By Melissa Donovan
Dedicated and hybrid flatbeds are essential players in a print provider’s arsenal, thanks to the benefits each individually delivers. The choice in investing in one over the other depends on a number of factors from the size of the shop to client base. Considering current output and future applications allows a print provider to make an educated decision on whether a dedicated flatbed or a hybrid is the right fit. In either case, a print service provider (PSP) expects the hardware to deliver on quality and efficiency.
Dedicated flatbeds and hybrid devices offer benefits, specifically in productivity and versatility. Of course, the type of productivity and versatility vary depending on the configuration.
From a practical standpoint, Randy Paar, marketing manager – display graphics, Canon Solutions America, suggests that the benefit of a true flatbed is that it keeps the substrate stationary during the printing process. “This greatly increases the accuracy and repeatability of ink drop placement, making many unique applications a piece of cake, such as full-bleed printing, double-sided prints in perfect registration, printing onto odd shapes, or dimensional printing,” continues Paar.
Dedicated flatbeds excel in printing heavy products. Since the table is rugged, according to David Conrad, director of marketing, Mutoh America, Inc., it handles thicker substrates.
These include flat packed furniture, framed canvas, and other manufactured items, suggests Josh Cormany, national sales manager, InkTec America Corp. He also points out that with advancements in printing technology, some true flatbeds have the ability to print on roll media as well, further increasing the number of applications a dedicated flatbed can produce.
A hybrid is advantageous because it prints on both flat and roll material. “This can be beneficial if you have limited floor space and applications for both types of media,” shares Larry D’Amico, VP digital imaging, Agfa Graphics.
“Hybrid designs offer more flexibility in the jobs that it can run and utilize the ‘two printers for the price of one’ mentality. Workflow is more streamlined and the ability to produce higher volumes of work with less labor makes them quite attractive to high-volume shops,” says Mike Mills, CEO/CTO, Novus Imaging, Inc.
Deciding Between the Two
Whether a PSP purchases a dedicated flatbed or hybrid device depends on a number of factors. Mills says if there are no special materials influencing the purchase, the decision is almost always driven by acquisition cost, followed by productivity per dollar, then footprint.
“These factors are heavily weighted in the buying decision once a customer validates how fast a product will really print. At the end of the day, the customer wants to understand how fast the printer will run the output at a quality that is sellable and constantly achievable,” he adds.
It is important to look beyond current plans and reflect on expectations for the future. “Besides the obvious—like will it physically fit in my shop—the purchase decision should not be based on the equipment cost but rather on business opportunity that new, higher margin applications can provide,” advises Paar.
Mark Schlimme, director of marketing, Screen USA, offers key questions that every PSP should ask prior to deciding. Is the goal of entering this business to bring work that is currently outsourced back in house? Can value be added in the current market and higher margin work pursued or should they enter a new market and pursue share based on price?
“The PSP’s decision should be driven by a combination of inputs. These consist of tactical topics including their existing production capabilities, along with current and forecasted client requirements combined with strategic plans for business,” says Brent Moncrief, VP sales and marketing, Durst Image Technology US LLC.
For those leaning toward a hybrid, “the predominant factors we hear in choosing a hybrid are shop size and budget—these customers can only accommodate one device,” explains Ken VanHorn, director, marketing and business development, Mimaki USA, Inc.
“Smaller shops may not have the space for multiple printing devices, so they are becoming more familiar with and moving towards maximizing their space and budgets with hybrid printers,” adds Conrad.
When customers decide to purchase a Roland DGA Corporation flatbed or hybrid, Jay Roberts, product manager, UV printers, Roland, says they choose based not on space or versatility, but the products desired for output. “We’ve found that customers purchasing the hybrid are looking for functionality that will allow them to serve a greater portion of the market as a whole. Hybrid users want to be able to print to the widest variety of substrates and supply printed products for a lot of different markets.”
“PSPs that have to manage significant volume and provide high quality and speed usually prefer hybrids that are productive and provide an efficient workflow. Additionally, hybrids offer maximum application versatility using a single ink set that can be used for flexible and rigid applications, providing both high durability and flexibility. This means that customers do not have to suffer downtime flushing inks or waste,” shares Joan Perez Pericot, worldwide marketing director, Hewlett-Packard Large Format Production Division.
