By Melissa Donovan
Part 1 of 2
Grand format printers are a great addition to a print service provider’s (PSP’s) business operation if and when they are necessary. A PSP should have the right amount of space, power capabilities, and most importantly demand for high volume. For this article, we consider grand format printers anything over 95 inches in width.
The latest advancements surrounding grand format devices include production speed, media handling, and higher quality print modes.
Production speed is directly related to the type of ink running in the printer, according to Volance Carlin, product manager, Mimaki USA, Inc. UV LED ink cures immediately after jetting, and while this technology was previously expensive, in recent years its expanded across a range of machines and price points—including grand format devices.
With increases in speed, automated media handling is crucial. “You can’t have someone hand feeding at this rate and maintain consistency and accuracy. Thick, thin, heavy, and light media all must be compatible and change out times and adjustments must be swift. The newest automation products not only provide a pallet-to-pallet workflow, but offer the flexibility to deal with the diversity in media,” explains Larry D’Amico, director of sales, large format, Durst Image Technology US LLC.
Soft media kits and integrated take-up systems are other material handling technologies designed for the increasing diversity of media found in a PSP’s stock room. Both offer optimal feed and material stability, says Carlin.
Other material handling features include the capacity to handle jumbo rolls of media, sometimes two at one. “More often than not, the biggest time loss that takes a press out of active production is the loading and unloading of substrates into the press. Having the ability to handle massive rolls of 1,764 lbs. and 23.6 inches in outer diameter surely reduces the load and unload time in any high throughput production environment,” points out Bill Brouhle, senior application specialist, Agfa Graphics.
Printhead developments are directly related to higher quality print modes. “Newer grand format printers are built around the latest printhead technology, which not only allows for higher print speeds, but these printheads also last significantly longer, waste less ink, and cost less over time to operate,” adds Marty Silveira, VP sales, DigiFab Systems, Inc.
“We have seen great improvements as the type of printhead used diversified. Now there is a wider range of drop sizes in use in grand format as well as issues like textile cockling addressed by the ability to set the printhead at a higher distance while printing,” shares Carlin.
Advancements happen because of demand, much of which is fueled by consumers and the market in general.
“We believe that consumers’ standard of excellence have risen greatly over the last few years. That demand is fueling higher production and quality levels of final products,” explains Donna Herrmann, sales and marketing, American Printing Systems LLC.
Changes in grand format printers—like the accessibility of UV ink or media handling for example—are influenced by demand for printers that create a range of applications. “Producers now not only want to print PVC, but also uncoated paper, fabric, banner, indoor signage, and heat-sensitive materials,” says Carlin.
According to D’Amico, competition drives the market. “We are all trying to capture a larger share of the wide format segment and driving development in speed, quality, and automation to increase the demand for our products.”
If a PSP already owns multiple mid-range, smaller format machines, it may consider moving to grand format device. Reasons include volume, application expansion, and the need to bring services in house.
“It is all volume driven. It is simply more cost effective to run fewer machines at a given volume level. You need to do the math and determine the volume you anticipate and configure the proper printer for that volume level. Peak load situations also need to be considered. Calculations should incorporate the burst rates necessary for the work you anticipate producing,” suggest D’Amico.
Herrmann agrees that PSPs consider upgrading to a grand format device when current machines cannot produce or handle the volume of work that needs to be accomplished.
Initially volume is a factor, admits Carlin, as is the need for a greater width to diversify product offerings, or bringing something in house to avoid outsourcing. However, further on in the decision-making process, other issues come into play like return on investment.
“Transport of grand format materials is typically more costly, but purchasing larger amounts of material can net a lower purchasing cost per square foot. Also, higher speed machines tend to work with larger drop sizes and thus use more ink, but again ink purchase volumes could lead to better purchasing prices,” adds Carlin.
Silveira cautions that while adding grand format to a shop can certainly bring value and eliminate unnecessary steps like reducing the time it takes to seam panels for large graphic, PSPs need to conduct due diligence beforehand. “These print shops need to weigh all the benefits with not only the space required to accommodate the printer but all the ancillary items needed to properly operate them.”
Important if You Need It
Grand format printers are helpful, but only if a PSP necessitates such a large device—in terms of physical size and capacity. Numerous enhancements continue on these printers to match the demands of consumers and the market in general.
The next article in this two-part series highlights some of the newest grand format printers.
May2019, Digital Output