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OP/ED: Is Technology affecting Business - A Printer's View

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posted on Jun, 7 2004 @ 11:21 PM
Technology. It's a wonderful thing. To be able to update to the latest and greatest in machinery be it from your desktop computer to your mode of transport. But is technology killing business?

My background is printing. I am a manager of a printing firm and I have seen technology create a very cut throat and lucrative market within the industry. I'd like to share with you my experiences and observations.

I started out approximately 10 years ago on a printing traineeship to learn the trade. It wasn't that hard actually, due to the relative simplicity of the technology back then. I mastered hot foil printing as well as flexographic printing. Let me explain those processes before we continue

Hot Foil Printing - The process of using foils not unlike cellophane used to wrap presents! This foil, through heat and pressure is applied to various substrates to create very unique and presentable outcomes. Its real forte is the use of metallic foils. In its day the gold leaf on a sticker or letterhead
portrayed elegance and style. We were literally inundated with orders. The process did have its drawbacks however. It was basically slow. Around 8 to 10 thousand labels an hour which meant if you got an order of half a million labels you would tie up a machine for days.

The Rapid RP180. In it's day one of the finest printing machines on the market. It is still one of the big sellers at the bigger print shows

Flexo Printing - The process of transferring ink from a various array of ink rollers and plate to a substrate. This was my first experience with full colour printing. It was amazing to watch as you added just four process colours (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) to make photos and images come to life. Again the process had its drawbacks. It was costly, no doubt about that. Small run work less than 5000 labels was unheard of due to the simple fact that it was so expensive to set the machine up for so little work.

The Comco Cadet. Our flexographic printing machine. 5 Colour operation, it churns out around a million labels a week.

This is where technology played a part. I can remember having such a niche market due to the fact that very few printing companies could print ink and foil and make it cost effective. We enjoyed the benefits of this, and thrived on the orders. We then started to see a shift in the market, to
Digital Technology. Hundreds of machines from various companies were hitting the market that claimed to print straight from the computer to the machine. No more setup costs was the catch cry of most of these digital machine companies. But we were lucky, the early model digital machines
were of poor standard, had low resolution and the product had to be laminated to give the output any protection.

A few companies I know of moved in too early. Hungry for their slice of the new short run full colour market, and eventually ended up closing their doors. The old faithful processes of printing stayed true and lived on to fight another day. But this digital technology got better. Piezo electric head technology and the invent of solvent inks ensured that digital was the way to go. The machines got faster and perfected the art of printing in high resolution, My printing firm knew it was time to move on and bought a wide format solvent inkjet machine.

The Mimaki JV3 Wide Format True Solvent Inkjet printer. Capable of 1440 dpi with acceptable speed and accuracy

But what of the old processes, hot foil and flexo. Well I am sad to say that they have gone by the wayside a little, being a sales manager now, I find it increasingly difficult to sell these labels. The customer mindset now is Full Colour short run work. And now it is as cost effective as ever.

The companies that did not join the digital express are slowly dwindling. Granted some of the bigger companies will be around for the long haul, but due to every man and his dog renting small office space, putting in one of these digital machines, with little overheads and cutting the price
so many of us cannot compete with our older processes.

From this - A beautifully crafted hot foil label complimented by the gold leaf printing

To this - A full Colour label printed at 1440 dpi on our mimaki JV2

To summarise, technology may be a great thing. To have the latest and greatest in everything is a wonderful thing. But think of the old man with his superannuation hanging on to the fact that his business is fading and his equipment is worthless. It doesn't paint a pretty picture.

[formatted for ATSNN]

[edit on 7-6-2004 by Banshee]

posted on Jun, 7 2004 @ 11:28 PM
While I'm in total agreement, this trend also makes for an excellent used market. With mom & pop shops closing, most brokers are offering good equipment at fantastic prices. We just purchased (2) late 90's Ryobi 3200 CDs for $3k each. Perfect condition, and will run for another 10 or 20 M impressions before needing much work.

Bottom line... consolidation also opens up niche markets.

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