Buying new equipment can help you conquer new markets and succeed in today’s economy.
By Maura Keller
Streamlined efficiencies. Cost-effective measures. New revenue streams. In this tough economy, fabric graphic industry players are pulling out all stops, eager to find ways to stay ahead of the game.
Conquering new market segments can play a huge role in helping companies succeed in today’s economy. But before a company can expand its product offerings, it must first determine the usefulness and efficiency of its equipment. New equipment is a key component in determining the success of a fabric graphics business. Here, we show you what to consider before pulling the trigger on a capital investment, including how to determine the ideal product offerings and the most efficient printing process for your business.
The product and the process
In today’s economy, some businesses will have to redefine their core product offerings to meet the challenges of a changing marketplace. When determining the best product offerings for your company, Mike Terlizzi, owner of ITNH Inc., says it comes down to determining which process will be “most sellable.”
“Most often, that comes to dye sub or direct dye sub,” Terlizzi says. “This is because the process produces absolutely beautiful prints that really excite the end customer. More over, it is a more eco-friendly process than vinyl printing with solvent inks and it is a more vibrant print than solvent ink on fabric.”
To meet customer demand, companies are often forced to juggle quality with price and quick turnaround. Because of this, choosing an efficient printing process is critical for fabric graphics companies.
“Textile substrates are very complicated, and every fabric from another supplier is different,” says Gerrit Koele, business development manager at Xennia. “This means that to get to an efficient printing process one should always involve the pre- and post-treatments.” As Koele explains, inkjet is suitable for all the substrates because it is a non-contact printing process. “The advantages of inkjet in textiles are huge,” he says. “The usage of ink is less than existing processes and there is no loss of ink in the process. You do not need enormous cleaning operating because you never need to change the inks. When dying digital the usage of water and energy will decrease by 80 percent, so using inkjet in textiles will be cheaper and much more environmentally friendly.”
Jerry Martinson at Denco Sales says there are really only two available process technologies for printing on fabric: solvent and eco solvent, which prints on properly prepared or coated media, and dye-sublimation. “Each of these offers different advantages, disadvantages and niche applications,” Martinson says. “Owing to differing applications for dye-sub versus solvent, your equipment choice would need to be based on your desired market segment. For trade show, interior, soft signage, etc., you would pick dye-sub. But for general outdoor soft signage, you might choose solvent for its greater UV stability factor.”
Terlizzi advises companies to consider direct dye-sub because it eliminates the transfer paper, saves some time in the process, and saves money in shipping and in disposing of the paper.
According to Shane Huiet of Mimaki, to maximize efficiency for polyester printing you would need a dye-sub printer and a heat press. “This is true no matter if you were printing direct or using transfer paper,” Huiet says. “Dye sub will give you the best color output on polyester. For solvent printing on polyester you would only need a printer and polyester media that works with solvent ink. The same is true for UV printing.”
Martinson advises that you choose equipment based on the media that is available to meet the market segment you have decided to go after.
Indeed, as an equipment provider, Terlizzi guides customers on a regular basis as they deploy new inkjet technology. “Over and over, I need to help them stay focused on prioritizing their needs,” he says. “It is easy to get greedy, so to speak, and expect one printer or printing process to handle as many applications or substrates as possible. However, it is smarter to stay focused on finding the printer and process that can best handle your top two substrates or applications.”
When entering a new market, plan for a three- to six-month learning curve. “This is really important, especially when you purchase new equipment,” Bartusick says. “You need to realize there is a learning curve associated with this change.”
New equipment know-how
As with most forms of technology, fabric graphic printing equipment systems continually evolve as technological advancements present additional opportunities. When buying new equipment, it pays to do your homework to determine the best fit for your needs.
Market niche. “It would certainly not make any sense to buy a hand gun to chop down a tree—it’s better to use an axe,” Martinson says. “You need to know what you are going to do with the printer and what market segment you are attacking, and then buy the equipment item that will best do the job. Once that is in place, see what units fit into your category, put that together with your available funding and buy the absolute best one you can afford.”
Visit trade shows, read magazines, search the internet and talk with equipment suppliers to learn about the options available. Making an educated purchasing decision is paramount to your bottom line.
“Manufacturers of printed garment will always decide on quality in relation to price per square meter,” Koele says. “So if the digital printers will increase quality and in relation to that the square meter price is lower, this will be the moment for printers to invest. The number of employees will decrease as the printers get more industrial and in principle it could get automated completely.”
