The Impact of Inkjet
I get to visit a lot of inkjet printing installations in my travels. So I thought I would digress from my usual finishing observations to talk about the impact of inkjet and what I've learned over the years.
Inkjet is not a "straightforward" offset-replacement technology. Despite numerous advances in inkjet print quality, and in the range of substrates that can be successfully printed on, it's not going to replace either web or sheetfed offset anytime soon. In addition, many offset printers may be told to sit down first before being given pricing for inkjet inks.
But in many cases, it's not print quality or ink cost that is the primary driver in a switch from offset to inkjet. It has more to do with the productivity and cost reductions (yes, cost reductions) obtained through inkjet. Look at it this way: even though new offset (and heatset web) presses feature lots of new technology, there is still a significant "front end" to be dealt with before ink meets the paper. Plates must be created from files, then loaded onto the press. Numerous color adjustments must be made as the press "runs up" to color, and while the press is running. If the run is short, the actual time of press may shorter than the time between jobs due to makeready.
So the real test of inkjet is, how well does it replace offset in the right applications? Quite well, actually. Command Web is a long-standing web offset printer which benefitted from a location just eight miles outside of Manhattan. A number of years ago, they started Strategic Content Imaging, their digital arm. Targeting the textbook market, SCI acquired multiple HP "T"-series continuous inkjet presses, including two 40" units. Using these, and in-line signature finishing, SCI eventually went all-digital. The HP presses could run down to job lengths of twenty-five and under, something offset could never do. The reduction in cycle time and labor was significant, as you might guess.
Liturgical Publications of New Berlin, Wisconsin, is the nation's largest church bulletin printer, with 9,000 church clients. LPI jumped in to inkjet last year, also with HP. The HP T230 soon proved to be capable of putting out bulletin quality even better than the fleet of narrow-web presses that LPI had. Rather than stopping every eight minutes (the average press time for an LPI), the T230 just keeps running along at 424 ft./min., job after job. Bear in mind that the HP workflow is essentially a job file queue sent to the press.
The end result at LPI is a complete switchover from offset to digital. So, within the right application environment, inkjet can completely displace it's offset counterpart in productivity, with major savings to boot.