Thermal Inkjet (TIJ) printers are changing the landscape of the product coding and marking industry. In the past Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) was the preferred technology. But TIJ printers have come a long way over the last decade, delivering significant benefits.
TIJ printers require minimal operator training, no scheduled maintenance, are kinder to the planet (using almost 80% less electricity than CIJ); and have the versatility to print at high resolution on almost any surface, including glass, plastics and metals. The newer compact TIJ printers, such as the edding in-line 12, bring further benefits: smaller footprint and easier to install, unrivalled connectivity to external accessories and software solutions, a wider range of inks developed with edding expertise, control of the printer remotely to mitigate against operator coding errors, and you can install the printer within minutes without lengthy shutdown of the production line.
But, how do the two technologies compare on cost?
Today, there are CIJ suppliers who price their machines low, instead earning revenue through the on-going high costs of consumables and post-sale servicing and maintenance costs. That’s why it’s important to look at the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) when comparing print costs.
Why Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is so important
The upfront and running costs of equipment are central to the decision-making process for equipment buyers. The TCO is all important to the likes of Production, Technical and Engineering Managers. It relates to the overall cost (direct and indirect) of a machine over its useful life; not just the initial purchase price.
To compare the TCO value of different coding solutions it’s important to consider the ongoing costs of consumables, servicing, maintenance and waste disposal. Any potential supplier should always clearly define the cost per print of their machine.
Below, are calculations of some indicative costs of CIJ and TIJ based on general market pricing and usage.
Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) printing
1. Consumable costs per print
Every CIJ printer uses two types of fluid consumables: bottles of ink and makeup.
Ink prices vary widely depending on supplier, type of ink, speciality, bottle size etc. but £65 per 800ml ink bottle and makeup at £12 per bottle are good market value rates. Generally speaking, one bottle of ink requires around four bottles of makeup solution.
On average a six-character code can be printed upwards of a million times per bottle of ink, with associated makeup usage. An average cost per print value tends to vary between £0.10 - £0.25 per 1,000 prints.
2. Servicing costs
In recent years, CIJ has been described as a service-free technology. However, the complexity of a CIJ printer, with so many working parts within the main body as well as fragile parts within the printhead itself, means that the print quality can drastically diminish during the year. Suppliers now offer “optimisation visits” instead of service contracts to ensure that the printers remain reliable and efficient. These visits cost a minimum of £500 each.
In addition, many of the major models have a service module component which needs replacing every 6, 12 or 24 months depending on the inks used within the printer. These modules can be replaced by an operator so don’t necessarily require servicing but cost on average £450 per annum.
Once a CIJ printer is over 5 years old, it tends to require servicing as the pump and other parts begin to perish. This inevitable degradation of parts will cost significant amounts of money to repair or replace. An annual service contract spreads this cost over 3 – 5 years, rather than pay for parts and labour when it does eventually expire. These service contracts start at upwards of £1,000 per annum and do not include the service module components.
The older a CIJ printer becomes, the higher the costs become to maintain it.
Cost per 1,000 prints for the annual service module and service contracts (based on 500k per annum) = £5.80
Running cost per print total is now £6.05 per 1,000 prints.
CIJ printing does become more cost effective for higher volume production where they are best suited to high speeds and complex environments. Once a CIJ printer is delivering over 10 million prints per annum, then the cost of ownership improves significantly.
3. Disposal costs
Waste ink and makeup solvents are considered hazardous materials, so must be disposed of responsibly and safely. Specialist waste management companies usually charge at least £1,500 per annum to collect and dispose of this waste – with higher volume ink users being charged up to £7,500 per annum.
Thermal Inkjet (TIJ) Printing
Thermal Inkjet (TIJ) offers True Cost of Print because the only ongoing cost is the purchase of the cartridge. There are no other consumables or service costs.
Cost per print varies significantly depending on desired print quality (150dpi – 600dpi) and message details. For example, a 2D code or logo will use much more ink than a simple alphanumeric code. A company which prints only best before dates on their products will likely get close to 500,000 prints per cartridge – with negligible downtime and cartridge replacement within 30 seconds.
If a cartridge costs £80 and the printed message contains a line number and expiry date (8 characters at 4mm height) at 300dpi; based on the same 250,000 prints per annum as before the running costs will be around £0.38 per 1,000 prints.
A more complex 2D or linear barcode will have a significantly higher cost however, as it requires a higher resolution for machine readability. You might only get 50,000 prints per cartridge when producing a 2D code, serial number, lot number and expiry date at 300 dpi print quality. This will give a cost per print of roughly £1.60 per 1,000 prints.
By comparing the total cost of ownership of CIJ and TIJ printers over their lifetime, you can see the true cost per print. CIJ may still score highly on very high-volume production lines, but TIJ wins on running costs for low to medium production, with significantly lower initial investment costs.
TIJ printers’ design means there is no need for expensive service and maintenance contracts. If there’s a problem, the user simply changes the ink cartridge in seconds, or reboots the printer which takes under 1 minute. By looking at the TCO it is clear that in almost every situation TIJ is the cost-effective choice.