The In-Plant Market, by the Numbers
No survey of the small/
By Patrick Henry
Published: May 7, 2009
No survey of the small/medium print market segment would be complete without a friendly nod to in-plants. These captive printing shops provide a richly mixed bag of services to the corporations, educational institutions, and federal, state, and local agencies they belong to. InfoTrends says there about 52,000 of them, and In-Plant Graphics puts the average head count at 18.2 full-time employees. In-plants use the same tools and manufacturing routines as commercial printers, but their operational concerns are different. For one thing, they have to juggle the often conflicting deadlines and production requirements of their internal customers. As departments of larger entities, they have to strive for their fair share of the general budget, and they sometimes have to justify their existence to overzealous accountants. They may even find themselves going head to head with the commercial sector when their parent organizations decide to outsource. Many turn this competitive table by insourcing—taking work from the outside world—to fill excess capacity. Gaining and keeping respect is the essence of the in-plant’s mission. Equipping to meet changing demands is the key to preserving status and assuring survival. In recent years, though, none of this has been easy: a February report on the in-plant industry by InfoTrends says that the number of in-plants declined by 2.5% from 2006 to 2007. But, the segment’s appetite for new equipment remains undiminished. According to the InfoTrends report, 86% of those surveyed offer digital color printing, and a nearly identical share offer high-speed digital printing in black and white. In both cases, the percentages were up significantly from those in an in-plant market survey published by InfoTrends in 2004—not surprising, given the heavy emphasis in many in-plants on reprographics and copying. The in-plant segment continues to rely strongly on offset litho as well, with about two-thirds of respondents to the 2009 survey saying that they currently offered the conventional process. But, this figure was about six percentage points below the number claiming to offer traditional offset in 2004. 2008 market statistics published by In-Plant Graphics show a similar decline between 2006 and 2008, but from a larger base: 78.4% of in-plants are said to have provided offset printing last year vs. 85% three years ago. Steve Adoniou, an analyst for InfoTrends, notes that purchasing intentions reflect the changing equipment mix. The current study, he says, reports that only 4% of those surveyed had budgeted for a 2009 investment in an offset press with a sheet size larger than 20". About 11% planned a 2009 investment in digital color. Nevertheless, we’d observe that 2009 probably is not the kind of year that yields the best insights into what in-plants and other printers actually will decide as they ponder the right mix of capabilities for better times ahead.