Minimising service issues
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By Sophie Matthews-Paul
10 August 2011
The operator's interest and skill play a huge part in keeping machines up and running
The implications of service and maintenance continue to provide a dichotomy for display producers when they're faced with either relying on a contract or taking the ad hoc approach to getting their machines mended. Particularly in straitened economic times, many are reluctant to pay for something which might never get used yet, ironically, businesses are quick to cast heavy criticisms at their suppliers when a break-down causes inevitable disruption.
The benefits of service contracts need to be balanced by their costs, and user skills and interest need to be factored in. For the initial agreed warranty period, users should be able to rest easy knowing that, if it all goes horribly wrong, an engineer will appear at short notice. However, when it comes to wide-format systems, an initial guarantee can differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some don't cover replacement print-heads in an initial warranty, and others might charge for out-of-hours visits. So there could still be hidden charges involved from the start.
It's when a machine heads for contract renewal that businesses are faced with the choice of either taking up extended care from the manufacturer or going it alone. Independent companies also offer their own service choices including the pay-as-you-go route or a warranty. With the selections available, operators also play a vital role by caring for their printers.
Wide-format digital printing machines are prey to the skills and abilities of the people building them in the first place. Quality construction and parts should last far longer than their cheap counterparts but, nonetheless, even the best made things go wrong. And breakdowns are pretty much guaranteed to happen at the most inconvenient time, no matter the levels of care taken during operation.
As wide-format has become a mature process, so manufacturers have appreciated that the skill of the user, and how much he actually likes and respects the machine he's operating, can affect service requirements. Bearing in mind that many engineers' visits are the result of human error, there are instances where someone technically competent could probably fix minor problems with the help of telephone support. Certainly, those printing units which have been cherished since the day there were installed tend to fare better than those which end each day covered in waste ink and bits of masking tape.
Some people are fascinated by the workings of technology; for others, it is enough that they can open computer programs with minimal understanding, so long as everything functions correctly. Ensuring the operator has a sound working knowledge of both the platform and the printing machine can save considerable time and money when a call-out turns out to be user error which could have been fixed either through applying a little logic or with some basic telephone support.
When serious capital investment is involved, the stakes become more serious and the decision needs to be made about whether or not to take out extended warranties from manufacturers or go it alone. There is no right or wrong solution; only the print service provider can, and should, make the decision about which route to take. And there are always caveats which need to be factored in, the most common one being ink. Nobody can blame a manufacturer for refusing to honour a maintenance agreement if the user runs into trouble when switching from original to third-party versions in an attempt to save money.
There are older machines which have long outlived their ROI and which might not even be considered for warranty by the original manufacturer because they are simply too long in the tooth. All is not lost as there are specialist service providers who have clocked up considerable miles servicing and maintaining printers that, once, were state-of-the-art. These companies can be vital allies when an OEM might decline continuing cover.
Many people need the comfort factor, and that's something that only money can buy, in this scenario with a comprehensive maintenance contract. However, if you're confident that you can live with a service which you call out as and when it's needed, and simply pay an invoice for that particular job, then nobody should condemn you for taking that attitude.
Why some machines fail to work whilst others perform flawlessly is one of those mysteries which apply to all products in all walks of life. With rigorous quality control procedures covering production practices and components, the finished unit should run like a dream. And this is more likely to happen if users look after their printing equipment properly in the first place.
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