The Life Cycles of Digital and Offset
I come from the offset finishing world, but I now work in digital finishing. There are many differences in the “mind-set” of both, among them.
In the offset world, equipment is evaluated and purchased for the “long term” i.e. five to seven years (or more). For some bindery machines, there is no “end-of-life,” as long as one keeps replacing parts and components. There are no service contracts either. Commercial print shops and binderies are perfectly capable of maintaining most of their finishing equipment. New equipment is purchased because of a rise in demand, or due to the introduction of faster, more efficient machines, which can increase capacity, shorten lead times, reduce labor, or do all three.
The life cycle of the digital world is quite different. Digital press technology improves almost yearly. Digital finishing systems have been designed around the much slower output of many cut sheet and continuous toner presses, and they are built accordingly. Lots of finishing equipment built for digital will have a “life cycle” of only a few years before replacement becomes mandatory. Print vendors and dealers are also used to providing 24/7 technical service in these plants. Something that is not far from common in the offset world. And because many digital finishing machines lack the higher throughput abilities of their offset cousins, you will typically see multiple units deployed in digital as opposed to a single machine in offset.
You will see a digital person’s eyebrows raise a bit when you explain that a saddle-stitcher or binder in the offset sector can still be running efficiently 10 years (or more) on. But this disparity is about to change. As the volumes of digitally-printed work increases, the lightweight digital finishing machines we’re used to will give way to heavier (and faster) ones that can handle the load. This will force a shift away from the machines that have dominated the digital space till now. We will see (and are already seeing) new bindery systems for digital that are built for the longer run and faster throughputs. The downside to this? The new generation will surely have larger price tags. But when speed, capacity, and life-cycle are thrown into the ROI computations, they’ll be worth it.