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A Q&A on Remanufactured Equipment: Is It for You?

Today's consumers pay as much attention to the package as they do to what's in it. So brand managers and print buyers demand higher quality graphics, more flexibility, and just-in-time delivery. To position themselves to meet these demands, printers must take a serious look at their equipment.

In the past, capital goods purchasing decisions usually centered around buying new or making do. Unfortunately, many printers that "make do" find that their equipment's capabilities fall short of the quality and performance needed to be competitive in today's market.

There is a third option: remanufacturing existing equipment to better than original performance standards. In this article I will discuss this option by posing some commonly asked questions and attempting to provide some answers.

Q: Why do some people have reservations about rebuilding equipment?
: I think it stems from the fact that most rebuilders only replace what needs replacing and, in the end, the press runs like it did originally. Older models, even on their best day, can't compete with today's machines. What is needed is to take older pieces of equipment and change their tolerances and capabilities so they can meet today's standards.

Q: What is actually involved in remanufacturing?
: Usually, the equipment must be re-engineered by replacing all of the drive systems, tension controls, dryer systems, bearings, idlers, and 100% of the control wiring. The base components such as the frame and the iron, if they are well-built, are usually not in bad shape, but many of the other parts will not be up to today's standards.

Q: And that's how higher performance levels are achieved?
: That's one way. You also have to look at complete systems, because typically they are designed for a particular structure or substrate—and substrate requirements today are very different than in the past. One example: Compare the old process of printing candy wrappers on wax paper—a pretty stable material—with printing on 38-gauge materials, conversely, pretty unstable. Years ago, printers could have traps that were an 11/48 to 11/44 of an inch. Now, traps are in the single-digit thousandths.

Q: What is the criteria for determining whether to rebuild, remanufacture, or buy a new press?
: You need to determine your marketplace and requirements. If you run more simplistic linework, one- or two-color applications, special coatings, or non-register-specific jobs and need to improve functionality and downtime, then simple rebuilding may be adequate.

Then look at what you want to achieve both today and tomorrow. If you are looking for higher quality, faster speeds, and more efficient maintenance, you probably want a remanufacturing process.

Finally, look at your budget. You may have a budget and status that requires you to buy new. Or you may need the same characteristics, support, and warranties as new but can't afford the price tag. That's where remanufacturing comes in.

Q: What about buying rebuilt equipment?
: Remanufacturing is a good alternative to buying rebuilt equipment. When you buy a rebuilt piece, you assume a lot of risk. You may buy a piece of equipment for a quarter of a million dollars and spend six months to a year, and another quarter of a million dollars, to get it running to your standards. With remanufacturing, you don't assume that risk, because you have a known commodity that's already integrated into your business.

Q: Shouldn't downtime be a part of that criteria?
: Absolutely. The delivery cycle on a new press usually runs about a year, while the delivery cycle on a remanufactured piece of equipment is about four months. With remanufacturing, you gain about six to eight months of producing a higher quality product. Almost immediately you can earn back the money to pay for the machinery.

Q: What tips the scale toward remanufacturing?
: Price! Remanufacturing legacy equipment to new specifications costs 50% to 70% less that buying new. In addition, you still can use your existing anilox rolls and plate cylinders—that's a big savings no matter how you add it up.

Q: What about buying used parts?
: Sometimes timing becomes the critical issue. New replacement parts are available for most legacy equipment, but sometimes the wait is as long as 16 weeks. That's 16 weeks of downtime, and who can run a business that way?

Q: Isn't buying a used part a bit risky?
: Not if your supplier assesses the usability of the part and how much life is left. Also, because used parts are so inexpensive, the investment risk is minimal.

Q: What are some types of equipment that can be remanufactured?
: Flexographic presses, gravure presses, coaters, laminators, slitters, and bag machines, to name just some.

Q: What about converting a six-color press to an eight-color press?
: It can be done. The main reason most printers need an eight-color press is to do higher quality work—not to apply more color. The problem, however, is that eight-color presses are very expensive.

Q: What kind of costs are we looking at for a conversion?
: A six-to-eight conversion is about 50% to 70% less than the cost of a new press. A new central impression and its color decks typically cost about $1.2 million. A conversion option usually runs about $400,000 to $500,000.

Also, with a conversion, you don't have to worry about plate cylinders and the other things required when you buy a new press. If you have 50 aniloxes when you start, you have 50 in the end.

Q: What are the quality advantages of converting a press versus putting another station downline?
: The ability to run multiple colors around a central impression (CI) gives the quality that most printers are looking for, because everything is geared together. Anytime you can keep the substrate on a stable surface, you get the registration you need, and that translates into high quality printing.

While putting stations downline adds more colors, you typically don't get the quality or register tolerances you need for today's demands.

Q: What about the drying considerations of adding two more stations to an existing press?
: Existing drying systems usually can be modified to deliver the needed velocity without having to add new stacks or burners. You would get between-color dryers and many other new components.

Q: How long does a conversion usually take?
: Typically, customers experience about two to three weeks of downtime in the facility, but the entire process takes about four months. That means evaluating the press conditions, engineering to bring it up to compatibility, and bringing in sub-assemblies complete and tested, so it can be put together and be ready to run.

Q: How can we sum up?
: The choice to make do, re-do, or buy new is, in the final analysis, a value decision. It's always exciting to take delivery of a shiny new press. In contrast, it's always a little scary to buy used capital equipment. Rebuilding works well if your printing application does not exceed the original press design capability. Re-manufacturing or buying remanufactured legacy equipment is a viable option—one that delivers a very attractive cost-to-performance ratio.

Jake Bishop is president and CEO of MRT/Machine Renovation Technology Inc., Appleton, WI. He has a background in engineering and production, moving from maintenance engineering to plant engineering to corporate engineering. He has been responsible for capital goods purchases, equipment justifications, and day-to-day equipment improvement. He can be reached at 920/993-0000.

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