Going Grand Format

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Moultonboro, NH

By Guy Cipresso, Novus Imaging vice president of sales & business development
Published in the October, 2015 • Sign & Digital Graphics magazine.

Some practical considerations when buying your first grand-format printer.

It is no secret that print customers are demanding shorter lead times, lower prices and are looking for that proverbial “one-stop shop.” To meet these demands and capitalize on the opportunities, many shops are turning to grand-format printing.

Grand-format printing enables significant improvements in productivity at lower costs, which translates into shorter lead times for the customer and increased profits for the business. A grand-format printer also will increase the number of products a commercial print business is able to offer. A grand-format printer is an industrial class press, designed and built to be run 24/7/365, and most in operation today do just that. However, there are some key considerations and preparations that need to be made before a grand-format press is added to a shop.

Identify Your Target Applications

Of primary importance is whether the printer and ink suit your target applications and whether image quality will meet your customers’ expectations. Use your social network, industry associations and trade publications to obtain as much information as possible about grand-format printing. Compare the cost of the grand-format printer output with present methods, and if the return on investment is favorable then it’s time to look at operations. This article explains the nuances of going into grand format from real world experiences, some obvious, some not so.

Site Evaluation/Delivery Requirements

Obviously it must be determined if there is enough space in the facility for a grand-format printer. The most popular grand-format printers are about 3.2 meters (10′) wide—and that’s just the print width. The location selected should be large enough to accommodate the press dimensions and front and rear tables to accommodate boards if the printer is a hybrid.

A three-foot perimeter outside of the printer dimensions is recommended to allow for easy access to the press for material loading/unloading, ink fill and other normal maintenance routines. The floor must be level and must be able to support the weight of the press. Consider the printer delivery and the physical path required to get the printer to its final location. Is there a loading dock or ramp, and are the doors wide enough? Consult with the printer manufacturer for printer-on-pallet dimensions and weight.

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It is advisable to hire a licensed and bonded rigger to ensure a safe efficient placement. Grand-format printers are fast, material will move in and out of the printer area frequently, so budget space for lift truck or pallet jack access. If the press is a roll-to-roll unit, plan space for storage of printed rolls that is in close proximity to roll goods finishing operations. If the press is a hybrid—which can print onto both roll stock and rigid boards—plan an easy path to the cutting/routing/finishing operations. Plan for expansion ahead of time, don’t be space constrained as the print volume grows.

Site Preparation: Power, Air & Environmental

A grand-format printer is an industrial machine so its power, air requirements and environmental requirements are industrial.

Consult with the printer manufacturer for a site preparation guide during the quoting process. This ensures that all requirements for a successful install are known and can be achieved. The printer manufacturer can provide the exact electrical requirements, but in general the electrical requirements will be three-phase, 208 volts, and 50 amps. 50/60 Hz. In some installations a transformer may be a required purchase.

Use a licensed electrician for the install to ensure it is done to code. Compressed air of at least 100 to 120psi is often required, as is a stable printing environment. A good printing environment should be able to maintain a temperature of 55°F to 85°F and have humidity greater than 55% non-condensing. It is always a good practice to plan for an exhaust system, therefore check with local regulatory agencies to see if there are requirements for what can and cannot exhaust to the outside. A mechanical contractor can provide specifics on the exhaust fan size and volume of exhaust needed. The printer manufacturer can also be a valuable resource for this information. Make sure the ceiling above the prospective printer location is easily accessible for installing exhaust fans and ducting.

IT and Software Needs

When it comes to the IT and computer side of things, grand-format printers will require that network connections be available at install in order to connect the pre-press computer (which handles RIP processing, etc.) The press will have an Internet address that will be used for remote diagnostics by the manufacturer. Remote diagnostics reduce and often prevent unnecessary production downtime.

Make sure that the press under consideration is supported by the production software used. Most grand-format printers have open architecture allowing for connection to various production software programs as long as the software provider has developed a driver. The most common workflow after design is to have a RIP station to process images.

