By Pat McGrew, McGrewGroup Inc.
Whether you already own inkjet presses or you are in the market looking for your first, one of the big questions in the due diligence process revolves around maintenance programs. How much maintenance can your team do, how much are they expected to do, and how much training is offered? You may also want the deep details of what is and is not covered, what your options for onsite technicians could be, and what is truly negotiable.
Let’s start with the most important point: Everything Is Negotiable.
When investing hundreds of thousands (or millions) of USD, Euros or Pounds into a production inkjet press, you are in the driver’s seat. The best way to leverage your power as a buyer is to understand what maintenance means and develop a plan for how you and your team want to approach the requirements. And, just because you signed a maintenance contract does not mean you cannot go back to your vendor and have a new conversation. As your volumes and requirements change, do not hesitate to go back and discuss new options. You won’t be the first or last to do this.
Inkjet printers come in several flavors. There are continuous feed and sheet fed devices. There are full color and mono devices. There are narrow web devices, and those that are up to three meters wide. Each has their own maintenance concerns that should be part of the conversation well ahead of the decision to purchase the press.
Start with the basics. What is included in the program offered and how is it structured? Make a list of the things that are most important for your operation. Many contracts specify a fixed monthly price, but some parts and services fall outside of that fixed price. Does your operation guarantee delivery times for clients? Are you protected if you have a maintenance issue? Here is my basic list of questions:
- What is included in my maintenance contract?
- What is not included?
- What are the daily, weekly and monthly responsibilities for my operators and how much time will it take?
- What is the cost of having a technician onsite for the first three months of operation?
- Is there an additional cost if I need an expert to come in to resolve a problem?
- Is there remote technical service available, either through the web, augmented reality applications, or using mobile apps?
- What training is provided for my team onsite?
- What advanced training is available and at what cost?
- Is there an uptime guarantee?
- Do I receive a credit if my uptime does not meet agreed percentages or hours?
This is not a comprehensive list, but it is a good starting point. Each item on this list has time and money associated with it. To determine your total cost of goods sold you will need to understand the answers to each of the questions and determine the impact for your organization.
Your First Step
Stay tuned for a deeper dive into how to ask these questions and how to interpret the answers you hear, but let’s do some preparation. Before you embark on asking the questions, consider assessing the capabilities of your staff, their interest in learning the skills needed to maintain the device, and their willingness to work with the vendor’s technicians to ensure the smoothest operation. Assessments help to draw a clear picture of the talent you have to work with on your production team and allow you to determine if you need to begin looking for additional resources. You might start with a quick survey of the operators and production team members to assess their interest. Some companies bring in inkjet consultants to conduct these types of assessments and help management identify the most effective team members.
Once you have your team identified, use this information to guide the conversations about training and on-going support needs. There are many moving parts on an inkjet press, but the most important element will be the consistent execution of preventive maintenance routines and monitoring of the messages routed to the operator’s console by the sensors inside the machine. How much time will it take for operators to be comfortable doing the preventive maintenance? How will that impact available capacity and throughput on the press?