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Some retail environments are driven by volume, some by quality, some by both. PoS printing processes must deliver the right balance at the right price
For a process that was supposed to be dead and buried in PoS applications, there are an awful lot of machines producing vast amounts of printed materials. One of the reasons has to be that the industry has realised that digital printing technology is simply not up to the mark. With the exception of Inca's Onset machine (which costs a stonking £1.5m), flatbed and many roll fed digital machines are just too slow.
Claimed print rates of 100m2/h and above are just fantasy. In screen printing, if a machine supplier says a unit will print at 400 sheets/h, with an image area of 1.5 by 2m you get an output of 1,200m2/h. Take off 20 per cent for set-up and material removal you arrive at an actual performance of 960m2/h. Lets assume you invest £300,000 on a single colour screen printing machine or £300,000 on a digital flatbed.
The digital flatbed will print at 70m2/h because the 100m2/h quoted by the salesperson is the speed the heads lay ink down, not the output speed. Actually, to get heavy ink deposits the print rate could be nearer 40ms/h and, with the addition of loading and unloading figures, it may come down to 30m2/h.
The single colour screen printing press at 960m2/h gives accurate spot colours, easy varnishing and bomb-proof engineering. If most jobs are large format, four-colour work you should invest in a four or five-colour line. It is serious money but look at how fast it turns out work. Some 320 2 by 1.5m sheets per hour including set up, material load and unload.
Stencil production and reclamation
Of course, the digital salesperson will say ‘what about stencil production and reclamation'? These costs are dwarfed by digital ink costs that can be ten times the price of screen printing ink. That doesn't factor in warranty costs of 10 to 15 per cent of capital cost per year. It doesn't help that the digital press can only use ‘approved' inks otherwise the head warranty is void. Just imagine a screen printing machine supplier saying ‘you can only use a particular manufacturer's ink'. Imagine him threatening to switch your machine off if you didn't agree to pay its prices for ink and service.
You may think I am being over dramatic but it has happened to one of my clients. Please don't read into this that I don't think digital printing machines are sensible investments because they are. It is a matter of using them for suitable work. Shorter run (particularly where ink coverage is not too heavy), easy to operate, quick to set up and generally excellent quality. For photo quality work the latest equipment takes the biscuit. However, the Return on Investment (ROI) calculations the sales department present you with have to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Of course, it is not just a case of screen verses digital. The elephant in the fridge is wide format litho, which, if you can justify the £3M upwards investment has to dwarf both in capabilities, speeds up to 9,000/h and ink cheaper than screen and digital. Computer to plate production, auto plate loading and registration, this technology is the dog's bones (That was close Ed.)
Recently, I have been taking John Keith, the new association manager for the Digital and Screen Printing Association, around companies to see what is happening in the industry. What we saw was big players investing in litho but keeping hold of their screen printing kit. In fact, some found the new litho equipment increased their overall attractiveness to clients and screen print work actually increased. Some were intending to expand their screen facilities, not in every case of course.
However, every company we visited was intending to increase its capacity overall. It may be that people recognising the advantages of association membership also have well thought out business plans. What is clear is that to succeed in the PoS sector you have to be effective in every area of business. Some clients want a total solution from concept to installation. Some clients still have professional print buyers but increasingly people work in different areas and need supplier support.
Some turn to print management companies who sell their services on the basis of cost savings and print expertise. The effectiveness or otherwise of such organisations is a long conversation but the end result is that supplier margins get squeezed. It is a strange situation when a company demonstrates success by being at or near the top of the printing league only to have some clients say they must be profiteering. You don't fly with an airline that is struggling to maintain its aircraft. When the brown stuff hits the fan you want to be in the hands of experts. I reckon BA increased its sales after the near disaster at Heathrow when the superbly trained co-pilot ‘landed' an aircraft with all engines stopped!
Screen printing applications
Back to screen printing. It is clear the process has dropped as far as it is likely to go in PoS although Inca Digital's Bill Baxter considers the Onset will carve into screen printing applications. Screen printing has consolidated its position with direct-to-screen technology. The focussed UV DMD technology and laser exposure appears to winning over direct projection and printed wax or ink. Consumable costs of wax can be considerable and resolution on direct exposure is improved. Lüscher has demonstrated this with its Jetscreen Wax where it claims the smallest resolved dot is 60µm, while its Jetscreen DX will resolve a 20µm dot. Jetscreen Wax prints a wax image on a coated mesh, while Jetscreen DX directly exposes with a blue laser diode.
Take a company such as CST which produces ink, wax and laser stencil production systems. It quotes resolutions of 500 to 1,800dpi for laser, 1,000 to 1,300dpi for wax and 720dpi for ink. Clearly there is a quality differential but if you are producing large format stencils the line ruling can go down to 50 lines per inch or less, so the lower resolutions will easily cope. Regarding direct projection, users tend to stay in the 50 lines per inch area. Although a photopositive is still required, its size makes it a low cost item.
Proditec are leaders in this technology and direct projection is still faster than laser, wax or ink. Precise speed depends on a series of variables but Proditec claims up to 18 stencils per hour on its automatic in-line stencil production system. This is a nice system but interestingly in Germany, Benelux, Turkey and the Middle East it sells the Signtronic Stencilmaster.
Systems that expose without a photopositive have outputs up to 25m2/h which means direct projection systems are normally faster. All these companies have years of business experience and formed close relationships with others such as Sefar and Signtronic. Capital cost, consumable cost, technical support and production speed have to be accounted for before making buying decisions. PoS printers that intend to stay with screen printing must be using or considering this type of equipment.
Fespa's Sensations Special Effects book shows the vast range of effects achieved by screen printing, on its own or in combination with other printing processes. Some of these effects have already been used successfully in major campaigns.
Successful point of sale
So, is there a single factor that makes a successful point of sale provider? No. Increasingly it is a combination of factors but one does stand above the rest: professionalism in every aspect of business. Staff need to be trained in teamwork, problem solving, leadership, communication and other ‘soft skills'. Without them, companies have a hard time. The difference between success and failure may simply be the way you answer the phone.