A question of volume
That is certainly the case for Calland. He currently operates three roll-to-roll machines, producing work for the display, exhibitions and signage markets. For rigid work, he prints roll-to-roll onto vinyl, laminates then mounts to the board – a process familiar throughout the industry. However, with labour rates high and turnaround times shrinking, he has frequently investigated whether he could do rigid work more cost-effectively and productively on a flatbed. Thus far, the answer is no.
“I have done the cost analysis numerous times over the past few years and going for a flatbed just does not make economic sense,” he explains. “In terms of running costs, of course, the flatbed does work out cheaper. But for a decent flatbed, you are talking more than £125,000. Spread that over five years, taking into consideration depreciation and the running costs, and the maths just doesn’t make sense – you would have to be turning over more than £1.5m per year and be putting a lot of rigid volumes through.”
EFI vice-president of marketing Ken Hanulec concedes that Calland’s consideration of the purchase price alongside the lower cost of running a flatbed is something EFI advises, though he does not believe the size of the company should determine the technology.
“We provide our customers with tools so they understand the total cost of ownership, the running costs and the like, and the ROI,” he explains. “They are two different things. We give both figures, and from those figures you can determine which technology makes sense. I would definitely not say that the size of a company determined that technology, though – it is the applications, not the business.”
It is the applications Calland is producing, however, that, for the most part, manufacturers believe demand a flatbed capability. Anne Sharp, HP UK Designjet marketing manager, finds it difficult to believe that it is still cheaper to spray and mount than to print directly on to board. “I am surprised that some find it cheaper to still spray and mount, as that is an extra cost and it is also extra time, and extra time is really key as customers now want products yesterday, you need very fast production,” she explains.
Dominic Fahy, business group director at Océ UK, agrees. “The business case really comes into its own if you are doing a lot of work spray mounting flexible media onto board,” he says. “For starters, the inks for roll-to-roll can be five times more expensive than inks for the Arizona flatbed. The lower the entry cost, the higher the running costs so printers do need to consider that – you do have to invest in the capital, but the ongoing costs can be less.”
However, when it comes to calculating the amount of board work volume that is required to make flatbed the more cost-effective option, there is a general vagueness. But while most manufacturers claim that the break-even point will depend on the business model and the applications involved, Fujifilm’s Morgan is willing to be a bit more specific, at least for one of the company’s models.
“To make a machine like the Inca Onset S20 work financially, if you are in a market like in-store and POP, you need to be doing around 1,000m2 per day,” he explains, though he adds: “That said, there are caveats to everything. You get companies buying the Onset that look unlikely on paper to be able to get the volume to pay for it, but what they have is a high margin niche area and they make enough money to easily pay for the machine.”