There are many costs associated with running a print shop. There are machine costs, consumable costs, labor, building, and utility costs. Another cost that is sometimes buried in the numbers is the cost of maintaining the equipment. When it comes to inkjet equipment, keeping the press well-maintained is essential to maintaining uptime and print quality, so maintenance practices and schedules should be part of the company’s Standard Operating Procedures.
If you contract with your vendor or a third-party service organization, maintenance will happen on a schedule you agree to. The challenge with those agreed schedules is that conflicts may arise if new work comes in just as the machine is scheduled to be taken offline. For some shops, the answer is self-maintenance. The question is how much self-maintenance your shop can handle.
Setting self-maintenance expectations
Maintenance breaks down into post-run, daily, weekly, and longer-term routines. The requirements vary depending on the type of inkjet equipment you use. Some inkjet equipment requires daily head cleaning and print head purging as manual activities. Even machines with mechanisms to wipe the print head between jobs will require cleaning beyond what the wipe does on a regular basis. The routine maintenance list may also include vacuuming to remove excess dust, machine calibration, and print head replacement.
Most vendors are willing to train the team to do the maintenance correctly and help them define the best schedules. The value self-maintenance brings is flexibility so that when that big job lands on top of planned maintenance, it can be executed ahead of the inbound job or help until its complete.
Before leaping into self-maintenance, assess your environment and your team on these two vectors:
- Expertise: How comfortable is your team with the technology? If inkjet has been in your shop for years and the team is trained and comfortable, great! If inkjet is new to your shop, but the team has years of experience maintaining other equipment, the vendor training could be sufficient to leverage their talents. For shops new to inkjet, carefully consider the learning curve! You may want to leverage vendor-provided maintenance for six months or a year as the team gets comfortable.
- Time and Productivity: Taking care of machines is time-consuming. It requires attention to detail – shortcuts lead to downtime. If your shop does not field a dedicated maintenance team and tasks operators with keeping the machines going, you may see the needed work falling to the bottom of the task list when the shop is busy. And, when the shop is busiest is when maintenance is crucial. Consider the workload of your team members as you develop your maintenance strategy.
Your strategy does not need to be all or nothing. Look at your inkjet maintenance requirements carefully to see where your productivity break points land. A divide-and-conquer approach with your vendor partner can keep the shop humming. Come back next time when we explore those options a bit more!