Inkjet Printing Experts Clarify Issues Impacting Production Inkjet Adoption and Reluctance
How far has production inkjet printing come, where does it have room to improve, and what obstacles to its adoption remain? Inkjet Summit 2019 advisory board members and leading digital printing industry consultants Marco Boer, Elizabeth Gooding, and Barb Pellow offer their insights.
In what ways has production inkjet printing become a “mature” technology, i.e., shown itself to be proven and reliable?
BOER: Production inkjet technology has proven to be more reliable and productive for transaction, direct mail, and book publishing applications than many had anticipated. The operational models are so well established that manufacturers will not sell a production inkjet device to someone whose volumes would not support a positive return-on-investment. From a technology performance and economic perspective, “mature” is about as good a definition as you can hope for.
GOODING: While the effective life of digital printers is usually considered to be five years, there are inkjet devices that have been reliably in production for nine or 10 years. This provides a tremendous ROI, even with periodic head replacement. Machines taken out of service when companies upgrades their fleets quickly find homes as refurbished, pre-owned equipment.
PELLOW: Owners of production inkjet technology emphasize that the inkjet technology they have invested in is reliable, requires limited unplanned maintenance and basically just keeps running. They are impressed with both the throughput and the overall output quality that the presses deliver.
In what areas does production inkjet still have progress to make?
BOER: The technology is able to print on a broader range of substrates, including offset coated stocks. But, there isn’t a “universal printer” that can address all substrate and application needs. We may never have a universal printer that can do it all, but the industry is making steady progress in solving the ink/substrate challenges at a cost the market can afford.
GOODING: Production inkjet continues to make great strides in terms of print quality and diversity of substrates supported. This is why you see print organizations serving quality-sensitive applications investing in field-upgradable options or “trading-up” their devices. There is still more work to be done to enable high-quality, heavy coverage on high-productivity machines at a competitive price point.
PELLOW: The biggest challenge with inkjet is service providers not having a business plan or the infrastructure to drive volume to the press. Success with inkjet requires application focus, especially in markets where there is an opportunity to migrate pages from traditional technology. Service providers also need to focus on customization and micro-runs in applications like catalogs, magazines and all forms of packaging. These applications need to be backed with a sales force that can sell into these markets, technical resources to deal with data-driven applications and the right software and finishing infrastructure.
What’s holding back potential first-time buyers of production inkjet presses? What downsides do they perceive?
BOER: The biggest barrier to first-time adoption of production inkjet is a lack of confidence in truly understanding the cost and benefits. Some printers will never be able to invest, but many don’t have the time to take out of their day-to-day business to really dig into an analysis of what production inkjet could do for their business. For example, an inkjet press will require less labor to run than offset and even toner presses, saving labor and cost at a time when it’s become very difficult to find qualified operators. Inkjet’s capacity and lower running cost than toner have enabled many print providers to open up new, incremental revenue applications.
GOODING: There are two main kinds of first-time buyers; those in markets where inkjet has been widely adopted, and those focused on markets where inkjet is new or emerging. In the first case, the companies that have not yet embraced inkjet tend to be smaller organizations or in-plants that have a much more difficult time justifying investments and driving change. In the latter case, companies in new markets are often waiting for devices that have been announced but not released, or they are actively testing inkjet but have not found the price/quality mix that fits their application set.
PELLOW: Inkjet represents a substantial capital investment for service providers. Those that have not yet invested know that it is more than a piece of equipment. It requires changing their business models, educating customers and employees and making investments not just in equipment, but people and processes to drive the technology.