Budget parameters. Knowing how much you can spend on your equipment will help define your purchasing power and narrow the playing field. When creating a budget for new equipment purchasing, Martinson recommends you focus on three distinct areas:
- The base technology: Solvent vs. dye-sub
- Size requirements
- Speed (of production levels)
“People tend to under-buy based on price, only to find they do not have the production capacity they actually need or will need in the future,” Martinson says. Be sure to develop your business model, including where you want or expect to be, and then buy the piece of equipment that will produce the products you need it to at a production rate that will allow you to meet your ideal market projection.
Terlizzi’s best advice is to look hard at the potential business that can be captured in the next six to 12 months with the addition of new equipment and base the budget from there. “Next, I would recommend in starting with an equipment package that lends itself well to expansion,” Terlizzi says. “For example, consider a heat press that may be able to serve multiple printers even if you are only purchasing one printer up front.”
Research required. While budget considerations are paramount, you need to thoroughly research and evaluate the proposed equipment and how it will work within your facility. “Evaluate what it will do and how reliable it is in a real-world setting,” Martinson says. “Buy the best, not the cheapest. Ignore the hype and research to find what people say really works.”
As Martinson explains, there is ample specific, statistical and empirical information on the web. Look for references from your equipment supplier from people using the unit (in your area) for the specific purposes you are intending to use it.
New or used. Like all industries, the fabric graphics industry wouldn’t be complete without the introduction of “new and improved” equipment technologies to enhance product quality and customer satisfaction. That said, should business owners always buy new equipment, or consider the adage, “why buy new, when slightly used will do?”
“From my experience, in general, the printers available on the used market are either really old (and used up) or they are the models people have realized are undesirable or unreliable,” Martinson says. “The only possible pro would be a reduced price. However, the used printer would likely also come with a greater and more frequent need for repair. Buy new, from a company with a good reputation for reliability and service.”
However, Terlizzi points out that used equipment can sometimes be a great buy. Often he recommends that new customers stick to new equipment. “There are challenges when implanting a new technology into your company,” he says. “Throwing in an additional variable like used equipment can be an additional and unnecessary obstacle.”
When considering used, beware of how the printer will be prepared for shipping and then how it will be shippee. “I have had customers get a fantastic buy on the internet only to have the printer destroyed in shipping because the previous owner did not package it correctly,” Terlizzi says. “Printers are long and heavy, which makes it hard for shipping companies to handle without the proper packaging. Most original owners throw their packaging away as it can be bulky and hard to store.”
Equipment Layout. Proper shop layouts of equipment emphasize a three-prong approach, which includes customer experience and queuing for rapid transactions; an emphasis on promoting sales; and operator efficiency. The bottom line (profitability) suffers if equipment is not laid out properly.
So how do you go about doing so? When working with a reputable supplier, walk through your facility, illustrating your current and projected workflow, power sources and projected use of the space in the months (or years) to come. Be sure that your facility has the ability to handle the power requirements of the new equipment. Your equipment supplier should be able to determine the specifications needed for your space and the proper placement for maximum efficiency. This includes proper placement of the consumables, including the substrates and ink, for each piece of equipment in your shop.
Supportive environment. These days, there is a lot of equipment that will do a great job for dye-sub and direct dye-sub printing. “Personally, I like Mimaki printers and Mutoh printers depending on the exact printing needs,” Terlizzi says. “However, another important factor is the equipment provider. Make sure they are application savvy and technically competent. Good support can be even more important than one brand versus another.”
Not only should the support pertain to the equipment purchase, but make sure your equipment supplier can streamline your purchasing process of the consumables associated with the particular type of equipment you are buying.
Also be sure to work with someone you trusr. Find out about the equipments’ core strength and its core weakness. “For researching, trade shows are great,” Terlizzi says. “Also, I recommend talking with people that have already deployed similar equipment. Often times, they are eager to share what they learned.”
For Martinson, the best resource, hands down, is a local, reliable distributor with a good reputation for service. “Do not buy out of your area, on the web or mail order, just because you may save a buck or two,” he says. “Printers are delicate, electronic, complex units. Even the best one will have an issue or two, or need service. And when it does, all the money you may have saved buying ‘remote control’ will not mean a thing when your printer is down and you need someone to fix it. If you buy locally, from that reliable, competent company, they will be there to take care of you, fix your problem, and get you back into production. And at that moment, that is worth a million bucks.”