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 user 2007-03-12 at 10:08:00 am Views: 52
  • #17723

    Digital Color: What a Difference A Decade Makes
    Effective use of digital color can help drive the importance of the in-plant as an integral part of key business processes in the organization.DIGITAL COLOR was introduced to the marketplace more than a decade ago. Indigo and Xeikon unveiled key new products in the mid-1990s, and early projections were that these technologies would take off.Initially, as with a number of new technologies, there were technical issues. Presses were unreliable; ink and toner didn’t stick to the paper; and the cost of consumables was too high to generate any substantial application transfer from offset technology.Today, Indigo has been taken over by Hewlett Packard. Xeikon faced bankruptcy before being acquired by Punch Technologies. Kodak bought out Heidelberg’s share of NexPress. Ink and toner are now sticking to the paper. The quality of the output is substantially better. Consumables costs are down and reliability has improved dramatically. Broad arrays of substrates are available to make the technology more competitive with offset. In-line finishing options abound to enhance operational efficiency. And there are a number of application software solutions to support the implementation of customized marketing programs.

    The Opportunity
    The convergence of more affordable and reliable equipment that can deliver high-quality output, ease-of-use application software tools, and finishing and substrate alternatives is driving tremendous growth in digital color printing. InfoTrends expects the retail value of print in the U.S. production color (24+ ppm) print-on-demand environments to experience a compound annual growth rate of 23 percent between 2005 and 2010.Just as the in-plant community played a major role in driving the adoption of black-and-white digital printing, they are leading purchasers in the 24-59 ppm production segment and are also having a significant impact on placements of units that run at 60+ ppm. About 1/3 of combined color placements across all product segments are in the in-plant environment.

    Options and Alternatives
    Given the market growth potential, there has been tremendous buzz and activity in the production digital color market:
    - On the high duty cycle side of the digital color production market, Canon unveiled its next-generation production color imagePRESS C7000VP.
    - Kodak announced its NexPress 2500 and rolled it out in 2006. Kodak also launched its 250-foot-per-minute Versamark VT3000.
    - Punch Graphix built on the success of the Xeikon 5000 with the launch of its Xeikon 6000.

    - Since acquiring Indigo, HP has continued to combine IT and engineering strengths with its graphic arts technology. During Graph Expo 2006, the company introduced two digital front end solutions for its HP Indigo portfolio. Another example of this combination is the improvements to the HP Indigo 5000, making it the first true universal production device and signaling the beginning of a new era in production color printing with its cost of operation and monochrome speed improvements.Of specific interest for the in-plant environment is the introduction of what some categorize as mid-production or lower duty cycle production color engines (100,000 to 999,999 impressions per month). The competition is heating up in the mid-production color market. The new crop of mid-production devices will be more robust than light production solutions, while offering considerably lower capital acquisition costs than devices designed for duty cycles of 1,000,000+ impressions per month.

    Konica Minolta carved out a niche in the mid-production monochrome market with its bizhub PRO 1050 and has repeated this success in the mid-production color space with the bizhub PRO C6500. Xerox has experienced tremendous success with its DocuColor 6060 and 8000 families and has extended its offering into the mid-production range with its new DocuColor 5000. These mid-production devices are serving as entry points into the world of digital color for the in-plant market. This market is moving toward shorter run lengths, giving in-plants the opportunity to deliver myriad full-color applications.Some in-plants are leveraging the technology to test variable data applications, while others are doing short-run brochures, postcards, business cards, invitations and newsletters. These devices have been reliable, quality is more than acceptable and they are backed by strong service and support infrastructures.

    Software and Online Solutions
    As the transformation of the printing industry evolves from one of manufacturing to communications, new software applications are emerging daily to help in-plants expand digital color volumes. New desktop, server and online solutions enable service providers to do everything from intercepting jobs over the Web to managing dynamic cross-media campaigns consisting of variable text and images and generating production-ready output streams.Toolsets like Web CRD from Rochester Software Associates, Digital Storefront from EFI, Atlas PrintShop Web, and Printable’s FusionPro Suite provide access to the in-plant user community via the Web. Variable data offerings cover the gamut from entry-level mail merge solutions like Atlas PrintShop Mail to integrated marketing campaign management solutions from MindFireInc and XMPie. The challenge for today’s in-plant manager is not determining if there is a solution available, but identifying the best toolset for the specific environment.

