Service in the printing industry has changed out of all recognition in the last decade. It has had to.Where the most advanced sheetfed printers might have been outputting 35 to 40 million per press then, they are producing 65 to 70 million today.
Today no one buys a standalone press, they buy a package which might include digital workflows, spectral colour measurement, automated plate changing, a reel to sheet device, a plethora of inline finishes and press ancillaries for inking, filtration, temperature control or water treatment.
Both selling and servicing has become more technical as the sector has industrialised. Higher productivity means fewer presses doing more work but with that comes a new reliance on the reliability of equipment and output quality and back up when things go wrong.
Service is today a key sales differentiator. That is why in the UK alone Heidelberg’s 143 engineers and 40 service support staff undertake 7,500 hours of training each year. We invest in good people (we recruit about three apprentices a year and never use freelancers) who are equipped with PDAs and access to technical data and expertise in the UK and globally. Increasingly, Remote Service enables printers to have equipment monitored and repaired without manual intervention or for an issue to be identified and an engineer dispatched with the right knowledge, tools and spares so that a first time fix is achieved.
Service, like press configurations, are becoming more tailored and Heidelberg offers a range of warranties and contracts as well as time and materials call outs, training and education, consultancy and refurbishment services. There is something for every need and every budget. The UK is unusual in offering a Sunday evening to Saturday morning manned cover which gives secure support even to printers running 24/6 – and there are an increasing number of them.
Freelance engineers struggle to keep up with some of the latest technical products such as Inpress Control, an automated register and colour control device. Having factory trained staff armed with the manufacturer’s own spare parts made to exact tolerances safeguards the key production assets of a company. Having a service contract in place means predictable service costs and peace of mind.
There is also a definite trend towards onsite refurbishment as printers look to maximise the performance of presses and extend the life of each machine. High impression counts also means many more companies are setting specific write down periods, typically five years, which is recognition that there is ongoing significant development in the offset litho sector. It has fought back strongly against digital and most informed commentators now recognise that digital is an adjunct to litho and not its successor. These technologies sit comfortably side by side – and as Heidelberg supplies both we are well positioned to judge.
In September I will have completed ten years as Service Director of Heidelberg UK and one can only look at the next ten with interest. Changes will continue. I believe the printing sector will see a transition from the traditionally reactive service to a proactive, preventative mindset. Developments in remote service will continue and the ability to measure and monitor the cost benefit of services and other non-monetary advantages (quality of output, reduced complaints, higher staff motivation etc) will become more sophisticated.
The print sector can hold its head up. About 3-5% of machine purchase cost is spent on service typically – and this compares well with other industries. Research by Heidelberg in Germany, for instance, showed that in metal cutting the equivalent figure was close to 18%!
I am reassured as I see more printers investing in their staff as well as their machines and the uptake on training (everything from technical and machine-based instruction through to colour/ ISO 12647-2, folding and workflow tips) is increasing. Modern presses and sophisticated inline tools demand a change in mindset, an eye on process control and a motivated workforce to optimise the results. That is why Heidelberg will continue to lay a huge emphasis on post-sale services.