Finding the Heart of the Business

noelward

Well-known member
Finding the Heart of Your Business

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

One thing has become clear in the past quarter century of visiting print shops and talking with business owners and press operators: keeping up with the technology is mission critical. Every press on the market—offset and digital alike— is subject to pretty much constant updating and evolutionary changes. Yet keeping up with technical changes often winds up pretty far down the list of priorities. There is, after all, money-making work to be done!

It’s easy to see why, especially for offset press owners. Although the basics of offset printing seem to be stable, the real power of the presses—the business difference between doing okay and making profits—often lies in how well a company takes advantage of the software and other advances that actually drive the big machines’ efficiency and productivity. In fact, the high performance of some machines—the prodigious speeds, the ability to reduce make-ready times, control colors, and use a broad range of inks and substrates come largely from the software and ongoing upgrades that are integrated into the entire printing process.

Leaving money on the shop floor
Yet because the basic processes of offset printing are cloaked in familiarity—make a plate, hang it on a press, adjust the inks, print the job—it’s easy for press owners and operators to do things much the same way as they always have. But this is very likely leaving money on the shop floor. Many print providers and press operators try to keep up, but the pressures of running a business and meeting deadlines can make it difficult to pay attention to the details that go into running a machine that turns out tens of millions of pages a year. Similarly, press operators who are busy shepherding assistants and training successors can be unaware of new techniques or not pass along new information, sometimes operating under the rule of “we don’t do that here.”

But as in much of life, it’s the details that make the difference, and some of those details are taking advantage of new processes and technologies that can result in significant changes in throughput and productivity.

I know how this works with digital presses, with new machines being introduced almost as often as cell phones. I figured offset presses dodged this issue but to be sure I dialed up Koenig & Bauer (K&B), purveyor of some of the fastest, most productive offset presses on the market, to see what their technical gurus had to say. Turns out that offset press owners and operators need to pay just as much attention to technical changes as their counterparts with digital presses. And mastering the technical changes can bring some compelling changes in business performance.

At K&B I talked with Michael Eichler, Sales Director of Service Select, an offset printing veteran who carries his decades of experience with the certainty of a man whose knowledge is gleaned from the shop floors of countless print plants.

Even though K&B presses are built with millions of pages and years of use in mind, they are still subject to wear.

“We know our presses, how they are used and we look at the maintenance history, and of course our analytics,” explains Eichler. “We know when the performance of a machine is likely decline and tell customers ahead of time so they can be prepared for first, the change in performance and second, the expense needed to bring the press back to optimal performance.”

He notes that such information is not what many customers like what to hear, so his team tries to impress upon press owners the importance of being proactive, explaining how performance will diminish if they don’t do the recommended work. He likens it to taking one’s car in for an oil change and being told the brakes need to be replaced in a few thousand miles. “It is a matter of forewarning customers so they are prepared,” he says.

Maintenance essential
If automobiles are one parallel, electronics are another. We have all become accustomed—some would say ‘trained’— to replacing our phones or computers every few years. Big offset presses are designed and built with 15 to 20-year lifespans and can go even longer, but that longevity comes with maintenance that tends to be more demanding. I’ve been in dozens of plants housing presses that look as if Guttenberg might have been one of the first service techs, and some presses even run. Sort of. But they could do much better.

Eichler agrees. “A press is made of iron and in practical terms it will last forever. But the electronics and the computers must be kept up to date.” Eichler notes that software and electronics need to be upgraded regularly to avoid unplanned delays updates and changes should be part of routine and preventive maintenance. While this is business as usual for owners of digital presses it is still exception processing to some owners of big offset presses. But that doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

“Once the computer dies, many things have to be replaced. If we can be proactive it is much less disruptive for customers because they can plan for the needed downtime, rather than have the need show up when a time-critical job is going on press.”

“Just as we encourage replacement of older parts and components to ensure older presses will remain reliable, be faster and deliver the performance customers count on, we do the same with all the electronics,” continues Eichler. “We are continuously advising and educating customers so they understand that we do these things to help them succeed.”

Knowing the customer
For instance, a press may be able to do X, Y and Z but customer may not care about X and Z, but Y is where he makes his money. “We make sure his press will do the best possible job on Y or whatever it may be that is important to that customer. It’s how we live in the customer’s world, not the whole market, because customers are the heart of our business.”
 

namelessentity

Well-known member
Keeping a RIP up to date is the worst part of printing. It's basically planned obsolescence and 500+% markup. I could buy a PC at a garage sale for $50 that's faster than some of the RIPs in our shop, but the vendor is gonna want $5000+ to replace it.
I get charging for the software license, but why markup the hardware so much? It's predatory, and they get away with it because there's literally no other option.
 

chriscozi

Well-known member
Keeping a RIP up to date is the worst part of printing. It's basically planned obsolescence and 500+% markup. I could buy a PC at a garage sale for $50 that's faster than some of the RIPs in our shop, but the vendor is gonna want $5000+ to replace it.
I get charging for the software license, but why markup the hardware so much? It's predatory, and they get away with it because there's literally no other option.
Agreed. I have listened to small software vendors that say they are careful to plan their upgrades to try to cover costs. I get that and am more than willing, and do, support them.
But when a multi-million in annual sales company charges well more than 200% for hardware, never addresses glaring issues with their software, plans the obsolescence of their software in less than the time it takes for their hardware to go out of support, my hackles go up. And don't get me started on 'what the market will bear' for pricing - I see that as part and parcel of stealing what you can while you can stock-holder-satisfying attitude.
All they have to do is JUSTIFY the cost.
PROVE to me the 'new' version is better in some meaningful way and worth my hard earned money.
Don't just tell me the current version isn't supported anymore.
Or why would I care about your success?
Maybe it's because WE do care about our customers that I think THEY should care about their customers.
Just glad I'm not employed at one of those businesses because I wouldn't have a job for very long.
Sigh. Rant over.
 
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