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Industry Insight

Hot From Graph Expo—Should You Build Your Own Press?

I had the privilege of sitting on a panel at Graph Expo with my old friend Andy Tribute.

By Howie Fenton
Published: October 13, 2010

I had the privilege of sitting on a panel at Graph Expo with my old friend Andy Tribute. Andy is known as the inkjet expert today, but over the years he has been known as the computer-to-plate pro, and before that the digital press guy. I first got to know Andy when we both wrote and spoke for the Seybold organization and I always tried to learn as much as I could from him because he was always more up-to-date than I was. Therefore, after one of our panels, I told him I wanted to catch up with him and he handed me a card that said, “You are invited to an exclusive invitation-only panel discussion courtesy of Cabot Inkjet Colorants.” So I told him I would see him there.

Unfortunately, I forgot that my presentation on “Transitioning from a PSP-MSP” ended at 5 PM and the Cabot event started at the same time. But I said I would go so I walked down to the cab line at McCormick and found a huge line. I met up with a bunch of my NAPL colleagues and at Bill Woods’ insistence we all jumped on a bus which got us downtown and I walked the rest of the way.

I was about an hour late but I was not disappointed. Andy was moderating a panel with Mary Lee Schneider, President, Digital Solutions and Chief Technology Officer for R.R. Donnelley; Frank Delfer, Executive Vice President of Technology and CTO, DST Output; Chris Carosella, Vice President of Product Development & Regulatory Affairs, IWCO Direct; and Marco Boer, Vice President, IT Strategies.

I remember vividly some of the shocking things I heard. At one point Andy asked why Donnelley and DST Output decided to build inkjet presses. Mary Lee Schneider talked about how the technology had been around for quite a while and they felt they could build a press for a lot less money than those that were sold. Frank Delfer agreed and said that it was not that difficult because there were great web press platforms that could move the paper—all that was required was the addition of inkjet heads which could be bought and installed by Kodak and a front end.

During the question and answer period I asked what kind of resources were required to build an inkjet press. Mary Lee said that Donnelly had about 150 engineers and was about to increase staffing and Frank Delfer said that DST staffed about 50 engineers.

Over the years I have worked with many companies that have taken press and post-press equipment and refined or enhanced it for their own purposes. But the idea that a printer would build a press was a shock. I am not sure how many other printers could afford to build their own press.

How big does a printer need to be to build their own press?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

Howie Fenton is InfoTrends' Associate Director of Operational Consulting. For over 25 years, he has focused on benchmarking operational and financial performance in in-plants and commercial printers. He can be reached via e-mail at Howie.Fenton@infotrends.com.



By Steve Brown on Oct 14, 2010

Innovation is a great thing. RRD can definitely afford to take this risk given the upside potential of leveraging this unique technology for the future.

However, like any project that you "do yourself", you're going to make many mistakes, mistakes that may get a band-aid solution rather than a sustainable, scalable solution. Their risk is lower since they are choosing to apply this technology to their own presses/customer needs.

I'm sure that whether RRD becomes recognized for being competent in press building or not, at the very least they are going to learn more about this technology and how best to apply it for the various markets they serve.


By Adam Dewitz on Oct 14, 2010

Andy talks about converting old offset web presses to inkjet presses in a video on WhatTheyThink today: http://whattheythink.com/video/view.cfm?id=47143" rel="nofollow">Andy Tribute introduces a new classification for inkjet. Andy calls this classification “New Life for Old Iron”


By Don Piontek on Oct 14, 2010

RRD has a long history of in-house engineering, and maintained a very large engineering department until the early 90's. The same applies to firms such as DST, QUAD GRAPHICS, and many others. These companies have the resources to extensively customize vendor technology for their own purposes. In quite a few cases, the vendor has the "base" printing technology, but lacks the industry expertise to expand and or modify the basic "box' to suit the printing firm's need to offer a unique solution to their clients. In my career, I have seen dozens of hybrid solutions where the vendor kit is only a part of the final system.


By Greg Imhoff on Oct 14, 2010

The above comments are all "spot on" beginning with the credibility of both Andy and Howie.

Furthering the thread thought no one entity has all the answers. Even those that compete seek to learn from each other. This is why change as a dynamic, is of interest and holds value.


