The Pros & Cons of Integrated Printer/Plotters

When it comes to print production, streamlining is key. Whether it’s simply finding a smaller machine or combining the tasks of two machines into one, saving space, time and money are always top priorities. But at what point does “streamlining” turn the corner and start negatively affecting productivity?

Production speed and flexibility

Ordinarily the idea of having one machine that can perform multiple tasks seems more efficient than spending the money and floorspace on two separate machines — but at the same time, you’re often putting one task on hold while you wait for the other to be completed. If you find yourself up against production deadlines that require a mix of both print and cut, your all-in-one unit will only tackle the workload in bites.

Decentralizing the tasks by having two separate machines, you have options that allow you to print and cut simultaneously, freeing you up to prioritize your jobs based on urgency — sometimes on the fly — without bringing all the other jobs to a complete halt.

Quality of the finished product

Most hybrid print/cut devices also tend to be slower, with fewer control options than their independent counterparts. These machines usually rely on a single dual-purposed control carriage that operates the print head for one task and the plotter head for another.

The print motion is a smooth back and forth swath responsible for landing a 12 to 20 pico-liter drop on target during each pass. Vibration, speed variation and consistent head alignment are some of the factors that engineers address constantly as they try to improve print performance.

The plotter needs to change directions very quickly to accurately follow the intended design paths. This requires that same carriage to move in very abrupt motions that put pressure on both the carriage belt and the carriage itself. Engineers must balance these factors and develop compromises that would least adversely affect the other’s operation.

The result is usually a slower and less capable production unit — sometimes with less than desirable quality output. As is true in most cases, it’s better to be great at one thing than just average at many.

Eggs in a basket

If there’s one thing every production floor dreads, it’s your machine going down. Oftentimes if one machine malfunctions, there are still other tasks to be done on other machines. But when one machine is responsible for multiple tasks, a malfunction can bring your production flow to a screeching halt. Usually when one component has an error, both components go offline and you’re stuck in the mud until it can be serviced.

So while it may be true that a multi-function machine saves money up front, there’s also a lot at stake in terms of keeping your work flow as uninterrupted as possible. Be sure to do your research when you’re in the market for an all-in-one — read reviews and have a backup plan if something fails. Consider the life span of that machine versus the expectancies of separate units. And, as always, if you have any other questions that we didn’t address here, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line and we’ll be happy to help however we can!

 

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