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Commentary & Analysis

Addressing the Tough Issues

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By WhatTheyThink Guest Contributor
Published: June 19, 2007

 

By Tom Leibrandt

Much has been written about the challenges today’s printing firms face as they strive to change their business models to profitably accommodate the faster turnaround times and shorter runs today’s buyers demand.  While more efficient printing technology with faster makeready times can go a long way toward addressing these customer requirements, there are a number of underlying issues printing firms must address as they recast their operations into the lean, mean printing machines required to be successful in today’s dynamic and highly competitive environment.

People

A survey of 274 printing firms conducted by PIA/GATF at year-end 2006 identified labor and staffing—finding dependable, skilled personnel—as the top business issue respondents were facing, followed closely by competition and pricing.  Simply adding a faster press or installing a CTP system does not address these issues adequately, and as printing firms consider their options for the future, they should be taking a broader look at not only the immediate customer requirements for getting small runs of high quality printing faster, but at how their firm is structured in terms of people, process and technology to be able to address those customer demands profitably.

All of us should be considering what we can do to help our educational institutions deliver the type of human resources we need to build the next generation of talent for our industry.

As we have indicated many times in the past in this space, over its more than a decade of innovation in the marketplace, Presstek has been focused on making the offset printing process simpler.  This was born out of a desire to help customers streamline their production processes for a more profitable operation. At the outset, the ability to employ less skilled operators was not a key driver of our initiatives, but as it turns out, this has become a very important side benefit of our technology and products, especially the DI press.  As the graphic communications programs in our colleges, universities and technical schools struggle to fill their classrooms, the domino effect of a decreasing skill base has begun to ripple through the printing industry.  Not only that, but as the printing industry becomes increasingly digital, our educational institutions have had difficulty evolving their programs rapidly enough from craft-based programs to the more process- and computer-oriented skills our workers need today. Keep in mind that, according to Frank Romano, we need to add 60,000 new workers to our industry every year in the U.S. just to stay even, and our schools are not delivering that volume of graphic communications graduates into the market.

All of us should be considering what we can do to help our educational institutions deliver the type of human resources we need to build the next generation of talent for our industry.  But those changes will take time and the staffing needs of many firms are more urgent than that.  That is where careful selection of new production technologies can provide an alternative approach that can deliver immediate results.

Equipment

The new generation of DI presses is one such production technology that can address many of the top issues facing printing firms today, from the need to deliver faster turnaround short run color, to the necessity of operating with less skilled labor.  These presses can also provide a competitive advantage for firms by enabling new products and services, and do so more profitably than any other technology.  Don’t just take my word for it.  Listen to what industry experts and DI owners are saying.

Finding dependable, skilled personnel remains a top business issue, followed closely by competition and pricing.

First, industry research firm InfoTrends asserts that a typical job on a direct-to-press (DI) device, like a Presstek 34DI or Presstek 52DI, on average costs about half as much per page as that of a comparable job run on a high-volume cut-sheet color electrophotographic printer (which we call toner-based digital equipment).

Industry expert Dr. Joe Webb points out that there is a mismatch between the printing industry’s installed base of capital equipment and the nature of print demand that can only be addressed through modern workflows that permeate all functions of modern print organizations and reach outside to their clients and freelance support personnel. In a recent white paper, he highlights the benefits of print in an increasingly electronic world, and defines the synergies print has with other communications media, stating, “…there are times for transition, and the creation of niche applications and audiences in which the print medium can profitably navigate for decades to come.”  He positions Presstek as a company, and print as a medium, at a fascinating crossroads of technology, market opportunities, and competition, stating, “The company's products allow printers to compress their workflow to eliminate costly steps, leveraging modern content creators’ capabilities to make better, richer, and more predictable printable files.”

These messages have not gone unnoticed by enterprising printing firms who are adding new generation DI’s to their production portfolios. Particularly as it relates to the labor issues, the high level of automation of the Presstek 34DI and 52DI, combined with waterless printing technology that eliminates ink and water balance issues, enable them to be effectively operated by a less skilled press operator.

Dr. Joe Webb notes there is a mismatch between the printing industry’s installed equipment base the nature of print demand that can only be addressed through modern workflows.

And in terms of pricing and competition? Miguel Infante of Miami’s City Colors says, “The 52DI presses allow us to reduce our price to the trade since we are producing ten additional unique business cards per sheet. Already with the 52DI’s, we are on track to deliver 25% year-over-year revenue growth.”

And Tim Alton from Murray Print Shop in St. Louis adds, “Presstek has taken DI technology a quantum leap, bringing both automation and quality formerly found only in large presses costing in excess of $1 million to a press that is affordable for a business our size. This leap in technological development allows us to effectively compete with much larger printers, and we are well on the way to taking our company to the next level.”

The ability to effectively employ less skilled workers and deliver more competitive pricing with improved profitability are critical success factors for today’s printing firms. It is possible to accomplish these aims while producing run-of-the-mill printing that can all too often push firms into commodity price wars. But it is also important when considering technology investments to look for new applications that can set your firm apart in the hearts and minds of your customers.  Listen to what Jon Wallbank of the UK’s Absolute Digital has to say on that subject: “In the first month we installed our DI press, Absolute won a contract to print Reebok UK’s flagship footwear and apparel catalogue due to our quality and the timescales we were able to achieve. Since then we have won further work from Reebok, including the Race for Life campaign promotional material. The waterless process gives us spectacular, vibrant results even on uncoated stock and due to our [default] stochastic screening, the type is very open and clean with no discernable printing dot on the hard edges. The diverse application of the 52DI has also allowed Absolute to produce work for Imperial Tobacco, working with plastic ink sets onto holographic laminated material utilizing CMYK and white inks.”

Technology alone is not the answer to addressing the tough issues facing today’s printing firms, but adopting the right technology and leveraging it into the right business model can go a long way toward ensuring business success. Graph Expo is almost upon us.  I encourage you to invest in your future by attending the show and learning about the leading edge technologies that can help you put your business on a new and more profitable path to future success. Of course, while you are there, we would love to see you at the Presstek booth #3829. Stop by—we have lots to share and are sincerely interested in understanding what keeps you awake at night and how we might help you sleep better.

 

Give John your feedback. You can reach him at tleibrandt@presstek.com.

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