By Melissa Donovan
Part 1 of 2
Manufacturing is changing, with businesses looking to bring processes in house to manage workflow from end to end. One way to do this is by integrating digital solutions, as today’s technology enables direct printing to a host of objects without even touching the item at hand.
Integrating digital takes thought and foresight. Research is imperative. Reaching out to system integrators that build bespoke devices from the ground up is great way to get exactly what is desired. But what to expect when working with this type of a provider?
Expectations must be realistic, depending on the size of the project, just how fast can a bespoke solution be built? Typical lead time, from exploration, to design, prototype, and final construct, ranges.
For example, James Bullington, CTO, LSINC Corporation says that it can take as little as three months to modify an existing platform, whereas a totally unique solution could take 12 to 15 months—as long as it leverages an existing ink set. Specialty ink sets can take longer and require getting ink partners involved in the process.
Depending on the application and experience, Seiko Instruments GmbH can help the customers realize a solution from the ground up between three weeks to three months. “Normally the time is utilized in getting the right components for the project to realize the correct results. One of the important things to decide is the ink and the related compatibility with printheads. Then comes the waveform development to jet the perfect drops and finally the printing quality requirements are fine tuned by our inkjet engineers,” explains Aliasgar Eranpurwala, head of department for inkjet printheads, Seiko Instruments. At Document Data Solutions (DDS), depending on the complexity of the solution, the company often completes many custom projects in as little as 30 days, according to Bill Papp, product manager, DDS.
“It is very dependent on multiple factors, including whether the digital device components already exist or require development. There is also a strong dependency on the OEM’s resource availability to invest in the project. The development cycle is also dependent on the application, some of which, require extensive qualification testing prior to market launch. The typical lead time from exploration to final construct is between one and three years,” say John Harman, senior director business development, Ricoh Printing Systems America; Graham Kennedy, director industrial print solutions Ricoh Europe; and Eiji Tagami, GM, sales management department, IP marketing management center, global marketing division, Ricoh Graphic Communications Japan.
It’s important to note that “today’s supply chain issues are constantly changing” these timelines, says Bullington.
It’s a mixed bag when it comes to customers. Some approach with a firm idea of what they have in mind whole others need to have a lot of information coaxed out of them. Having an idea of what you want is helpful.
“Many of our customers have a clear viewpoint on what they would like to bring to market. However, often it can be described as ‘here is what we are doing with analog technology, and now let’s replicate it digitally’,” admit Harman, Kennedy, and Tagami.
Many of Seiko Instruments’ customers understand the possibilities and difficulties of inkjet. But, Eranpurwala admits that sometimes a customer new to inkjet “comes up with a completely new idea and we have to have internal discussions to see if this idea could become a reality. Lately, the field of three-dimensional printing is booming and time and again we are doing something new, which was not tested earlier but our engineers have cleverly found ways to meet the requirements.”
Initial input and follow up questions are useful. “For example, the user wants to print X parts per minute; however, that does not sufficiently define the amount of printing to be done, resolution requirements, whether there are external pretreatment process that affect cycle time, or whether there is a printhead technology that supports the request. All have to be considered,” advises Bullington.
“Generally, a prospect has some pain point in their operation or needs a solution for a specific project,” explains Papp. At DDS, a collaborative approach to custom system design is taken. “We speak openly with the stakeholders to define the project deliverables. Once the requirements are ironed out we craft a mutually agreed upon Statement of Work to memorialize all specifications, action items, and timeline.”
It’s important to remain open minded when considering the best device for your needs. Sometimes you might think you need a turnkey solution, but a bespoke system may work better depending on the application at hand.
Bespoke solutions are common in direct to object printing. “The shape and unique characteristics of each piece of media drive compromises when trying to achieve an interchangeable or flexible solution. The compromises generally move one away from an optimized solution with maximum throughput and return on investment,” shares Bullington.
Harman, Kennedy, and Tagami believe the choice is dependent on the customer’s technical and business requirements and the resources needed to support these requirements. “We encourage an open conversation with our customers to understand their technical and commercial needs and how these can be best satisfied. Many of the components or even a module already exists that will satisfy the requirements of the bespoke device.” “There is nothing more frustrating than someone trying to sell you their product regardless of whether or not it’s the best solution for your needs. DDS was founded on the premise of never selling anything ‘off the shelf’ unless it truly met a customer’s needs, and that policy has never changed. We have lots of tools at our disposal,” says Papp.
Eranpurwala believes with inkjet still in a growing phase, turnkey solutions are not easily available for various applications. “Wherever possible we try to bring components and module suppliers in discussion with the customers, but we generally allow the customers to decide the best way forward.”
Good to Know
Here are some further tips for those looking to build something from the ground up. Specifically, advice on how to prepare for a conversation with a systems integrator.
“Digital bespoke printers offer different solutions when replacing traditional print technologies. One needs to come having thought about the business case from the perspective of not just replacing what they have but what can they do that has not been done before. This mindset improves the return on investment process and the business metrics behind a decision,” recommends Bullington.
Papp keeps it simple, citing needs, wants, pain points, budget, and timeframe as important talking points.“The most important elements to be considered are inkjet printhead, ink and media interaction, production environment, maintenance and service concept, as well as total cost of ownership targets. Having a clear view on the desired printer performance features and a corresponding launch target plan is also important,” add Harman, Kennedy, and Tagami.
Built from the Ground Up
Bespoke devices are in demand as more manufacturers realize the benefits of digital. The next part in this two article series sheds light on the systems integrators interviewed in this piece.
Aug2022, Industrial Print Magazine