Inkjet, toner, offset. Do print service providers need them all? I interviewed two companies who have a mix of technologies to get their perspective on why they use different print platforms, and to understand their customers’ perspectives on print quality.
First, I spoke with Cheryl Kahanec, the CEO of Quantum Group. A full-service commercial printer in the Chicago area, Quantum runs offset, digital, and inkjet printers. Their 250 employees also provide marketing services, e-commerce, direct mail, fulfillment, and logistics to a diverse customer base across most major vertical markets.
Due to the pandemic and work from home rules, Quantum saw a dramatic change in their fulfillment business. Previously, their B2B customers needed bulk shipments of printed materials sent to salespeople and dealers. Instantly they received requests to support mass personalization and fulfillment of individual kits directly to consumers and B2B prospects.
Quantum had to modify their workflow to support complex finishing of multiple components, running on different printers, that had to end up in a “kit of one.” Some projects had 4 or 5 separate workflows differentiated by component that had to be brought together as finished pieces for individual kitting, mailing and shipping. Their software team made several enhancements to the workflow systems to drive automation, accurate kitting and on-time shipping.
Print volume, paper type, finishing, and turnaround time are the key drivers to choose the best print process for the job, be it toner, inkjet or offset.
Kahanec explained that Quantum invested in inkjet printing to provide speed and efficiency. They migrated work from offset, replacing pre-printed shells. and converted multiple steps of manufacturing into one process with inkjet. They have seen their mix of work change from 50/50 digital and offset to more 60% digital work on both inkjet and toner digital devices and 40% on offset.
Inkjet and toner both produce beautiful output. With two 40-inch offset presses, Quantum can produce large volumes of print at high speed. Using the HP T240 HD inkjet press, they can run large volumes of complex data quickly. Their mix of HP Indigo presses help produce high quality image and variable data on a wide variety of substrates. They find they must continually educate customers about the paper and design options. For example, changing design away from large areas of solid blacks and clarifying how colors must be specified to get to the desired output and desired turnaround time.
Kahanec sees customers’ demand growing for faster turnarounds and more multi-component projects. They often provide output from their inkjet, toner and offset printers and then explain the throughput and finishing options for each. Customers often choose the print technology based on speed to market for finished pieces. The need to educate customers about print technology is growing as the designers creating content for print are often unaware of the print production process.
Services Driving Print
Client requirements have become more complex for direct mail and fulfillment projects with more data management, and software needed for processing. Years ago Quantum made the move to digital toner, migrating offset work. They didn’t charge for the pre-press work required to create good production files for digital printing. Kahanec explained they learned from past experience and now their cost models include fees for the large IT investment needed for direct mail, web-to-print and fulfillment. The amount of software and infrastructure required to run these types of programs have significant costs which are included in their estimating process.
The other significant change is the increased cost for labor in operations. Quantum finds they are competing with many more employers to keep their production employees. In the last few years, they are paying significantly higher hourly wages which impacts pricing to customers and ultimately profits.
Despite the pandemic, Quantum experienced significant growth in their mailing and fulfillment services in 2020. Quantum’s upcoming investments in print will be focused on inkjet technologies. They are optimistic about the future of the print industry. They see the collective support and validation for the need for print and direct mail.
In part 2 of this article, I will share the inkjet and toner strategies for a large in-plant print operation serving multiple school districts.