Work to be done
Those not currently with this potential may well agree, but might legitimately ask where this work influx is supposed to come from – the cost of acquisition for new customers is extremely high. Boyall says that he would not have made the purchase if he hadn’t had assurances from his existing client base that there was work available with them to put on the machine HP’s Sharp agrees that rather than new customers, expanding an existing customer base is the more likely route into new applications.
“It’s not about finding new customers,” she reveals. “It’s about looking at your existing customer base and looking at what work you are doing. Then you go out and say, this is what I can now do, so give me more of your work.”
Whether it is work from new customers or existing customers, however, the shift to new applications is not going to be an immediate one. New processes take time to learn, to market and then gain recognition and authority in, which makes the significant outlay on a true flatbed press more than a little bit daunting. It is unsurprising then, that it is hybrid models that seem to be finding most traction with the UK wide-format operators, offering a lower cost of entry and additional roll-to-roll capacity alongside the flatbed flexibility.
“Our Arizona range has around 3,000 installs worldwide and I would say around 90% are sold with the roll-to-roll option,” reveals Océ’s Fahy. EFI’s Hanulec adds that at EFI, hybrid products outsell roll-to-roll products. And at HP, Sharp says the hybrid FB500 has also been a massive success.
From a printer’s perspective, a hybrid certainly makes a lot of sense. With a lower cost of entry and two technologies in one, it appears the perfect investment. At RMC Digital, a hybrid EFI Vutek QS3220 is in operation alongside the dedicated roll-to-roll Vutek GS5000R and account manager Nicole Spencer says that the hybrid’s flexibility is essential to the business.
“The hybrid gives you the flexibility to respond to changing demand,” she says. “As it is, we use it purely as flatbed the majority of the time, but if this increased it would be another hybrid, not a true flatbed, that we would buy.”
Graham Croston, director at GJ Plastics, would agree. He bought the FB500 to facilitate an expansion into the signage market from the display sector, and he says that the hybrid makes sense if you have a core promise of work on which you want to build, but also add roll capacity, though he says the investment is still a significant one.
That last point is key. While the hybrid does indeed form a useful, lower-volume stepping stone into the flatbed market, it should not always be considered a cheaper option – there are hybrids that cost as much as some flatbeds. Neither does it solve any space issues – when you use the press in flatbed mode, then it will take up as much space as a true flatbed. And you still need the accompanying storage and finishing space for the flatbed work.
Equally, some say you have to make a quality and speed sacrifice by going for a hybrid over a machine dedicated to flatbed or roll-to-roll print.
“There is always a small compromise in quality when you roll multiple disciplines into one machine,” explains Boyall.