Compared to wide format devices, grand format printers over 95 inches in width allow print service providers (PSPs) to take on higher margin jobs, provide faster production, additional versatility, and increased capabilities to produce large-scale applications such as billboards and building wraps. When purchasing a grand format device, it is important to ask the right questions and properly prepare to ensure a smooth and profitable transition.
Ask the Right Questions
Several factors, including space, ink, power consumption, cost, and return on investment are all considered before investing in a grand format printer. First and foremost, PSPs must evaluate whether they have the volume and demand to support the purchase.
“Can they produce the volume or high-production jobs to support the purchase of a grand format device, and does their customer base want to expand into the applications grand format offers?” asks Michelle Johnson, marketing coordinator, Mutoh America, Inc.
With a grand format printer, PSPs cover a broader cross section of the market, so they need to prepare for the increased workload. “What is their current demand for banners and other types of grand format output? How do they plan to market their new services?” adds Jane Napolitano, marketing manager, Paradigm Imaging Group.
Dave Cich, COO, CET Color, continues, “How much pent-up demand is there in the market? Will it allow the ability to become more efficient with less tiling, seaming, sewing, and mounting?”
Noel Mareno, national channel manager, Teckwin, suggests asking questions about production. “Will the PSP purchase a machine that gives them a lower cost of production and higher productivity? Will it provide capabilities, such as white ink, which the competition does not have? And will the production capability and cost per square foot win more business?”
A strong case for making the investment in grand format is often justified by a few key factors. “The ability to stop outsourcing large format work, capture more work from existing customers, or consolidate work from several smaller devices onto a single printer to reduce costs and improve efficiency,” notes Ken Hanulec, VP of marketing, EFI.
PSPs should always consider the cost per square foot. “In general, the bigger the printer, the lower the cost, and overall ROI is based on a larger or smaller unit,” explains Larry D’Amico, VP, digital imaging, Agfa Graphics. “Of course, PSPs must be sure this matches up with the volume they produce. Another decision PSPs face is whether to invest in a dedicated or hybrid machine. Many flatbed devices provide roll-to-roll options, and the floor space of a hybrid is something to consider.”
Jim Cain, director of sales, digital, Polytype America Corporation, suggests evaluating the total cost of ownership. “The PSP must also look at their income expectation based on average selling price per square foot, monthly production in square feet, average working days per month, average production speed in square feet per hour, number of shifts, handling, daily maintenance, loss of material, real production speed, and daily production,” he adds.
Maintaining these heavy duty machines is a challenge in itself. As Ken Kisner, VP of business development, INX Digital International Ink Co. points out, it is important to understand the ongoing costs of the machinery, including media handling, the ink price, as well as the warranty period and parts costs after the warranty period ends.
Media Handling and Workflow
The handling and storage of larger material requires special attention and consideration. The rolls for grand format devices are larger and heavier, often requiring multiple people or mechanical accessories to lift. “Along with more space and a larger finishing area, depending on the substrate, a shop may need more than one person to load and unload,” cautions Cich.
PSPs should ensure the primary media types they plan to utilize run properly through the printer. Christopher Howard, senior VP, Durst Image Technology US LLC, encourages considering if the machine is able to run multiple rolls and/or multiple lanes of cut sheet product. Another important factor is the changeover and loading/unloading time. “Does the machine take longer to begin printing another sheet than it did to print the first?” asks Howard. “This is important measurement information that PSPs need to understand to determine the real expected productivity.”
For some shops, upgrading to a grand format device means a significant increase in throughput. “In those instances, PSPs should have a good handle on workflow, file processing, and job monitoring and tracking. Many use RIPs, management information systems, and enterprise resource planning solutions to better manage complex work environments,” shares Hanulec.
D’Amico calls attention to the finishing side. “If output requires complex or multiple cuts, the task takes more time on a larger role. Manual finishing is often not feasible, so if a PSP does not already have an automated finishing device, this presents a potential added challenge or investment,” he notes.
“Do not neglect finishing,” cautions Greg Lamb, CEO, Global Imaging, Inc. “Make sure there is a corresponding cutter, welder, or sewing machine for that specific requirement.”
“PSPs should have the infrastructure to handle the media prior to print, but mainly after print from finishing to packaging and shipment,” adds Itay Shalit, VP business development, MTL Print. “When a flatbed is concerned, the materials used require different finishing capabilities that should be taken into account.”
High-capacity output from a grand format printer is related to higher ink yields. “There are many high-quality alternative options available, but even for those who stay with the manufacturer’s ink set, it does not hurt to learn more about the ink limits to further reduce costs,” shares Lamb.
Mike Mills, founder, CTO/senior VP of engineering, Novus Imaging, advises asking what the ink usage is on a system. “A printer with true greyscale inkjet printing realizes an ink savings of up to 30 to 50 percent over traditional binary inkjet systems on some images,” he notes. “This saves a company thousands of dollars a year in ink cost alone. The reason is simple; by having variable drop sizes, the printer uses less ink than a binary system to achieve a higher quality print.”
A PSP should take several steps to prepare for installing and implementing a grand format machine.
Prior to installation, PSPs typically receive a site preparation guide and a pre-install checklist provided by the machine vendor. “Depending on the unit purchased, the PSP may need to have proper flooring installed if not already in place, and temperature and humidity controls should be in place as well,” cautions Cain. “A bonded and insured rigging company should be contracted to place the unit and the transport path to the place of install should be clear.”
“In most cases, grand format machines require compressed air and usually have higher power requirements than a wide format machine, so PSPs may need to add an air compressor and/or dedicated electrical lines,” advises Mike Syverson, director of special operations, PrinterEvolution.
Margie Ching, marketing executive, Gunsjet by Digitex Printing Technologies Co., Ltd., agrees that PSPs should take special care to prepare the printer’s power supply for printer, along with inks and software. “PSPs may also need to check the ventilation system,” she adds.
Partnering with the right vendor and product for specific needs is critical. Jeffrey D. Nelson, business development manager, high productivity inkjet equipment, graphic systems division, Fujifilm North America Corporation, recommends evaluating quality versus speed, software versatility, and whether or not the device offers the latest print technology.
Oriol Gasch, Scitex category manager, Americas, Hewlett-Packard, concurs. “PSPs should consider the overall stability of the company/manufacturer and their offerings. Make an investment with a company with the service and inventory investment to support them in the years to come, which includes looking to manufacturers that design printers with upgrades in mind, so that the life of their investment is extended as long as possible,” he says.
Asking the right questions helps determine the best solutions. A solid investment in a grand format printer derives from an informed decision and proper preparations so that it proves lucrative for years to come.