, Olson used plates made by another printer "that lined up beautifully."

Service technicians would come in from Indianapolis, work on the platesetter and it would operate fine for about a week, Olson notes. Then the same issues would return. So the manufacturer sent two of its finest engineers to get a better look.

"They did a line-up on the press, where we gave them a file we couldn't line up," Olson says. "They went to another printer and got the same results. So they told me it was acceptable in the standards of the four-color industry. But, you could see where the target marks weren't lined up at all. Either you're on or your off, and it's two lines off! That's well below the standards of what our clients expect."

High-Maintenance Customer?

To Olson's chagrin, the manufacturer then claimed it was a maintenance issue. "That's a joke; this machine has been kept immaculate—they've been out so many times on tech calls working on it," Olson exclaims.

Bottom line, he says, is the CTP device is not suited for a four-up format, despite being advertised to that effect. It can handle two-up adequately, but Olson can't preserve the plates because of the gumming issue. Technicians did offer a suggestion to help that situation.

"They told us to leave the ink on the plate, gum it, then wipe it all down and clean it, then gum it again," Olson says. "I'd never heard of this before. So now, we put the plates on, and suddenly, we dropped our water rollers and the whole plate was filled with ink. There's a bad imaging problem on this machine."

He estimates the tech calls have cost him upwards of $6,000, and the down time has robbed him of another $40,000. "Every time a technician comes out, it's a couple hundred bucks to walk through the door," Olson remarks. "I've been nickled and dimed to death on this machine. We've done everything they asked me to do and it's costing us a fortune."

Olson's salesman may be guilty of overselling the CTP system's capabilities. Olson says he later saw a print ad that recommended his model be used for two-up production only. What's worse, he was told the inkjet portion of the CTP could be retrofitted with the newest version, which, according to Olson, was not true.

In short, he is stuck with the bum CTP. Olson has asked the manufacturer to either replace the machine or take it back and pay off the note on it. The bank that financed the purchase even offered to drop the remaining interest on the note, but the manufacturer "is playing hardball with me," Olson adds.

Now, Olson is farming out the plates and is shopping for a new thermal CTP. He's even hired an attorney who has sent two strongly-worded letters (at $500 a pop) demanding that the manufacturer deal with the issue. Pursuing relief in court would cost at least half, if not more, of what actually remains on the note…all in the hopes of perhaps reaping a settlement. Olson would probably do cartwheels in the pressroom if the manufacturer just took the machine away.

"Am I going to make the lawyers rich, cross my fingers and hope for a settlement?" he poses. "Or do I just eat it, move on and let them get away with it? They've got me. Their techs can't fix anything. Half of my business is digital, thank God, or I'd be dead in the water." PI



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