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Get out the old-age asterisk

May 1, 2010 12:00 AM

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Industry consultant Clint Bolte ( says the defintion of “short run” differs from one buyer to the next. He also notes that sheetfed offset printers can go pretty low these days: “If a printer is running process color presses in the pre-1995 era, he or she will consider short run work to be in the 1,000 to 2,000 impression range,” says Bolte. “The same printer with the same journeyman skilled operators running automated presses is extremely comfortable competing above 100 copies even on a 40-inch press. So the automation technology has driven the practical short run business model into the hundreds, easily below a thousand impressions.”

Bolte says digital press manufacturers citing studies by “independent experts” who claim their digital machines can now beat offset competitors on runs of at least 1,500 should employ an asterisk. “And this stipulation is that the offset press being compared is at least 15 years old and probably running on a single shift,” Bolte explains. “The embarrassing point is that the average age of sheetfed offset equipment in the United States is not far off that mark. At Executive Outlook 2007, Bill Lamparter reported, ‘Two-thirds of these presses [running at that point in time] were more than 10 years old.’ So add the lapsed time to that proclamation and the independent study was simply comparing against the average Medicare-qualified sheetfed press of the day. Web presses and finishing equipment is even more arcane.”

Bolte concludes that the continually improving print quality of the inkjet digital presses may change these breakeven points somewhat due to the much lower ink costs. “But at this stage, the capital investment on inkjet presses — with a single exception — is in the millions,” he says. “And the variable costs are dynamic due to specialty coated papers inkjet presses require.”