The need of the hour is to go digital

The debate in the early part of the millennium hovered around offset vs. digital while the end of the decade promptly revealed that the digital technology actually complemented offset set up. Increasing vendors in the digital domain with scaled up offerings makes it mandatory for commercial offset printers to deep dive into this and evaluate which solution is going to be best suited for them. While the writing is on the wall for any offset set up to incorporate digital technology and enhance ove

04 May 2013 | By Tushar Dhote

A simple step towards doing the same is mentioned below:

1. Holistic solution to the end customer:- The world around us is changing and so has been the mode and method of communication. All of us printers need  to understand whether we are able to effectively service most of the requirements of our customers as their requirements are also getting altered.  This means the ability to accept different types of jobs in different run lengths. We also need to consider whether we have operational efficiency as well as capacity to deliver on the key requirements. Its basis this need that one should decide on which solution to go in for?  One could go in for entry , mid or high end digital printer depending on the understanding of their key customer who would necessarily in all probability be the base for this investment decision.

2.Vision or the horizon in mind:- It is key for any printer to have a specific vision or a goal in mind. In course of executing on the day today job for his customer, it suits him better if he is able to envisage what he sees himself doing in the coming few years. With this horizon in mind he can look at the different options available in the particular segment of digital printing ( colour/ monochrome). He should clearly draw a road map that elucidates his upgrade plan that could involve buyback of machines or introducing colour with mono or vice versa or even having wide format presses.

3. Don’t think of buying just a product; Have a solution orientation:- When I made my first investment in 2008 I had a specific goal in mind but since then have come a long way on the learning curve. Over the years I have realised that the pre and post process is as important as the digital press in itself. Hence it is always about the solutions that you offer. A vendor that encourages you to have an insight on the applications as well as market insights can be counted upon as a suitable partner. A good design team with robust prepress infrastructure can lead you differentiation in the market place. Similarly you can print a series of business cards, tent cards, books, manuals at fast speeds but if you do not have complementing finishing equipment, the desired end product will still not be delivered on time. The synchronisation of all three areas of operations is as important as the equipment itself.

4. Be aware of the need for faster ROI:- Digital as a technology has seen rapid up gradation over the years. Modern day digital presses have almost eliminated the quality gap between digital and offset print which was not the case a few years back. This has been  a direct result of growth in technology and consistent R&D that is happening in this area. The overall costs of operating a digital press has also reduced with intense competition.  Hence there is a perennial fear of obsolescence of current  technology being used. So it becomes very important that monetarily one should provision the project for a limited time frame. In my opinion a break-even window of 3-5 years is ideal for  a digital project.

5. Remember it is all about applications:- The most successful digital printing companies in India have had their own niches. Yet one thing that is common to all of them is that all have built economies of scale around successful applications. While some of them have emerged as preferred “books on demand” print providers, others have evolved themselves as majors in personalised security printing; still others have created a niche in multi- language variable data print mailers while most have them have successfully forayed into photo-album printing. The moot point is none of them offer run of the mill solution that is easy to replicate either on quality or process or the application itself. As a result they have less chances of getting commoditized and still command a premium in the market place. As the digital vendors keep saying “imagination is the only limitation”. In other words the technology gives you the leverage to develop unique applications effectively and it helps to have limitless imagination.

6. Finally the specifics:- When making a purchase decision of a digital printer, do look at a combination of a few things before zeroing on anything:-
a. Test print quality on your files.
b. Understand that productivity is not just the speed of the printing machine. It is the combination of printing speed, ripping speed, ease of operations, uptime ensured by vendor and after sales service.
c. A special mention of after sales service is mandatory here as the equipment require to be effectively managed and maintained. Do consider points as the number of service engineers in a location, average technical experience, site storage plans , proximity of warehouse locations ( to ensure quick delivery of spares) and defined SLA’s.
d. Also understand that total cost of operations (TCO) has to be measured not just on actual equipment and running cost but how much the equipment can deliver over its lifetime or how many prints have you measured over the horizon that has been discussed in point number
e. Calculate other operational expenses like the footprint of the machine, electricity consumption.

I started this article with the debate that is doing the round over the last many years. In my opinion, the debate is over now. We printers have to evolve with the evolving technology, become adopters, make best use of them in the rightful way. The ones that are most successful have always been ahead in this race. Yet it is imperative that evaluation is comprehensively done and a right decision is arrived on.