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04 Dec 2017

Some commercial printers shoot themselves in the foot

Production Printing Services

How schooling operators feed returns on investment

Some commercial printers who invest in new production equipment don’t necessarily get the returns they should reasonably expect. And one of the reasons is a series of complex factors around operator skills.

Customers are investing substantial amounts in these machines – anywhere from R500 000 to about R2 million. They’re exceptionally capable devices and the features and benefits are extensive in the modern digital world. That’s good news for printers because it means they can serve new and broader markets, which helps them to grow revenues.

The equipment advances mean there’s more focus on operators today. They have to be trained, knowledgeable, and skilled to get the most out of the kit. Poorly trained operators can cause maintenance issues as well as significantly drop the potential for machines to generate revenues. And it’s for that reason all new machines typically come with training. The quality of that training varies, though.

Sometimes it’s a case of the sales engineer spending two hours with an operator. The operator may already be experienced but it’s usually on older, less capable equipment, so it’s unfair to expect the operator to learn all the advanced capabilities in a matter of a couple of hours. That’s not training. It’s an introduction to the device.

It happens often, though. The environments where these guys operate are highly pressured. They have to perform and they have existing equipment to keep turning out the jobs. So he gets an introduction, which isn’t enough as it is, and then he doesn’t see the machine again for a week while it’s installed and the new owner gets a job to run on it. Then the operator’s suddenly put on the machine and expected to make it perform. The machine is destined to fail to generate revenues, let alone a profit, and the operator will likely quite naturally begin to find fault with the machine.

The operators are the point of contact with the equipment so they must be taught how to use it, how to get the most out of it for customers, and how to keep it churning out revenue-generating product. They need access to training material, online, from qualified technicians, vendor or industry body classrooms, or private institutions.

There are many cases where we do get to train the operators. And that’s often done at night or on the weekend; after hours. In cases like that there’s unquestionable commitment to performance and we always see the positive results when the operators are up to the task.

That’s a crucial point. Operators must be knowledgeable, have the skill, and demonstrate the behaviour necessary to get the most out of the kit. The business sells their ability to use the security options, ultra violet, neon colour, metallic print, and all the other features. There are so many capabilities that even I’m impressed. They do digital cut sheet, have fifth colour stations, flatbeds, print directly to bricks, glass, wood – even on thick material just the same way you print to paper. That’s a big deal for someone like a contractor who has to revamp a kitchen, for example. There’s even direct-to- garment for digital shirt, cap, and other clothing item printing.

Some of the training is high value. But it shows results. Employers who invest in modern digital production equipment with poorly trained operators do themselves a disservice. It is far more beneficial to take the long-term view, invest a relatively minor amount of time in the operators and get the best possible return on your investment.

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