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Solving the productivity puzzle in a digital industry

For print service providers (PSPs) investing in a new digital press, productivity is naturally high on the list of “must have” features. But what exactly do we mean by productivity? And how do we decide whether one press is more productive than another?

In pre-digital days, when offset was the only technology in town, it was relatively straightforward: a combination of sheets-per-hour speed and time spent on makeready and changing over between jobs. But with the advent of digital printing, calculating productivity has become more complicated, largely because ofhow digital has changed the role of the PSP.

The term “print service provider” has itself only come into usage in the digital printing era to describe the changes in the professional print sector, both in what printers do and in print’s role as a complement to new electronic media. A typical “day in the life” of a PSP is more unpredictable and more varied than that of an offset-equipped commercial printer in the 1990s. Runs are shorter, deadlines are tighter, many jobs probably involve personalisation or specialised finishing for added impact and may arrive via a web-to-print portal. What’s more, in the print-on-demand world the balance of power between printer and customer has shifted in favour of the latter.

For these reasons, and more besides, when it comes to calculating productivity, the headline print speed of a digital press is less important than factors such as reliability, media flexibility, sheet-to-sheet colour consistency and finishing options. How fast the press prints is a factor, of course, but what matters more is whether the press can maintainits headline printing speed across the full range of substrates, and that the colour on the last sheet matches that on the first.

This means that to get a true measure of a press’s productivity, PSPs need to take time to understand the engineering that goes into today’s digital engines. Toner and developer technology, for example, is a huge contributor to high-quality, consistent output and overall press reliability. Our latest colour production press features major enhancements in this area. For example, replenishing the developer from the toner cassette maintains its condition and strength and so delivers stable image quality. In addition, the dual-sleeve design gives excellent image quality on longer runs, particularly on solids, because the toner is applied to the drums twice, not once.

Maintenance visits also have a significant influence on productivity, whether planned and preventive or in response to sudden breakdowns. Every bit as important as squeezing a fewextra sheets per hour out of a press isdesigning an engineto keep such visits to a minimum.To that end, we redesigned the engine of our latest toner production press so that, among other improvements,the operator can replace the fuser web in under one minute, minimising the impact on productivity.

More and more PSPs understand that productivity is affected by not just one, butmany factors. And this better understanding is a good example of a larger change in the PSP community — a broader perspective in the way they decide their investments, which has changed the nature of the conversations press manufacturers have with their customers.

As a simple example of this, it’s much rarer now for a PSP to base their investment plans on whata close competitor has just bought or, when it comes to productivity, to believe that faster is better. Today more PSPs look for the answers in their own businesses. They also know a lot more about their customers’ businesses, because they recognise that the final piece in the strategic puzzle is being able to deliver on their promises to clients.

These changes in PSP attitudes also have important consequences for press manufacturers, in several areas. For one thing, sales is now a more complex process in which the manufacturer acts more like a consultant, guiding the customer towards an investment decision based on both current and future business strategies.For another, the process has to work both ways: manufacturers must take the time to know more about their customers’ businesses and likewise deliver on their promises by developing products that enable them to meet those business objectives.

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