Buying a print machinery to get the right print? - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Print companies considering buying for pre-press, press or post-press machinery, for conventional or digital print production, should do more than just check plates, print or binding aspect and marvel at the samples shown.

17 Apr 2015 | By Noel D'Cunha

That’s because investment in print machinery is among the biggest investments in that particular segment. Knowing when to bite the bullet is going to be a crucial decision. And with print margins reducing by the day, it’s a not easy making these decisions.
When the cost of the machinery is high, there are two important factors that one must look into. One is the cost of the machine per job and two, cost of printing the job on the machine.
Hence, the print CEO has to look if further machinery purchases are necessary and affordable. In other words, one has to find out if the print machinery investment fits your operation.
1. This begs a first question. Is it essential you buy one? Keppler Gunther, ex-Heidelberg India used to say, printing machines are meant to run 24 hours, seven days. Are you running your existing machines all 24 hours? Have you considered outsourcing or tying up with a neighbouring print company to utilise their under-utilised capacity?
Alok Munot of Prabhat Printing Works in Pune, says, “Clients still come to us and we print for them. But I do not see any point in investing further. If there’s extra work, I can always get it done from one of the printers around our plant, without a sweat.” For Munot, investment means piling up onPune’s existing print capacity. Prabhat has been in the business for the last 70 years and is a name to reckon with.

2. Creating an ideal match with space, a sure thing that will be needed if you are bringing in a new press. Manufacturers claim small footprint to be able to operate in some tight spaces. But one must remember that you need to get in there and get the job done, not just getting near the press or its peripheral, but also getting the material there. Today’s machine print at anywhere between 15-18 thousand sheets per hour. You have to factor in space for material, work for which is in progress or next in line.
3. Another thing you need to consider is the attachments, pre- and post-press, as well as the availability of power. In most of the Indian printing companies, post-press is a major bottleneck and a push factor. You certainly don’t want such bottlenecks after making such a huge investment.  
If you have it, it can be the pull factor, because the work in progress area is never overflowing. It’s a similar case with pre-press, where your press is kept ideal for want of plates. In any case, if you do not have it, you may need to factor it into your near term goals.
Okay. It’s now decided that you are going to make the investment, having assessed that you are very much on top of all the three points above. The next question is: which brand.
Establishing a strong, trusting relationship with an equipment manufacturer or seller, and listening to their advice, play a strong role in many a buying decision.
But there are some decisions, which you need to take.
1. Once you have decided the brand, you may need to do a background check. Are you okay to buying it from a manufacturer, if the brand you have chosen has a direct presence, or you are okay to buying it from a dealer. Check the track record on service. Take references from few existing users - an oldest user first and a couple of other new ones, and even try meet the operators.
2. Price. There were several factors that would influence our decision. But in the end, it would come down to: how badly did you want it and how good a negotiator you are.
3. Service back. You have spent the best part of your business budget in the new press and the unthinkable happens. About ten jobs after the installation is complete, the machine stops. You know you are in trouble. Just how good after-sales services are provided when you need a helping hand, will decided if you have selected the proper brand for your requirement.
4. This also leads to another question: Should you depend completely on manufacturer for service?
5. Is training part of the installation process? The training programme should commensurate the level of automation and the overall skill of your operator.
6. Special features that would put you ahead of the competitors. Is it future ready? Can it handle a variety of substrates etc.?
7. Compatibility with your existing equipment, ones that you plan to invest in tandem with the press.
This is a million-dollar question; a dilemma of selecting new or used machinery faced by many print companies though around 80-85% of machines imported into India are secondhand or used machinery. That said, it’s still a decision that’s rarely clear-cut.
There’s an adage, used machinery covers a lot of ground. At one end is a brand new machine and the other end is an old machine, which is a little better than a scrap. Everything else is in between. The condition of a used machine can be an unknown. What’s the wear and tear? Electrical wiring? These questions can be largely tackled by careful inspection or inspecting the machine in actual operation.
Often there's no substitute for the technology in new equipment. A used or pre-owned but refurbished machine, for example, can improve productive with productivity-monitoring features that are common on new machines. But this depends on how young the machines are, and if the new enhancements developed by the manufacturers can be retrofitted.
But you need to go by your instincts. New or old. Do a cost benefit analysis. It’s your investment, you hard earned money you are spending or hard earned money you will be paying as instalment per month.
No bar on import of used machines
The new Foreign Trade Policy (FTP) 2015-20 announced early this month, seeks to simplify several tools and schemes for promotion of trade. While the FTP supports ‘Make in India’ through measures to encourage procurement of capital goods from indigenous manufacturers, it has also put to rest the much debated issue of ban on import of used machinery, by announcing no restriction on import of secondhand capital goods.

PrintWeek India verdict: Though the issue of ban on import of used machinery has been resolved for now, but it may not be the last word. There are contradictions in the policies with one encouraging indigenous manufacturers while on the other hand, allows import of secondhand goods without any age restriction.

1. Typically, a new machine will come with installation, warranty and training. Used machinery purchases will have these as extras.

2. When deciding between two different new machines, cost comes into play. Evaluate both the machines in terms of its added productivity. If a machine that costs more but also produces more output per hour, then the addition cost is justified. This again depends on your capacity to turnout.
3. Maintenance on new and old machines is a point to be considered. An old machine may require constant monitoring and maintenance. Will your maintenance personnel be able to perform certain maintenance procedure or is that going to be an additional burden of cost?
4. Check for compatibility with the existing pre- and post-press machinery if the new or old buy.
5. Visit plants where old and new machines have been installed. Do perform research into new processes or new methods that could potentially replace the existing ones, or had planned to use.