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The Total Cost of Ownership:

The Total Cost of Ownership:

Small Character Continuous Ink Jet Coding

When looking at purchasing small character continuous ink jet coding equipment, it’s important to take a step back and look at the total cost of ownership. As consumers, we have fallen into the habit of looking at the sticker price, no matter if it’s a car, dishwasher, or ink jet printer and immediately formulating an opinion based on the price tag. “It’s too expensive” or “it costs more than other ones just like it” might be typical reactions when finding something that looks like it’s priced higher than similar looking, competitive models. And it’s easy to understand why we do that…and we ALL do that. Typically, it’s a large purchase. Or in the case of buying something for business, it’s a capital expenditure, and the purchase needs to be justified. However, if you want to find the true cost of what you’ll spend, you have to look at more than just the initial purchase price, or “perceived price” of any item…you’ll need to look at the total cost of ownership. Doing a proper cost analysis may take a little time and effort, but it’s time well spent. It can save you in both dollars and “sense” later on.

With the purchase of a small character continuous ink jet (CIJ) printer, there are three main areas when considering the total cost:

1. Purchase Price 2. Maintenance & Production Downtime Costs 3. Consumables & Parts Costs

Purchase Price

Again, the first and most obvious indicator of pricing comes from the purchase price of the item. And there’s a pretty healthy range of pricing and options when it comes to CIJ printers. Make sure you are comparing equivalent features and options when looking at printers head to head. And if CIJ printers are designed to print, whether it be alphanumerics; date codes; batch codes; lot codes; bar codes; graphics or logos, what makes one different from the other? They all still print the code, right?

The old adage, “you usually get what you pay for” greatly comes into play with CIJ printers, just like it does with automobiles. The similarities are uncanny. Every automobile, when it came off the showroom floor, was designed with at least one commonality in mind: to get you from point A to point B. But think about the vehicles you’ve owned. Hasn’t there been one that drove better, last longer, provided more reliability than others that you’ve had? It’s the same with CIJ printers. They’re all designed to come off the showroom floor, or in this case out of the box, and “drive” or print. However, just like your favorite vehicle, there is a difference from one CIJ to the next, on how it drives, how long it lasts, how reliable it is over time. And in the end, just like an automobile, you usually get what you pay for. In a sense, you can “pay now or pay later”. (“Pay now” meaning the initial cost may seem more expensive, but over time will be minimized by less maintenance, less downtime, less headaches. Or “pay later” meaning a lower cost initially, but over time more expense through frequent maintenance, more downtime, more headaches.

After purchase price, we need to look at an area that may be thought about the least, but arguably should be considered the most. It’s the categories that we don’t automatically think about when we think about “price”, but these are a very important part of the equation when adding up to the total cost of ownership.

Maintenance & Production Downtime Costs

Some important questions to ask while comparing CIJ printers:

  • How much time does it take for the CIJ printer to start up? Some CIJ printers can require up to 10 minutes of flushing, tweaking, and coaxing in order to be ready for production to begin. That is down production time, plus labor time.
  • Can I add fluids to the CIJ printer on the fly, without having to stop the production line? If you have to stop the production line to add ink and solvent, add that time as a cost.
  • Does the CIJ printer do a complete autoflush at shutdown in which the lines and nozzle are purged with solvent? Some CIJ printers evacuate the lines, but do not put solvent through the nozzle, thus leaving it with crusty, dried ink for your start-up the next morning. This will add to your maintenance & production downtime.

Do you see the reoccurring theme? Let’s face it, time is money. And the time that your production line is not running is costing your company money. Ask any Maintenance Manager who oversees a CIJ printer on the production line about their joys or pains. Depending on the CIJ printer, you’ll either hear “I press the go button in the morning for start-up, I press the red button in the afternoon for go home, and the time in-between I have no problems.” Or you’ll hear responses like, “my CIJ printer takes forever to start-up, I have to clean the printhead daily, I have to manually make adjustments to the printhead, it’s a mess.” So one of the factors that needs to be added in to the total cost of ownership is time. How long does the printer take to get up and running? What’s involved? How much time is spent daily on maintaining the printer, or more specifically, the printhead? Are manual adjustments to the printhead needed in order to maintain print quality throughout the day?

Is the printhead your friend or foe? For example, if daily printer startups takes 10 minutes every day x 7 days week x 52 weeks/year, that’s an average of over 60 hours spent just on getting the CIJ printer to print! How much is your time worth per hour? Do the math. How important is it to have a CIJ printer that does not require daily printhead cleaning nor any manual adjustments made to the printhead? How much time could that save? How much money could that save! That too is part of the cost of ownership that needs to be factored in.

While not all CIJ printers require factory air, many today do. So another cost as part of your analysis is factory air. How often does the air filter need to be replaced? What is the cost of the air itself? $400/year? And what about portability or rather mobility. Some manufacturers like to have one printer to move to multiple production lines at different times of the day. If so, how easy is it to move the CIJ printer if there is an airline connected to it? Will I need an airline added in another location? If you’re comparing a CIJ printer that does use factory air vs. one that does not, make sure to take those items into consideration as well. They too are part of your cost.

Also, and without getting into the details, it is important to know how frequently your CIJ printer will require scheduled maintenance. You’ll want to understand from your CIJ vendor what is recommended by the manufacturer and factor that into your cost.

Consumables & Parts Costs

Make sure that you are comparing apples to apples when it comes to consumables. Ink consumption will be based on the volume used to mark your product. Solvent consumption has many variables based on ambient temperature and fluids management (i.e. are you wasting solvent on printhead cleaning, are you needing to refresh systems with new solvent when you haven’t finished your old solvent yet). Figuring how much ink and solvent your CIJ printer requires to put your mark on your product is part of the cost analysis. Also, in terms of purchasing fluids, make sure that you are comparing the volume of fluids per case. Some vendors will package and sell 6 bottles to a case; others will be 10 bottles to a case, so make certain you are looking at the total volume when looking at cost per case on consumables.

Replacement parts should be purchased from a manufacturer-approved source. Discount replacement parts (i.e. from a third party) may prove to be more costly due to increased maintenance & service costs.


So that’s basically it. The key to determining the total cost of ownership is to look at the total picture. And if you’re working with a reputable vendor of CIJ printers, they’ll alert you to this and even aid in figuring your total cost. The main thing to remember is that a CIJ printer with a higher purchase price does not make it a more expensive printer. In fact, it will probably save you money because of its quality, reliability, and longevity.

At the end of the day, what you’re really buying is value and peace of mind. If you have to continually stop your production line to babysit the CIJ printer because it’s time to add fluids, tweak the printhead, etc. on a printer that you saved a few thousand dollars on, you’re not saving money. With CIJ printers, you really do get what you pay for. Remember, it’s about dollars and “sense”.

And just like automobiles, you should be able to do a “test drive” of the CIJ printers before you purchase. A quality vendor will access your application needs, make a recommendation based on best-fit technology and provide you with a free, no-obligation demonstration of the CIJ printer on your production line. If they can’t or won’t do that, look elsewhere.

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