By Jerry Doane on Oct 14, 2010

There are so many reasons why these companies should not build their own digital presses. The commercial vendors can sell many more units and amortize their costs over a much larger base. A digital press is not “hardware” but a complex integration of hardware, software, RIPs, fonts, not to mention ink/toner development and substrate research. In other words internal development is very very expensive. And it never ends. But the most important reason not to build is the market. There is a trend away from a “pixel” focus to an information focus. Data is the key to success, from targeting to personalization. Sure, print quality is important, but the real value in digital printing is the success of the message. This is where they should be spending their money.


By Howie Fenton on Oct 14, 2010

Great comments about the costs and benfits about building vs buying an inkjet press. Now lets take it a step further. Here is an impression and a question.

Admittedly this is huge leap because it was not said, but the impression I got from listening was that the cost to buy a full blown inkjet press configured how they want it was well over $6M and the cost of adding inkjet heads to a already paid off press was well under $1M.

Here is the question. Where is the "Crossing the Chasm" point where making (adding heads) becomes a compelling proposition. Is it less then $500K, between $500k-$1M or more then $1M?


By Michael Jahn on Oct 15, 2010

@ Jerry Doane - what did the first web site cost ? Pretty expensive I expect.

A web site is also a complex integration of hardware, software, RIPs (yes, a browser needs to render objects), fonts - just no toner ! ( wink )

Now, you can build your spending very little at GoDaddy.com

@ Howie - I would expect that RRD and other large companies know what they need, and what they need is far more unique than what PIP, Sir Speedy or Kinkos needs.Perhaps this is why they need to build their own ?


By Chuck on Oct 15, 2010

It is idiocy for a printing company to build their own presses, and it is even further idiocy to think that old web presses can or should be converted to Inkjet in a way that would provide competitive benefits.

In fact, if a publicly held printing company is actually doing this, their shareholders should be outraged by the waste of valuable resources that could be deployed in much more revenue generating, and actually profitable, activities.


By Todd Miller on Oct 15, 2010

Does converting a press to inkjet increase profit margin? Is the ROI cycle short if a printer does convert an old press? Are consumables cheaper/impression than conventional inks? Will eliminating plate and plate making cost be a huge savings? Will downtime decrease and chargeable time increase? If the answers to these questions are yes it definitely becomes compelling. Not to mention the elimination of bindery costs(I believe RRD's Proteus Jet has inline binding capabilities.)
The problem that I see with this is, as the technology advances jobs will be lost, forcing more displaced workers to lower paying service sector jobs. I hope we can tax the robots that will be taking their places!


By Michael O'Connor on Oct 15, 2010

I'd be interested in seeing a detailed ROI analysis from any of the companies that have developed their own ink jet printer.
50+ engineers, > 2+ years in development and technology acquisition and integration will take time to make back. How much time?


By Buck Crowley on Oct 15, 2010

Most printers have been “building” their own presses for many years. An inkjet press is just a module mounted over the paper.

Adding an inkjet module is easier than adding your choice of web-guide, dryer or color-head. It is easier because it doesn’t touch the web.

The inkjet modules come complete, with all the controls just like all the other printing and converting auxiliaries. The inkjet modules can also come premounted on a base like a slitter, or coater. It doesn't take any in-house engineering, just bolt it on.

I was at the Cabot event and listening in the halls after, a lot was missed by printers without experience. One of the points was that inkjet modules are less than 1/5 the cost of buying a standalone press. The next point is that Cabot is selling the colored pigments so you can make your own ink. On paper types, Inkjet has been printed on a huge variety of substrates for a very long time, be it large format for outdoor use or addresses on the cover of UV coated magazines.

The reason so many have been sold in the last year is that we are now at the point where the printing module cost, quality, and ink cost makes it a compelling move in this economy.
Buck at BuckAutomation.com


By Howie Fenton on Oct 18, 2010

Thanks for the feedback. I’m not sure about other people but the idea of building a “Do It Yourself” Inkjet Press fascinates me.

Its hard not to agree with Jerry Doane who says “companies should not build their own digital presses. The commercial vendors can sell many more units and amortize their costs over a much larger base. A digital press is not “hardware” but a complex integration of hardware, software, RIPs, fonts, not to mention ink/toner development and substrate research.” Similar sentiments are echoed by others like Michael O'Connor who say “ I too would love to know the ROI”. Me too Michael.

