Controlling and cutting costs is a major key to survival in our continually challenged economy, as every print firm manager knows. Printing processes put ink or toner on paper, and therein lay two huge ongoing costs. For digital press owners, consumables are a cost of doing business and a necessary evil at the same time. They hear the ca-ching of the supplies cash register resonate every shift, every day, every week. Monthly click charges can be bad enough, but “that Indigo [press] is like electronic heroin,” jests one industry scrutinizer, who wishes to remain anonymous. “HP gets you hooked on that ElectroInk, and then you need more and more of it.” Hewlett-Packard is not alone, of course.
Raw material supply shortages continue to affect the manufacture of all printing inks, offset and digital alike. Canon, Epson and HP are among those who’ve upped consumables price tags—some by as much as 10 percent—in the past 24 months. To combat the latest round of offset ink price increases, some printers, such as Monroe Litho, have gotten creative and “green” at the same time. Monroe, based in upstate Rochester, NY, is taking its collected, spent ink from the printing press and remanufacturing the leftovers into black ink.
In the toner and inkjet worlds, there’s no longer doubt that “digital is mainstream,” as proclaimed at Graph Expo 2010 by Jim Hamilton, group director at InfoTrends. Within the next 10 years, digital printing should represent nearly 60 percent of the total short-run printing market, industry guru and retired RIT professor Frank Romano forecasts, with conventional offset dropping to about 20 percent. Print runs of 50,000 and even 20,000 “are a memory—they’re nostalgia,” Romano quipped at PrintWorld in Toronto last November. But it’s no joke, according to Sabatier senior technology consultant Bob Atkinson.
“Ninety percent of all North American print jobs are under 5,000 sheets and 75 percent are under 2,000 sheets,” Atkinson told a separate PrintWorld audience. “DI [direct imaging] presses work well for jobs in the 1,000 to 5,000 range …,” he said, adding that “job change/makeready time is half that of traditional presses [but] it’s still 10 to 12 minutes—a long time in the world of short runs.” With the continued growth of truly digitally printed pages, consumables are, well, being heavily consumed. So, which is more cost-effective to run? The more and faster you print, the more ink or toner (and paper) your digital devices pour through.
On the toner side, it is difficult to fathom that Xerox may be exiting the production printing business, as some analysts have speculated. After all, the document company’s sales force makes a very comfortable residual commission selling the firm’s emulsion-aggregate toner, which is stored in six 25,000-gallon tanks in Webster, NY. The standing joke used to be that they’d practically give away the presses to get the ongoing toner business. Toner and inkjet ink, as the case may be, are cash cows for these OEMs. The business model is different in the offset world, of course, with the hypothetical comparison being if Goss, Heidelberg, KBA, Komori, manroland and Mitsubishi sold proprietary ink for their web and sheetfed printing presses. But they don’t, to the collective relief of Flint, Gans, INX, Sun Chemical, Toyo, Van Son and other ink suppliers.
Four years ago, I personally toured one of HP’s two ElectroInk manufacturing plants in Israel (there’s a third in Singapore) and can attest that the operation’s massive scale is impressive. At the time, the firm was implementing a new particle grinding process to reduce energy consumption by up to 40 percent in the manufacture of the liquid toner used in its Indigo digital presses.