Return on Investment

Using the right tools helps deliver R.O.I.

R.O.I. is the sought-after number used to justify nearly every business expense. For every day or rapidly consumed commodities like paper clips, the lowest cost makes the most sense. But when it comes to consumable parts of a flexographic printing press, there are precious few commodities because even seemingly minor parts can play a vital role in the quality of the printing a press provides.

The poster child in this category is the humble doctor blade. Relegated to the thankless task of skimming ink off anilox rolls, doctor blades are consumables, but that doesn’t mean the cheapest ones available are the best choice. Still, many converters treat them that way, discarding them every few hours, sometimes at plate changes, or simply when print quality beings to slip. And both approaches cost money.

Replacing blades too often adds a few extra dollars to the cost of a job (not counting labor). This doesn’t mean much until you add up the cost over an entire year. More often, though, a converter runs blades too long, which can impact print quality as the blade wears. In either case, the ROI isn’t all it could or should be.

Treat your blades as tools

When you begin thinking of doctor blades as tools it changes how you think about replacing them. For instance, it easy to buy commodity doctor blades for about $5 that will last for an eight-hour shift, or possibly two shifts, before needing replacing. This is business as usual for many shops but is really the flexographic equivalent of buying hand tools from the $1 “special buy” bin at a big box store.

But let’s suppose that instead of 8–12 hours, a doctor blade could last for 96 hours or 12 shifts—up to eight times as long as a commodity-grade $5 blade? If, for example, such a blade cost $15, it is a better value because higher quality blades are specially treated and coated to provide longer life and deliver higher print quality for the life of the blade. And the added value isn’t limited to merely using fewer blades over the course of a year. Fewer changes also mean more press uptime, so long jobs can run with fewer interruptions, while changeover for shorter jobs can be done faster and more efficiently because the blade doesn’t need to be changed. Such advantages drop right to your bottom line because with wide or mid-web press costs running as high as $700 per hour, saving half an hour for changing each blade rapidly translates into greater productivity and profitability. That’s an ROI you can take to the bank.

Even if you look only at the monthly cost of blade replacement, the ROI of more durable, higher quality blades can show up in your checking account. Take a look at the accompanying infographic from Provident to see how the numbers add up when you use better longer life doctor blades. Those commodity $5 blades you replace every 12 hours can quickly add up to $300 in just one month, while more costly blades that last 96 hours can reduce the monthly outlay for blades by over 60 percent. Of course, some doctor blades can cost comparatively more than our hypothetical $15, but the benefit of using quality doctor blades still plays out in longevity, print quality, and labor savings.

Sealing the deal

And while we’re talking about consumables, don’t forget end seals. Like doctor blades, they are not all created equal. The better ones fit ink trays more securely, are less likely to fail, and are designed so they require changing at the same time as the doctor blades. Not failing all but eliminates the costs associated with end seal failures, while changing blades and seals at the same time help reduce setup and changeover costs.

Doctor blades and end seals are tools, and when your business depends on controlling costs, even these inexpensive consumables can help make a difference in your bottom line.

This article is reposted from the Provident Blog and originally appeared in April 2016