    Digital Color: Beyond Technology
    Leading in-plants are using digital color to expand their services and gain improved strategic relevance (see CCP story on page 16). Digital color technology on its own is not enough to differentiate an in-plant; in-plants must use the technology to demonstrate a return on investment for their organization. Innovative digital color users are finding that effective use of production color lets them reach new users with value-added solutions.

    The benefits of today’s technology are clear:
    1/Exceptional turnaround
    user convenience, control and complianceUser departments have a common set of problems that the digital color enabled in-plant market can address. Compression of production time is a driving force in today’s market. There is no such thing as a production schedule for print. In-plants need to meet customers’ expectations, and this means rush jobs are the norm.Quality digital color allows in-plants to put more control for critical print jobs in the hands of the user departments and exceed turnaround expectations. Catherine M. Ciardi, director of Document Services at Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield, in Rochester, N.Y., installed a NexPress 2500 in December.“When we put the NexPress in, the floodgates opened. We did more than 50,000 impressions in the first two and a half weeks we had the press,” Ciardi says. “We now can provide exceptional turnaround time for color and black-and-white production. We aren’t paying for rush services; we’re meeting deadlines. And most importantly we are facilitating compliance.”

    The in-plant value proposition of convenience, turnaround and control is pivotal for production digital color.
    2|Obsolescence and shorter run lengths
    InfoTrends’ Digital Production Color research studies published in 2002 and 2005 showed a dramatic increase in the amount of short-run printing. Regardless of print technology, the number of color printing jobs with run length requirements of 500 or less increased from 29.6 percent to 50.5 percent during that three-year period. Meanwhile, those jobs with run lengths of over 5,000 declined from 32.6 percent to 20.1 percent.In conducting independent research on the entire printing market, Frank Romano reported similar trends. His analysis showed that 30 percent of jobs had run lengths under 5,000 in 2000 and that this percentage had grown to 58 percent in 2005. By the end of the decade, it is forecasted to reach 61 percent.Audrey Marrocco , a print administrator in Pennsylvania’s Department of General Services, in Harrisburg, Pa., is seeing an increase in shorter runs to avoid the warehousing and obsolescence.“With our DocuColor 8000, we can shift work from offset to reduce run lengths,” she says. “Historically, it was large runs and warehousing. There was a lot of obsolescence. We are also publishing information on the Web and printing on demand to reduce the commonwealth’s overall documentation costs and saving taxpayer dollars.”

    3|Marketing Value-added Services
    Digital color has opened the door to integrate in-plants with the marketing function. As opposed to an auxiliary service function, digital color is making the in-plant arena part of the business processes that drive results. No differently than the commercial printing market, in-plants need to deliver strategic value-added services. In-plants like Pennsylvania’s Department of General Services are engaging in complex data-driven applications.“We are handling variable data and intelligent mail,” explains Marrocco. “We are taking on sophisticated applications. Pages contain variable information, and each page is bar coded. A variable number of pages are inserted into different envelopes with complete document integrity.”Adds Ciardi: “We have been in the variable data game for a long time with monochrome printing. We are going to deploy these same personalization and customization skills to produce full-color marketing documents to help drive our business. We understand and can work with the marketing function to drive 1:1 communications.”

    Driving Strategic Relevance
    Effective use of digital color can help drive the importance of the in-plant as an integral part of key business processes in the organization. Many in-plants struggle with strategic relevance. The management of in-plants is generally isolated. The skill set and expertise required to manage an in-plant is different from what the overall business often requires. Without an advocate in senior management, the in-plant often becomes an island of expertise.Maintaining an in-plant requires showing demonstrable value in today’s market. The concepts of convenience, cost savings and control for user departments are essential, but the best in-plants provide much more. With more affordable equipment and software, in-plants can leverage technology to move power into the hands of users and become an integral part of strategic business initiatives.Digital color technology has never been more exciting. As you evaluate it, consider not only the implications of introducing the technology into your operation, but also how you will leverage it to increase revenue and profitability and improve business results.