It’s All About Adding Value with Inkjet Printing
Closing out the opening-day sessions of the Virtual Inkjet Summit 2020 on Monday was a panel led by Barb Pellow, manager at Pellow and Partners, with Kirk Schlecker, president, Heeter; Adam Avrick, president, Design Distributor; and Steve Priesman, manager — printing and publications for Omaha Public Schools all sharing why they chose to adopt inkjet, how they went about integrating it into their business models, and what they learned along the way.
Schlecker was up first, noting that his company has a 75-year history, with more than $30 million in annual revenue. The business began as a traditional commercial printer, and has evolved over time to add services such as mailing, variable data printing, fulfillment, and digital marketing, among others. Heeter serves a variety of customers, with many falling in the insurance, retail, gaming, pharmaceutical, or education verticals.
For Schlecker, the journey to inkjet began in 2015, when they “got serious” about the technology. One high-profile customer needed work that the company’s cut-sheet iGen platform couldn’t keep up with, so the decision had to be made between looking into outsourcing, or bringing in a new press. In the end, the company decided to install the Ricoh VC60000. It then upgraded to the VC70000 in 2018 to take advantage of speed upgrades, along with the ability to print on a much broader range of substrates.
“Ricoh came in with a sample book that we didn’t believe was printed inkjet,” said Schlecker during the session, “because the quality was as good as you would typically see off an iGen. They validated it, we ran some test jobs, and a few months later we were out in Boulder, Colo., watching it run, and a few months after that, we bought it.”
Avrick’s company is a family-owned business that first started in 1966 as an envelope printing business, and has only grown from there. Today, Design Distributor offers a wide range of direct mail services, among other applications, to companies in verticals such as pharmaceutical, financial services, and retail. In 2010, the company first installed toner-based devices, and then in 2018, made the jump into inkjet with the HP T240.
“The threshold of what we used to deem traditional inkjet work was really transactional. It was invoicing or billing, and the quality level would never have been acceptable to our clients,” said Avrick. “We watched for years — from way back in the old Scitex days, I watched it evolve, just as I watched toner evolve. When we started to see two things: quality being acceptable to what we do, and the threshold of the cost coming down … it finally looked like it could be affordable, and there were certain amounts of work we were running conventionally that we could convert to inkjet digital.”
Priesman’s experience was different, instead of operating a commercial print shop, he manages the in-plant operations for Omaha Public Schools. With full responsibility for all of the print and mail services in his district, Priesman supports 54,000 students and 8,000 employees, processes as many as 35,000 orders annually, 70% of which are classroom materials. He notes that it's things like worksheets, unit tests, “typical things that your average teacher is using,” he said.
For Priesman, the switch to inkjet was a two-fold need. First the in-plant had already been a mix of digital and offset printing, but down the road, he was concerned they wouldn’t be able to find small offset equipment, and even if the equipment could be found, finding operators to run it will only continue to get increasingly difficult. Second, he wanted to provide a cost-effective way to add more color to the jobs to help improve student comprehension.
This led to the installation in 2018 of the Xerox Brenva, after evaluating all the cut-sheet inkjet options available. “At that time we still had toner-based monochrome equipment, and toner-based color equipment,” Priesman noted. “The issue we ran into was the Brenva couldn’t really handle the volume, because everyone wanted color, so one of the things we choose to do, was I prepared a mailer that was an actual item printed and mailed to parents of about six schools. After that, I printed more of that, and printed it on the Brenva, on the Versant, which was our toner-based color device, as well as the Nuvera, which was our monochrome toner device. I sent a sample of each with a cover memo to every principal and department head and explained our new concept, what we called everyday color, or prestige color.”
He went on to note that one of the reasons his staff promoted everyday color, which was run on his inkjet press, over prestige was that the cost was virtually identical to monochrome, allowing teachers to add full color to their jobs without any major impacts to their budgets.
All three of the operations had different experiences with the process of on-boarding inkjet equipment into their respective facilities, but they all had several key takeaways for other shops looking to make the switch themselves.
- Work with a trusted partner. Have an OEM partner that can answer questions and work with the shop to ensure the best equipment, substrates, consumables, etc. for the type of work is imperative. And make sure to ask questions not just about the work you plan to start producing via inkjet immediately, but the type of work you hope to capture in the next 12-18 months.
- It’s not just about the inkjet press. To be successful with inkjet, other investments should be considered as well, including finishing equipment, software, and automation options.
- Take the time to evaluate all the options. Part of that means talking to your current customer base to get a better feel for the types of jobs you could produce after installing an inkjet press. Not all inkjet presses are alike, so making sure you choose the right one for your specific situation is key to ensuring long-term success.
- Ask for samples. Part of that evaluation process should be putting together a test file that is a good example of the type of work you hope to transition to inkjet, and then sending it out to as many vendors as possible. Ask to see how it performs on different types of substrates. Ask to see both the “high-speed” and the “high-quality” options to understand how quality and productivity balance for each press.
- There is a learning curve. Your production team, sales staff, and even customers will all need to have an on-boarding process to learn exactly what the new equipment is capable of. This doesn’t happen overnight, and requires consistent effort to educate all the relevant parties.
While they came from different starting points, with different goals in mind for their inkjet installations, all three agreed that inkjet absolutely has a period of adjustment. For those with offset backgrounds, toner can be a fairly easy switch, with many of the same considerations, but inkjet is an entirely different way to print, requiring a shift in mindset. However, as these three case studies prove, taking the time to learn what inkjet printing can — and can’t — do is a path to new opportunities and growth.
Toni McQuilken is the senior editor for the printing and packaging group.