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Commentary & Analysis

When Did High-Speed Inkjet Become Just Another Capital Investment?

Looking at a series of case studies on high-speed inkjet, the takeaway is how unremarkable investing in this technology has become. The decision is no longer about the readiness of the technology itself. It’s about market pressures and cost-justification...just like any other capital investment. How times change!

By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Published: February 26, 2019

This past fall, I had the opportunity to write a series of case studies on high-speed inkjet installations. I recently went back and read them again—all at once this time. I wanted to see if any themes jumped out at me. What were the threads that tied them all together? 

Something did jump out at me, but it wasn’t what I expected. Each company had its own interesting journey to high-speed inkjet. However, unlike articles and case studies I’d written in the past, what was remarkable wasn’t that these printers were breaking boundaries or pushing the envelope. What was remarkable is that they weren’t.

When a printer invests in a new offset or toner-based press, other printers look to see what press they bought and why. Nobody asks about the readiness of this technology or its acceptance by the market. Now high-speed inkjet has joined the club. It has become so mainstream that the fact that someone invested in high-speed inkjet, itself, is not the news. We all just want to know which press they selected and why. In these case studies, none of the company executives I interviewed questioned the maturity of the technology, the quality, or whether customers would accept it. There was no agonizing over the price point because it was so far out of reach. It was the same discussion any printer would have about any press technology. Their businesses were undergoing significant market pressures, and at a certain point, they knew it was time to make a change.

  • Company A was moving from high-volume monochrome packages to high-quality color packages with variable data. With color VDP volumes up 42%, its existing presses just weren’t fast enough.  
  • Company B was seeing its volumes increase. This included VDP projects, which were being done on preprinted offset shells. The time and cost savings of moving to a white paper workflow had become too attractive to ignore.
  • Company C, a trade book printer, was seeing its short-run digital volumes growing at 45% per month. This includes demand for color pages. Its title mix required digital, but its toner presses couldn’t keep up.
  • For Company D, a transactional document printer, it was a volume and speed-to-market issue. As market pressures increased, and with volumes of 20 million+, its switch from hybrid overprinting to a full white paper workflow was overdue.
  • Company E, an inplant printer for educational books, was also seeing its volumes increase, along with demands for interior color pages. Increasing its outsourcing wasn’t tenable. It was either add a third shift or go to high-speed inkjet. So to high-speed inkjet it went.

When it came to making the decision to invest, the impetus was consistently the same:

  • Growth in volumes
  • Growth in color pages
  • Cost pressures
  • Speed to market
  • Value of moving to white paper workflow

In each case, it was about timing, not technology. Each printer hit a breaking point in which maxing out the capabilities of their existing equipment just wasn’t cutting it anymore. Because inkjet’s quality, substrates, and color capabilities have become accepted and assumed, their investment decision revolved around cost-justification and timing, just like any other capital investment.

Those who remember all of the heartache and heartburn over high-speed inkjet when it was first introduced know just how remarkable that is. It’s funny when what’s most important about the story is that there isn’t one. 

At least, not the one you’re used to.  

Heidi Tolliver-Walker Heidi is an industry analyst specializing in digital, one-to-one, personalized URL, and Web-to-print applications. Her Marketer’s Primer Series, availalbe through Digital Printing Reports, includes “Digital Printing: Transforming Business and Marketing Models,” 1:1 (Personalized) Printing: Boosting Profits Through Relevance,” “Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype,” and “Web-to-Print: Transforming Document Management and Marketing.”

 

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