Glen Boehmer (Sentinel Printing), left, and Tim Freeman (Printing Industries Alliance) lead the town hall meeting that took place on September 24 in Melville, NY.
Talking about new printing technologies is easy. Bringing a new solution into a printing business is another matter. There’s the cost of acquisition, the operating expense, the learning curve, and above all, the nagging question of whether the shop actually can make money with the equipment once it’s on the floor. It can be baffling, and sometimes the wish to go in a new direction doesn’t survive the uncertainty.
Printing Industries Alliance understands conflicts like these, and on September 24, it tried to assist its members on Long Island with a “town hall”-style meeting on the challenges of making the right investment decisions in emerging technologies for graphic production. The session was facilitated by Glen Boehmer, president of Sentinel Printing (Hempstead, NY), whose general advice was to keep an open mind about new technologies even when they do not appear to be a good fit.
“Every process has its reason for being alive,” Boehmer said, noting that a technology that does not work for a shop today may become the thing that helps to support it tomorrow.
With that, he led the group in a free-ranging discussion of their options in digital printing, software, workflow, and 3D printing. He asked the attendees first to gauge their own awareness of these technologies, and then to analyze what might be holding printers back from seeking more information about them.
The result was a lively back-and-forth that Boehmer kept going with pointed questions, flip-chart team exercises, and personal anecdotes that other shop owners in the group could readily relate to. Some highlights from the evening:
• Most agreed that the biggest barrier to implementation is “fear”: of confronting change, of adding cost, of becoming trapped in a commodity business. A practical consideration is space: will the shop have enough room to accommodate the new piece of equipment?
• Management information systems (MIS), especially those tied to customer-facing web-to-print (W2P) portals, streamline production and eliminate job touch points that cost printers money. Boehmer pointed out that for a fully automated producer such as Vistaprint, “the only touch point is the shipping.” But, MIS by itself isn’t a cure-all. It isn’t possible, Boehmer said, to automate or optimize “broken” processes in a shop with software.
• Wide-format printing is seen as an opportunity because the cost of entry is relatively low and the business is driven not by quality, but by the vast range of substrates the devices can image. Boehmer said that although the market is “close to flooded” with wide-format providers, “virtually nobody on Long Island” offers dye sublimation: a thermal wide-format process for printing rich color on textiles and fabrics.
• Andy Featherman of Muller Martini reminded the group that success with digital printing is as much about the finishing as it is about putting toner or ink on the sheets. He said that a finishing system operating in a “barcode-enabled touchless workflow” can guarantee accuracy by accounting for every barcoded sheet in the run.
• There is a reason why 3D printing, projected to be a $15 billion market by 2019, has attracted the attention of 4Over and other mainstream print providers, according to Boehmer. He said that the technology is “the same business we’re in” because it starts with a digital file and ends with a physical representation of an image.
• He asked the group to imagine taking digital files of portrait photography and turning them into “family dioramas” of three-dimensional keepsakes—a type of mass-market product that providers of 3D printing services offer now. With 3D printing, Boehmer said, commercial shops can add a profit-generating business-to-consumer (B2C) dimension to the business-to-business (B2B) economic model that most of them are locked into.
One way to offer an unfamiliar technology to customers without directly investing in it is to outsource the work to a partner equipped to provide the service, Boehmer said. He concluded by reviewing a checklist of questions to ask before committing to anything new. Among them:
• Will this technology make my business more sellable? Who would buy the business?
• Do I have people in my business who understand and can help me implement?
• What are the marketing and sales channels needed to bring in business? Where will the business come from?
• How quickly can you achieve an ROI from this investment? What profit levels can you achieve?
• Can you see yourself in that business?
• If you don’t add these capabilities, how will it affect your business?
“If I have more to sell, that takes the fear away,” Boehmer said. That’s what justifies the investment and the risk—but enthusiasm for the new technology has to be there as well.
“If you’re not juiced about it, I don’t think you should go there,” he said.