For PSPs with production levels that need to be maximized by a true flatbed and a true roll-to-roll device, separating these functions is the only way to go, admits VanHorn. “If a job mix includes both banners and rigid boards, both can be done simultaneously on two different units.”
Joe Garcia, managing director – Americas, Stratojet USA, agrees. “Since most PSPs have the need to print on rigid and flexible substrates; in most cases, it is advisable for the PSP to have two devices, so that each device can focus on its design strengths and minimize production bottlenecks.”
Those interested in dedicated flatbeds “consider purchasing a flatbed because they have either spotted a gap in the market or customer demand for a certain application has increased, making it more worthwhile to do the printing in house rather than outsource,” says Cormany.
“Customers purchasing a dedicated flatbed are generally more seasoned. They either already have printers, or are purchasing the flatbed to focus on a specific market that plays to the flatbed’s best assets—printing on heavy or thick substrates,” continues Roberts.
Mark Swanzy, COO, Xanté Corporation, concurs, providing the example of corrugated converters and PSPs specializing in package printing as those looking for dedicated flatbeds to digitally print jobs.
Sign of the Times
Today’s purchasing trends illustrate which is a more prevalent investment—a dedicated or hybrid flatbed. Depending on the vendor, certain PSPs currently favor one type of flatbed over the other.
“Dedicated devices are the current trend, since different technologies develop at different paces, potentially leaving one of your print technologies obsolete and reducing the value of your print system,” shares Tim McGlinchy, EVP of engineering, GED Integrated Solutions.
Cormany notes that based on research of the UV market, he finds more dedicated flatbeds being sold over hybrids. “This is mainly due to the fact that you can do a few more rigid applications with a dedicated flatbed and I see many more companies out there who print in the rigid substrate world that are expanding into new applications. The trend in double-sided printing seems to get larger everyday so I think that is another big factor that customers tend to lean towards when choosing a true flatbed over a hybrid machine.”
Paar foresees true flatbeds gaining an advantage over hybrids. “PSPs will increasingly figure out the advantages and continue to diversify their offerings based on true flatbed architecture.”
Conrad argues that hybrid printers are larger in number because they serve such a wide portion of PSPs. A great number of smaller shops may not have the space for both a roll and flatbed printer, and the hybrid is a good solution. Conversely, while there are fewer high-volume, larger PSPs in the space, they too still require a hybrid device in certain scenarios.
“A second or third device in a larger shop may be a hybrid so the heavy production can be handled by the dedicated device. The day to day, overflow, and new business can be supported by the more economical hybrid,” he continues.
“Overall, we see a trend towards more hybrid devices being purchased as PSPs strive to accommodate the rapidly evolving needs of their clients,” explains Moncrief.
“There is definitely more demand for hybrid, even among printing companies that plan to use their printers almost exclusively for flatbed work. The advantages users gain with being able to do even a little bit of roll work on a hybrid device seem to outweigh the advantages printers believe they might have with a dedicated flatbed. Printing companies want to print as much work as possible, so unless they already have a lot of excess roll-printing capacity, they want the flexibility of doing both kinds of work on a single machine,” according to Thomas Krumm, product manager, EFI.
Heather Roden, associate product marketing manager, Fujifilm North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division, sees more hybrids being purchased at the lower price range, allowing a PSP to begin offering wide format. Once they have a few years of experience, a PSP may focus on a dedicated flatbed purchase.
“This trend is likely to stay consistent; the factor that will cause a shift here will be technological advancements that allow hybrids to be equal in their ability to effectively handle both kinds of media,” says Roden.
“It is truly a mix of both and I see this continuing,” predicts D’Amico. “Everyone’s application and product mix is different so it is important to understand what you primarily want to do with this equipment and select the technology that best fits this anticipated mix of work.”
Staying Current with an
Eye to the Future
For flatbeds, choosing between a dedicated, true flatbed and a hybrid means a PSP must be aware of the various applications it plans to continue running and those that may be added on to its services in the future. Dominant substrates—whether roll or rigid—are an influential component in the decision, as are space requirements and current and future production levels.
Purchasing a printer is a big investment. It is important to consider all of the factors—present and down the line. For flatbeds, understanding the benefits of a hybrid versus a dedicated is part of the final decision.
Visit here to learn about both dedicated and hybrid flatbed models.
Click here to view the Flatbed Considerations Target Chart – an all-inclusive information resource!
Jun2015, Digital Output