FINDING THE RETURN ON CTP
Quantifying the benefits of computer-to-plate: a challenge package printers may need to approach with new diligence.
by Terri McConnell, Prepress Editor
In the span of a few hours on September 11th, our hearts were broken, our livelihoods were lost or threatened, and our determinations tested. In the path of swift and sweeping financial repercussions of those events, some packaging businesses are sure to fail or suffer. Even companies with the brightest outlooks are making provisions for a probable downturn and have become more reserved, careful, and "quiet."
Shaken by the uncertainty of our economic condition, we will be cautious. Understandably defensive. Less inured to risk.
Surviving and protecting margins will likely take managerial precedence over strategic growth. Justification—determining the value of a new investment—will become a more stringent and diligent practice. Return-on-investment for equipment will have to be strictly quantifiable and demonstrable.
The number and duration of installed computer-to-plate devices in the commercial printing world make it possible to predict with some measure of confidence the ROI on future CTP investments in that arena. Proliferation and competition have effectively normalized the cost per square inch of digital plates, and enough statistical data exists on productivity to anticipate CTP equipment payback hierarchically for a given plant output, press size, or document.
Not so true of the packaging printing world. There are inherent differences in the packaging process that make it more difficult to quantify the value of CTP equipment. First and foremost are manufacturing variables, such as repeat length.
Another significant factor in calculating ROI on packaging CTP equipment is the "point" of value. Many of the productivity benefits of using digitally imaged plates are weighted towards the printer, which has a faster makeready, less waste, and more sellable uptime. However, our industry is still heavily reliant on trade shops—which would likely be, and indeed have been, the first to invest in CTP. When the cost/value equation of improving a specific manufacturing process transcends the business model that supports it, we can expect to see the business model change. Consider the astounding number of commercial trade shops that have bought presses, and the proliferation of in-house prepress operations.