After files are RIPed they can be sent to the grand-format printer’s print queue for printing. Do not print a RIPed file over the network. The high data throughput requirements to print an image will exceed the bandwidth of the network and everything will come to a crawl.

If you are moving to a different ink type with your new printer—eco-solvent to UV-cure for example—new color profiles will be needed. Allocate time to get a set of profiles for your most high-volume materials first, then build the remaining profile library over time. The press manufacturer or software provider should be able to provide one or two profiles to get you started.

Delivery Day Considerations

Prior to delivery hire a reputable, licensed rigger to ensure your investment gets to its final destination safely. Work out a delivery strategy with the rigger during the rigger’s quote process. Ensure that the flooring along the path between the loading dock and the final installation site is level and able to support the weight of both the printer, packaging materials and fork truck.

Make sure all requirements for installation are in place prior to delivery and that the carrier’s delivery schedule is in sync with the rigger. There have been too many installs that went awry because installation requirements were not met or schedules miscommunicated. Additional charges could be assessed or installation delayed by the manufacturer if the press can’t be installed on the scheduled date.

When the press arrives at the facility, carefully inspect the crate and packaging prior to unloading from the truck. Look for signs of damage that may have occurred during shipping. Take photos even if no damage is visible in the event damage is found later in the installation. Verify the package count against the packing slip. If everything checks out, proceed unloading the printer.

Training and Integration

Having a successful grand-format integration requires training and good communication. Identify one person in your organization who can be the “grand-format champion” and who can devote all of his/her time to training on the new press. If special grand-format skill sets are needed, then recruit and hire before purchasing or taking delivery of the press. When multiple shifts are planned, having one champion per shift is advised.

Take advantage of all of the training that the manufacturer offers. The manufacturer typically provides several days of onsite training in concert with the installation. At Novus we also offer the customer the opportunity to send their champion to the factory to participate in the last week or two of the press build. This hands-on experience includes print head installation and alignments, power up, ink fill procedures, material loading and printing of a final acceptance print prior to shipment.

This type of training builds the relationship with the manufacturer, and reduces feelings of intimidation and anxiety when the press is delivered. The champion must be a good communicator and trainer since that person will be the go-to person for questions as well as the trainer for production operators and new hires down the road. If you are changing the production software you are using, personnel should be adequately trained prior to the printer delivery.

Final Acceptance

After installation and start up, print the final acceptance print, which was also printed prior to the press leaving the factory. This is usually done as part of the installation process before onsite training begins. Make sure that the print quality and print time matches the acceptance print from the factory. Although the printer is new, you should schedule production orders through the press if possible. This will not only validate the printer for production but will test the workflow from the design station through the press, to the finishing operations.

Verify that the production print jobs meet requirements for image quality and print times and ensure good material flow in and out of the press area. Make adjustments to profiles, print modes, and workflow as necessary. Verify that the installed press meets the manufacturer’s specifications for image quality, print speed and ink consumption.

The press or the software RIP should have the capability to indicate the number of feet printed and the print time per job. Some RIPs also have options for ink calculations and verification. Often times a poorly constructed color profile can result in excess ink consumption. Check to verify that all supplies that were part of the purchase are on hand.

Start a remote diagnostics session to experience the interaction between the manufacturer’s technical support and the press operators. Make a list of any IOUs that the manufacturer committed to during installation and training and don’t forget to follow up until they are received.

Grand-Format Game Changer

This article was written to provide insight to first timers who are going grand format. Grand-format is a game changer for a business. If the business is retail only, the reduced costs, lead times and expanded capabilities will enable a business to get more of their customers spend and will also attract new customers. Grand-format printing can also create business opportunities by selling wholesale jobs to others in the trade that do not have grand-format print capability.

Once you have gone grand-format it’s a terrific idea to market your newly acquired printer by hosting an open house event to show off the press and its capabilities to existing and potentially new customers. Get the word out with ads in web, print and social media. Be prepared for the next problem you will need to address: where to put the second grand-format printer.

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