This suggests that volume cannot be looked at in isolation, as a flatbed business case depends as heavily on other factors, such as local wage rates and the size of premises. The manufacturers also argue that any investment has to consider the additional work made possible by a flatbed capability.
“Our really entrepreneurial customers excel in finding new ways of using the flatbed machines and new things to print on,” says Océ’s Fahy. “The vast majority of customers use the flatbed as a business development tool and a lot of the success stories around at the moment are flatbed users, and these users nearly always buy a second machine after buying the first because they have capitalised on opportunities.”
These opportunities include printing on things like glass, metal and ceramics both for consumer applications – freestanding acrylic photoframes for example – and industrial applications – the likes of corporate glass wall interiors.
“We are seeing a real surge in industrial printing – glass decoration, ceramic decoration, printed kitchen splashbacks,” says Bui Burke, vice-president of sales at Screen Europe. “There is so much you can do now and it is a massive opportunity for printers.”
The idea is that you not only find a more efficient way of doing existing work with a flatbed, but are also able to expand into new markets. This raises two questions: where does the new work come from and do you really want to enter new markets?
In answer to the second question, Calland is not sure he does.
“While the flatbed would mean we could print on all these fantastic things, I have to ask myself whether I really wanted to be bringing glass into the premises? Is it not better to print roll-to-roll then stick it to the window? It just makes much more sense in my view,” he explains. “We try and avoid making a mess on the print floor as you need everything to be unscrupulously clean so you avoid dustmarks and the like on the print. Hence, I would not want glass in here and I would be very wary of wood.”
Brandon Boyall, technical director at Boyall Graphics and Print, is of the opposite view, explaining that the ability to tap into new markets has been a key part of the company’s development since buying a Polytype Virtu RS85.
“The flatbed option broadens your appeal,” he explains. “We have had a lot of work come through printing on everything from limestone, through glass, to wood – having the flexibility is essential in today’s market.”