But there are good arguments made by on the other side too. According to Buck Crowley the “inkjet modules are less than 1/5 the cost of buying a standalone press” and “Cabot is selling the colored pigments so you can make your own ink”. If you could reduce the costs of the ink and the paper that would be a huge advantage. Lets face the world of digital printing is not unlike the business model used with razors and razor blades. I think I heard somewhere that inkjet inks for desktop devices cost more then $700 per pound.

Eventually I suspect we will learn more about the costs of making vs. buying a digital press. It may not be next week or next month, but sooner or later sooner will open up and talk about the costs for a “Do It Yourself” Inkjet Press. Believe it or not one possibility is that no one even knows how much it cost them to build it.

I will do so more research and write another blog on this subject. Stay tuned!


By DJ on Oct 18, 2010

Let me guess what RRD did:

1. They built a spreadsheet.
2. They put in the cost of building their own press with inkjet nozzles. This includes the cost of their own development team.
3. They put in the cost of colored pigments bought wholesale.
4. Next they built another spreadsheet.
5. They put in the cost of buying a digital press direct from a vendor.
6. Then they put in the cost of buying the ink from the vendor at retail.

No prizes awarded to who guesses which spreadsheet had a higher cost of ownership over a 5 (ten?) year period.

C'mon guys, some of you have talked to RRD/Quad over the years right? Unless things have changed, they wake up in the morning obsessing over paper & ink cost. Then at night, before going to sleep, they say their prayers about... ink and paper costs.

All about the ink costs, baby.


By Andrew Tribute on Oct 19, 2010

First I'd like to thank Howie for his nice comments about me and also for opening up this discussion. First let me say I may take a slightly biased view of this as I was contracted by Cabot to moderate this seminar. First why was Cabot doing this is a question I have been asked? I would say that it is to introduce themselves to printers in this market and to to outline what they do. Cabot is perhaps the leading supplier of pigment colorants to the desktop and SOHO inkjet markets and is now looking to become a supplier to the evolving high-speed inkjet markets. The event was an opportunity for Cabot to discuss their unique pigment technology that unlike other pigments used in the inks in this market does not need either a pre-coated special paper or a bonding agent to be used, and that it works with standard offset papers. In this the first major customer Cabot are talking about is RR Donnelley who use Cabot pigments in the inks for the ProteusJet presses. The seminar, and the similar one we ran at IPEX was very much a market research exercise to allow Cabot to link up with printers to assess what are their requirements in this market. As a supplier to the desktop market where millions of ink cartridges are sold each year it is very difficult to link up with users, but in the high-speed market events like this seminar allow Cabot's experts to link up directly with major users of high-speed inkjet systems.

The main question in this series of posts however is about whether it is feasible to build your own inkjet press. I would say it is not like Johnnie Cash building a car one piece at a time. It is also not easy for a printer. There are integrators out there that can assist in building press modules or even presses, and this is being seen with the addition of imprinting heads, such as Kodak's Prosper S10 heads onto web offset presses. However, that is not quite the same as building a total press and it is interesting that while DTS Output have a custom press the inkjet side of it, plus the ink, was provided by Kodak. To build a press or range of presses such as the ProteusJet and ProteusJet Modular from RRD is I believe way beyond the capabilities of all but a very few major printers. Yes one can buy print heads from certain companies but that is only the start of the situation. Let us just look for example at the complications of ink. Océ with its Jetstream presses currently only offers dye based inks and has been testing out its pigment based inks for a long time, but is still not sure how they will work in production in areas such as print head life and reliability. It is not an easy task and one needs a high-level of systems integration skills. If one looks at HP for example they take at least six months of beta testing of new presses before they are ready for putting the press for sale. This can be seen with both the T200 and T350 presses in beta test at O'Neil Data Systems that will not be available for sale until Q2 of 2011.

The question of ink cost is one that generates a lot of discussion as printers feel ink costs should be closer to those of offset. Inkjet inks however are very different from offset inks and are far more complex in their structure. It is not simply a matter of floating a pigment in a carrier solution. There are many other elements in the inks to ensure that jets are not damaged or clogged. There is also a massive amount of R&D recovery for the development of presses, systems, ink and consumables that have to be recovered. A present the volume of inkjet ink being manufactured is minute compared with the volume of offset inks so there is no mass volume to cover cost reduction. There is also the reliability issue where vendors of presses will want to ensure they have control of all the operation of their presses. A poor quality of ink can do do immense damage to an inkjet press unlike offset presses where bad ink at worst will damage rollers or just make a mess when printing.

