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Maintenance - Consider this scenario.

You work hard, and invest your money in a new car. Not just any car mind you, but this car is special. It’s got chromed this and stainless that, it’s lowered with awesome mags, and has a killer paint job.

Under the hood, it has a throbbing V8 with all the latest mod cons. You invest in luxurious lambs wool seat covers, you get the latest stereo with a 6 stacker CD remote changer.

Sounds great doesn’t it?


Shane Drew has been involved in the sign industry since 1992. 
 Before that he had a very successful career in sales, winning several Sales Awards before deciding on a career change in his early 30's.
 Shane has been writing freelance articles since 2002 and is a sign industry mentor for sign shops both in Australia and Europe, is a regular contributor to Europe's biggest sign industry forum, and is well known in local circles for his passion about the Australian Sign Industry.
 Shane is Managing Director of Drews Sign It Pty Ltd, a family business who are supporters of several major charities and not-for-profit organisations, donating over $30,000 in signage in 2008 alone.
 A recent highlight is his appointment as a Green Guardian for his support of Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, on Queensland's Southern Gold Coast.

Now this car doesn’t actually earn you any money, in fact it doesn’t bring in any income at all, but it costs money to run… a lot of money. The V8 drinks fuel like there is no tomorrow, and the constant need to service and maintain it in mint condition is not cheap.

Is it worth it? Sure you say. It’s a nice car, it turns heads and you enjoy driving it.

When it is time for a service, do you decide that the oil change and tune up isn’t that important, and leave it go till the next service is due? Probably not. A nice car like that with an expensive motor needs to be well maintained. This vehicle is an investment after all.

It has cost you a fortune to buy initially, and even though it earns no income whatsoever, you cant afford for it not to run right. So, servicing and maintenance is all part of owning this beauty.

So, where am I going with this? Since when do we discuss cars in Wide Format online magazine?

Well, I am constantly surprised by my peers who are happy to maintain their prized vehicles, and some are fantastic examples of dedication, and yet when it comes to servicing their printers, they neglect them to the detriment of their business.

What I’m talking about is simple. How much value to you place on your printer? How do you view your printer maintenance? Is it as important as getting your car serviced?

Most printer technicians will tell you that a machine should be given the once over every 6 months by a qualified professional.

Just like your car, you printer is a major investment. But it is much more than that. It is a money earner. It has a far greater value to your income stream, your ability to earn an income, than a car sitting in your driveway decreasing in value.

As an example, most know I have two wide format printers. I do my own maintenance every week to keep them in good running order. Most of us do that I’m sure.

The positive aspect of my maintenance regime is the fact that I have only had 5 heads replaced in 5 years. I know of some shops with only one machine that go through 4 or 6 heads a year.

Using good quality inks are a definite advantage, but maintaining my machines is as important as maintaining my car. I have a qualified technician service them every 6 months, and I am amazed at how much better they print after each visit. The go off song so slowly, you don’t really notice it I guess. A bit like a car.

But in my travels I often come across business owners who bemoan the costs and expense of getting their machines repaired when they screech to a halt, blow a pump because of a blockage, or a head starts to misfire. However half the problem is related to the fact that the technician is called in as a last resort and as a result, the bill is usually much bigger. Time is money to a technician after all.

I come back to that prized car. Would we run our pride and joy into the ground before calling a mechanic? No. So why are we happy to do it to our income source? It never ceases to amaze me frankly.

On the matter of technician prices, I agree that some charges are outrageous. It’s hard to argue with that. Spare parts are ridiculous prices too. Anyone familiar with marketing will know that it is a tried and tested technique to sell machines at a discounted rate, and then make it up on ink sales and spare parts.

Ever wondered why it is cheaper to buy a new basic desktop printer than buy replacement ink cartridges for it? It’s the same marketing strategy. You can buy a printer for as low as $50 at Officeworks, but ink is probably in the area of $90 when it comes time to replace the cartridges.

It also explains why most manufacturers are chipping the ink cartridges on new machines. The last thing they want is to lose the income stream from their ink sales. OEM Bulk ink systems like TECHink, Triangle and Inktec are a serious threat to manufacturers like Roland, who rely on lucrative ink sales to generate an easy, dare I say, captive income.

We see the more progressive manufacturers are now embracing Bulk Ink feeds, but the industry still has a way to go. This competition from outside ink sources is good for the sign shop too. I can only hope that the printer maintenance industry goes through the same competitive curve. We have some technicians realising that more reasonable rates means long term alliances with sign shops, but some of the others need to experience a drop in their trade to get the hint.