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Investing in a Finished Product

Digital Print Suppliers Become One-Stop Shops

By Gretchen A. Peck

Part 1 of a 4-part Series

It seems to make sense that any digital print supplier would have already invested in digital finishing equipment. But that’s not always the case. In fact, there are still a good number of suppliers that continue to outsource finishing to nearby partners. But bringing finishing in-house not only makes economic sense, but also gives the printer greater control over quality, schedule, and pricing.

The cost to lease a solution is more affordable than ever, notes Steve Aranoff, business development director, MGE, Inc. "And you already have the labor there—the operators running the printers can easily multi-task. Considering market factors like the current labor rates, you can basically run an i-cut cutter-router for a week, and it will pay for itself. Even if you’re just doing the finishing work that you were once outsourcing, you’ll see it impact the bottom line."

Roll-fed or Flatbed
Vinyl remains an important medium to sign shops and large format print specialists. And for years, vinyl cutting systems have been natural companions to the digital print systems being used to produce on the substrate.

"Vinyl cutting systems continue to be a staple for the sign shop," according to Will Curtis, public relations for Roland ASD, the manufacturer of the print-to-cut VersaCAMM VP-540 and standalone Roland GX Pro vinyl cutters.

"We’re seeing printers use our vinyl cutting solutions to really expand their business, as well, by getting into other applications. For example, sign shops that are now producing vehicle graphics," Curtis suggests. "That segment of the industry is exploding, not only for what we’d think of as traditional vehicle graphics, but also for what I like to call vehicle styling applications. They’re getting into things like window tints, or they’re using intricately cut vinyl for masking in custom paint jobs and air brushing."

While vinyl may represent the majority of digital print jobs sign shops are producing, that’s not to say that they’re not reaching beyond the banner and working with other media, as well. In fact, digital printers are now printing on everything—from conventional digital print papers to fabrics and more exotic textiles.

Many attribute increased investment in digital finishing complements to the sustained and impressive growth in the digital, UV flatbed segment. "Across all the large format markets—sign shops, reprographics houses, screen printers, and even commercial printers—they’re getting into UV[-curable] flatbed printing," states Aranoff.

Making an Educated Decision
The print industry often gets starry-eyed over the latest hardware debuts. But Aranoff suggests that a good investment isn’t always a result of the latest technological innovation. Rather, it’s how the latest technology enables the workflow. And for the large format print supplier, workflow and throughput are still what it’s all about.

Aranoff says he keeps this notion in mind when he’s "wearing his i-cut hat."

"It’s a philosophy that we follow here at MGE, for example. So many manufacturers out there approach the customer with the question: What size machine do you want? But the answer isn’t really that insightful. Instead, I’d ask: What are you cutting? What are the sizes you need to accommodate? What are your expectations for volume? What is it that you really want to accomplish?," Aranoff adds. "That analysis is how you can find a solution that not only fits your needs in the present day, but will also give you some flexibility in dealing with what the future holds."

Economies of Scale
Similar to how print-engine manufacturers approach the marketplace, finishing equipment makers realize there’s a demand for a range of solutions, suitable for any budget.

At Multicam, John Harris, director of sales and marketing, notes that the 1000 and 3000—both equipped with MultiVision—are the company’s two best-selling solutions for graphic finishing. "The 1000 offers a cost-effective solution, typically under $50,000," he suggests. "And the 3000 offers a high-performance solution in the $60,000 to $90,000 range."

Aranoff says he’s encountered a spike in the number of print suppliers investing in more modestly priced print engines. "If you have a customer who is buying a printer that costs $250,000, they’re more likely to pair it with a robust finishing solution that may cost as much as $150,000. But if you’re a printer who has bought a less expensive printer—say, something in the $60,000 to $80,000 range—you’re not likely to think of $150,000 general-purpose cutter-router as a compatible option," Aranoff continues. "We have definitely seen a need for lower-cost finishing solutions."

In response, MGE recently introduced its i-cut Graphics Router, a solution that costs between $55,000 and $65,000. "It’s still a highly reliable solution that’s 30 percent faster than others in the same genre. And it represents very attractive pricing, making it well-suited to printers that cost less than $150,000," adds Aranoff.

Zünd, another major player in the marketplace, has also seen a recent rise in shops bringing digital finishing capabilities in-house. Zünd offers its Flatbed Cutter, which can be customized to the needs of the client. According to the company, one can choose from 16 cutter sizes, a range of tool heads, and a variety of media handling options. Kiss-cutting, through cutting, creasing, and routing are only some of the options.

The Cheese May Move
Print suppliers, be forewarned: Bringing finishing tools in-house may not only impact your bottom line; it’s a strategy that could transform your business model.

"We had one customer who bought a system and was using it to cut vinyl about 80 percent of the time, and rigid work about 20 percent. Within 90 days of installing a cutter-router, the company began selling 80 percent rigid, 20 percent vinyl," Aranoff confides. "What happened was, when the salespeople saw what they could deliver now, they changed the whole sales structure."

Aranoff says he’s already seeing second-generation sales of cutting and routing solutions. "We’re starting to see all those businesses who bought the original systems now buying their second systems," he proudly states.

Jul2007, Digital Output

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