Going Big – Buying an industrial printer without getting bitten on the proverbial. Here’s how.
You’ve done your provisional ROI calculations, spoken to your biggest clients about their future needs and volumes, and now you’re ready to start auditions for the big industrial wide-format printer that is going to transform your digital print business.
So how exactly do you prepare? What are the right questions to ask? And what is the right sort of pressure to put on the supplier pre- and post-purchase in order to ensure you install the right printer? How do you then ensure that said printer is installed and productive as quickly as possible?
We spoke to Des Ablitt - formerly Technical Service Director at Fujifilm, and Customer Service Director at Inca Digital before that. With 100s of top-of-the-line heavy-metal digital printer installations under his belt, I can’t think of anyone better than Des to advise on the do’s and don’ts.
Over to you Mr Ablitt!
Considering investing in your first superwide roll-to-roll or flatbed printer? Then here are the technicalities and logistical issues you need to be aware of and make provision for:
Pre-Sale: Making the Right Printer Choice
Once you’ve decided that you have the capacity to justify the purchase of a big roll-to-roll or flatbed printer, there are a number of important pre-purchase considerations.
I’m assuming you know your stuff – you’ve got this far without me – and you clearly know your way around a wide-format printer, so let’s assume you’ve already got your printer shortlist. It’s now about getting down to the nitty gritty of elimination until the one perfect printer remains.
Firstly, give full and thorough consideration to the type of work you are planning to print. This is particularly true if you are changing to a new ink technology, or if you will be printing to new substrates and materials that you’ve not previously printed on digitally.
In the case of new substrates, you’ll need to have completed the necessary testing. Most importantly: does the ink stick? and can you carry out the necessary finishing requirements without issues or failure of the final printed products integrity?
On the new media you’re planning to print on, and on existing media you’re already familiar with, have you fully considered all of the most important attributes of the finished print as dictated and demanded by your own customers? These might include: colour gamut, gloss level, ink adhesion, banding, flexibility, and odour.
A lot of those are ink issues, and I’m sure you’re aware that not all inks are created equal. Not all manufacturers use the same ink to do the same job.
Consider briefly two similar priced big printers. Let’s assume both use identical printheads; let’s assume both have comparable spec-sheet performance; and let’s assume in this example that both use a UV-LED ink. The biggest single difference between the two printers might very well be in that ink. It might be marketed as the same ink type, but different inks from different manufacturers will have different chemistry, different characteristics and different capabilities.
Your ink choice is as important – and in some cases, more important – than the printer itself. That’s a factor too often forgotten in the excitement of selecting your shiny new £500,000 print production behemoth, and it’s often at the very root of many post-install production issues. Ink choice really does matter.
Ensure that the supplier has given you as much information and advice and as many colour profiles for as many of your common media as possible to get you started. In fact, availability of such profiles in sufficient quantity and quality is a vital pre-sale requirement.
Finally, are you certain that the claimed output speeds meet your requirements and are achievable at the level of quality demanded by you and the customer? No assumptions please. Test. Thoroughly. Like buying a house, full due diligence is vital because refunds are not usually an option on kit at this price-point.
Post-Sale: Important Technical Considerations
Today’s the day then, due diligence completed, sums all done, you’ve even spoken to a few users of the same printer. You’re now confident you’ve selected the right product and you’re ready to press the button and place your order – so now it’s time to properly prepare for the delivery and installation of a 3 ton printer that takes up more floorspace than your first premises.
Before your printer arrives, you’ll need to consider the following:
Has there been a site survey performed to ensure that there is suitable access for delivery and that you can physically get the device into your building?
Have you understood and carried out any remedial work suggested by the supplier? All too often a printer arrives for installation and the services required are not in place! It’s horrifying how often this happens and adds painful weeks before the printer can start paying for its keep.
Ensure that you know what you are responsible for prior to delivery and who your contact is with the supplier. Ensure the installation team has a contact; a go-to person within your own company.
Have you considered workflow for the final position of the printer? Substrate storage and accessibility is often overlooked but can have a significant impact on your throughput performance. If your new printer is going to be printing on to 5-metre-wide rolls of material that weigh 500Kg each, it’s definitely worth considering where those rolls are stored in relation to where the printer is installed.
• Power requirements (does your facility have capacity)
• Compressed air
• Water (cooling)
• Floor loading requirements
• Network connection
How about future proofing your facility should you have to carry out work to meet the printer specification requirements? It’s often more economical to have additional power installed in a single visit rather than having to recall a contractor a second time.
Have you ensured that the installation will be carried out within your HSE policies and considered whether the visiting engineers require a site induction? Again, these are factors that can delay the install, and all such factors should be considered and properly dealt with ahead of time.
Have the appropriate staff prepared for the arrival of the printer? If possible, arrange for the operators to visit the supplier in advance for training where possible. It ensures they are engaged from the get-go and prepared to hit the ground running.
Ensure the appropriate staff that require training are available and blocked from normal duties. There is nothing worse than constant interruptions during training which might mean your staff fail to fully understand the printer properly or miss something important.
Installation of industrial printers are typically spread over several days, so ensure you hold a meeting with the printer installation team at the end of each and every one of those days. I know you’re busy, but please, no shortcuts now you are so close. These end of day meetings are important and help to build a relationship with the supplier as well as helping to avoid those “we have a problem” scenarios at the 11th hour.
Don’t sign your printer off until you are certain that it meets the manufacturer’s specification. Ensure that all work is complete and all with no caveats or disclaimers. Don’t expect to run production effectively until this is achieved.
Finally and of huge importance: employ the right people! Industrial-level roll-to-roll and flatbed printing isn’t just about pushing the green button, it takes a diligent and watchful eye to maintain the print quality, to carry out the daily, weekly, monthly maintenance checks, to be responsible for the printer and to understand what its capable of and ready to print on demand. The right operator will treat your new printer like it is theirs and will guard it jealously. This level of ownership can be a vital ingredient in printer reliability, productivity and operational success. A good printer operator is definitely worthy of additional investment.
And that’s it. Hopefully I’ve provided enough pointers to help you to make good choices, prepare properly, and get operational and profitable as quickly as possible. Good luck and farewell.
Des Ablitt was formerly the Technical Service Director at Fujifilm, and Customer Service Director at Inca Digital before that. Des is currently freelancing as a technical consultant but remains open to interesting offers.