To finish I would say it is really interesting to hear from RR Donnelley is doing and there may be a few other printers who have yet to announce their approach in this area, but for the huge majority of printers the only real solution is to buy a press from one of the many vendors who are the professionals in this area. Now the future for printers may be to become multiple media communications providers. It is not to become press manufacturers.


By Chuck on Oct 19, 2010

Setting aside the challenges of engineering involved in making a "home grown" inkjet web press work (that Buck has so blithely dismissed), DJ is absolutely correct.

That actually makes the idea seem even less likely of success, because now we are talking about a large printing company getting into the chemical industry. (I am sure someone will argue that they somehow already are in this business, but lets not kid ourselves, they are not manufacturing inkjet consumables in industrial volumes.)

I looked for patents related to the manufacturing of jettable ink, of which there are many, and could not find any belonging to RRD or Quad. Someone else might have more time or luck.

At the end of the day, anything is possible. Perhaps this isn't such a fantastic idea, and these companies really are going to revolutionize the industry by building their own presses.

I just have a hard time visualizing that future.


By Don Piontek on Oct 21, 2010

Wow! Lots of great comments. Here's what I think it boils down to. Large printing companies have lots of offset press capacity. In many cases, these presses tend to be fairly new (five years old or less). A new web offset press is going to be FAR superior in construction and reliability than ANY digital press on the market at present. So, why not combine the best of both worlds. The offset press prints high-quality static content at press speeds, and the ink-jet heads (now in color) add the variable elements. As has been stated, this marriage of offset and ink-jet imaging has been going on since the early 80's! The difference now is that color inkjet heads can "match" the offset static content fairly well. So you get the defined cost of offset with a "bump" in cost for the inkjet heads and ink. PLUS, you get production speeds that no digital inkjet press can match at the moment. The major application for this is direct mail, and it's exactly what QUAD GRAPHICS, RRD, Japs Olson, and Lehigh Direct are doing right now. It ain't rocket science!


By Tony Karg on Oct 21, 2010

I wonder if there are any patents on inkjet printing processes that would potentially be violated by what may be happening at these companies? (Or alternatively whether these companies could patent what they have developed?)


By Jerry Doane on Oct 21, 2010

Mounting ink jet heads on offset presses actually goes back to the early 70’s. This is often referred to as “imprinting”. With new color high res heads, imprinting has moved to a new level. This was evidenced by the Adphos / GSS TDC (tower, dryer, carriage) demo-ed at Graph Expo with Kodak S10 heads. however, the idea of converting offset presses into digital presses seems like a great concept (all this heavy metal …slowly turning into iron oxide). However, it is a bit like trying to design an electric car by combining a golf cart and a Buick….great idea, but not practical. A true digital press represents a paradigm shift from the imprinters. There are so many more things that you can do when “fixed” and variable information are printed with the same print heads. After all, with new personalization and targeting techniques is there really such a thing anymore as “fixed” information?


By Frank Delfer on Oct 22, 2010

Good to be able to share current perspectives during the panel discussion at Graph Expo.

Just to explain a bit further, DST Output is not building a platform from the ground up. We have been quite successful in integrating commercially available technologies and adding innovations of our own design to create capabilities not available elsewhere. By taking this approach, it allows us to create a solution tuned to the needs of our customers and their respective applications.

In a highly competitive marketplace, these platform enhancements not only provide differentiation, but also encourage in house operations to consider outsourcing to get functionality and economies of scale they can't get internally. By spreading the R&D across billions of impressions, customers, shareholders and printers alike are winners.

Another point is that these investments help the industry as a whole by driving innovation at printer manufacturers when they design 2nd and 3rd generation equipment. There is no monopoly on innovation and good ideas often come through daily customer contact. As printers, we have all faced challenging jobs or applications where we've looked at the equipment in use and thought even a small design change could yield big benefits.

If we can leverage this intellectual property to produce output faster, better, and more economically, it makes sense for both our customers and investors - and our industry.


By Buck Crowley on Nov 01, 2010

Some say "Why"; others say "Why Not".
Buck at BuckAutomation.com

Whattheythink.com webinar featuring three printing companies* that recently added high speed production inkjet technology on their offset web presses.

*McAdams Graphics
*Wilen Media
*Lehigh Direct


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