Commentary & Analysis
Don't Overlook Potential Digital Print Pitfalls
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: April 3, 2007
--- Special Feature Don't Overlook Potential Digital Print Pitfalls By Katherine O'Brien, Editor in Chief, AMERICAN PRINTER April 3, 2007 -- Can you believe it's been 17 years since Xerox debuted its first DocuTech? It's taken awhile, but we can safely say digital printing is going mainstream. To celebrate this milestone, I am working with the Agfa Chromapress Alumni Committee on a special roadshow. It's called "Seeds of Change" and will star the famous Novartis Farmers. Yes, the same guys who we seemingly heard about for years. This was no ordinary direct mail campaign. Each piece was personalized with the recipient's name and the appropriate color tractor (green for John Deere owners, red for the rival brand) and so on. At one time, the Novartis Seed Campaign probably accounted for 85 percent of the variable data printing (VDP) done in the United States. Inch by inch, row by row Lo these many years later, Agfa has exited the VDP business and most Chromapresses have been mothballed in favor of more sophisticated digital printing equipment. Many offset printers have found toner and inkjet devices are just the ticket for quick-turn, short-run brochures, flyers, direct mail pieces and books. Others are eagerly adding everything from simple personalization to personalized URLs with campaign response tracking. At one time, the Novartis Seed Campaign probably accounted for 85 percent of the variable data printing (VDP) done in the United States. Some digital differences stick out like an elephant in a bathtub: You can't help but notice that speed, sheet size and color capabilities are different than those of offset equipment. But even several generations of printing equipment later, some offset printers adding digital equipment might be in for a few surprises. Here are a few "gotchas!" that may catch even the savviest printer off guard. Knowing your true costs Steve Johnson, digital print pioneer (www.copresco.com) and AMERICAN PRINTER columist, recently addressed some "hidden" digital printing costs. Many printers don't revamp their estimating procedures or simply try to shoehorn it into their conventional pricing. Others rely on “borrowed” costing numbers from the press vendor. The bottom line: Many printers don't have an accurate costing and pricing system. Many digital printers are sensitive to temperature fluctuations and can't be housed in the same pressroom with the user's conventional iron. So a special area is created or the digital presses occupy areas that are more like office space than a traditional shop floor. Many printers don't revamp their estimating procedures or simply try to shoehorn it into their conventional pricing. "If you are using budgeted hourly rates, you’ve allocated plant square footage to 'direct overhead' and office footage to 'indirect overhead,'" explains Johnson. "By locating the digital printing cost center in an office area, you’ve just changed your footage totals. Did you adjust for this?" Material handling is another issue that easy to overlook. "If the digital pressroom is off the beaten path, it takes longer to move paper to and from the digital area," notes Johnson. "Most shops include such logistics in 'indirect factory overhead.' If so, you’ll have to raise all prices slightly to account for this additional cost, meaning that the rest of the plant is now subsidizing the digital operation." Watch out for workflow You wanted digital jobs and now you've got them. So how will you handle them? In 2001, RT Associates (Arlington Heights, IL) added Web-to-print capabilities via Saepio’s Agilis Marketing Suite. “The Web part was terrific,” says co-owner Bob Radzis. "We had 350 templates online and an automated front end. But once we got [the orders] back to the shop, we had the same old job tickets and manual bindery. Producing these smaller orders was a big issue." At Print 05, Radzis and his team were intrigued by a demonstration featuring Objective Advantage’s OASymbio front end (“Desktop”) driving Duplo’s DC-645 slitter/cutter/creaser. When we spoke to Radzis last year at this time, RT Associates had successfully integrated OASymbio and was in process of implementing OASymbio Enterprise to automate shipping and fulfillment. "We had 350 templates online and an automated front end. But once we got [the orders] back to the shop, we had the same old job tickets and manual bindery. Producing these smaller orders was a big issue." Automation is essential says Radzis. "One [Web-to-print] customer produces about 120 different types of pieces per day,” he says. “The orders are small, ranging from 25 to 50 pieces. So we [can’t] get tied up in the bindery, shipping and handling if we want to make these jobs profitable.” RT Associates got its start as a typesetter and transitioned to digital printing. Current equipment includes two HP Indigo 5000s and two direct imaging presses, a Quickmaster and SM 74. (See http://americanprinter.com/mag/average_0606/index.html.) Outstanding in the field Incidentally, Radzis and RT Associates are old hands at VDP. In 1995, the $15 million, 72-employee operation put in one of the first Chromapresses ("Serial No. 13," recalls Radzis). RT Associates printed the Novartis campaign and hasn't slowed down since. "People wanted to see what the press could do," says Radzis. "We became profitable within six months of installing the machine." AMERICAN PRINTER's current issue offers this additional advice for offset printers adding digital presses: * A conventional printing company can’t just decide to become a digital printer overnight. The infrastructure is expensive and time-consuming to develop, acquisition may be a more logical path for some operations. * Get an all inclusive click rate, one that reflects the true and total costs of service, parts, labor and supplies. * Don't overloook file management or workflow issues. * There are no belt breaks or toner buildup problems in the offset world. But digital presses have their own unique operational challenges. * There are no overs or unders in the VDP bindery. Consider your mail-match strategy. See http://americanprinter.com/digital-presses/printing_going_digital_staying/ and http://americanprinter.com/mag/the_rules_0506/index.html. Katherine O'Brien is the editor of AMERICAN PRINTER magazine. Contact her at KOB@americanprinter.com.