Recent research in the US shows that 35 per cent of commercial printing firms make over half their revenue with old technology. That is, they use equipment that is at least 20 years old. Perhaps this should be stated otherwise: 65 per cent of commercial printers make their money with new technology, that is, equipment that is less than ten years old.
In offset lithography, it is well known that one new multi-colour press will do the work of two or to even three older presses. The justification for this is well known: faster makeready, less labour, more productivity. But printers are reluctant to lose some level of backup. The worst thing you could ever tell a customer is that their job was not printed because the machine was down. Thus, printers love redundancy.
The research did find that most printers are starting see the payback on their investments in digital printing. Wide format inkjet had the fastest payback – 2.5 years – where cut-sheet toner printers were at 3.2 years.
What amazed the research team was the fact that some printers were using presses that were more than 30 years old. One printer was printing Tyvek envelopes by the millions, and their old web press was more than suitable for the job.
That is what it came down to: the final product was not full colour and had to be produced at a really low cost. Mechanical devices can be kept running for years. Some letterpress printers are using presses that are more 100 years old. In the past, there was always someone in the world who would acquire your old press. In the 1970s, the NY Times sold their old presses to a newspaper in Central America. What was interesting was that the Times’ presses were initially installed in the 1920s.
Depending on the product, there is still life in old technology. But the research discovered that the growth in business was with new technology. Old technology provides a base of business, but it will take more than that to make the business grow.
Suppliers though will need to do a better job specifying the cost of print on new devices. Printers are always ready to invest in technology that will make them money (or cut cost which is almost the same as making money). Many suppliers now have teams that work with printers to help develop the new markets that digital enables.
So, do not be appalled when you visit a plant with old technology. That printer is probably making good money with it.
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