Plastic Card Punching: “The Real Meaning of Card Volumes”; Card Technology Today; July/August 2008

The Real Meaning of Card Volumes

For many years now many card manufacturers have proffered statistics on their yearly card volumes to their smart card issuer clientele, equating high production output with evidence of expertise. The larger the card volume, the louder the bragging rights. Bill Knotts, VP of Marketing for Spartanics (www.spartanics.com) tells CTT that the size of a card manufacturing operation and its production output can be very misleading, especially if a smart card issuer is seeking the highest quality for the best price for a small order.

“The type of equipment that it takes to sustain a card manufacturing operation with an output of severala million cards/week is really quite distinct from that which is best suited for small runs of 5,000 – 10,000 or so. In some cases, a small plastics printer with a sideline business for short runs of printed plastic cards might be better suited to take on a smart ID card project, for example, than a high volume card manufacturer that dedicates most of its production line to VISA and MasterCard production. On the other hand even some of the largest card manufacturers can compete for these small run jobs precisely because they have invested in equipment that is geared for short runs in addition to their high volume production equipment.”

“Card punching equipment, one of the bigger equipment investments that a card manufacturer might make, is an example of this. As a company that manufactures card punching equipment geared for high volume work as well as equipment geared for low volume work we can tell you that there are significant differences in card punching equipment with outputs of 70,000 cards/hour as compared to lower-priced card punching equipment that can only output 5,000 – 86,000 cards per 8-hour shift, and many other card punching systems geared for various card volume outputs in between.’

“The top-end systems provide the highest throughput for large runs and for extremely tight cut-to-print registration by registering each cut in three dimensions (X, Y, and Rotational). They are able to output 70,000 cards/hour because they have many automated features to help streamline production at such high volumes.”

“The low-output systems are relative newcomers to the scene. The best-in-class systems use the same electro-optical registration of the high-end systems, but instead of registering in three directions rely on a mechanicaloptical sensor for registration in the X direction and use an adjustable mechanical guide the optical sensor to register in the direction that is perpendicular to material movement. Each individual plastic sheet is manually inserted into these lower volume systems, and this absence of sheet feeding automation is one of the reasons why they are slower systems than the top-end card punching systems. The straightforward nature of these low-volume card punching systems makes them much easier to operate than their high-end equivalent. While training on the more sophisticated high volume card punching systems might require 16 hours or more, an operator on the far less automated low-volume systems can be fully trained in 8 hours or less.”

“Add to these considerations, the differences in footprint and cost, and you begin to see why even small plastics printers have now become competitive in certain small run smart card applications, such as ID cards. These low-volume card punching systems are about as big as a photocopier. They do not require the large plants of the large card manufacturing operations. And most importantly, they only cost about 30,000 Euros, compared to the best-in-class high throughput systems with 3-axes registration, which generally cost more than 125,000 Euros. This cost difference has eliminated the high cost of market entry for small plastics printers, which means that the smart card manufacturing sources now available to card issuers are multiplying.”

“On the other hand, just because a card manufacturing plant is large, global, and able to output many millions of cards each week it does not necessarily mean that they cannot compete in the short run market. In fact, many of larger card manufacturers have been keen to acquire one or more low-volume systems for their plants in order to have effective backup systems if a production line goes down. These small footprint low-volume systems can literally be wheeledeasily moved from place to place in their plants, and can be used to supplement output in order to get jobs out quicker or to help keep production rolling when the large throughput systems need to be serviced. These large volume card manufacturers can also dedicate these backup systems to short run jobs without interfering with the large runs production schedules. They are just as competitive as small shops that have the same small volume card punching systems, and are likely to offer the similar pricing, similar quality, and similar job turnaround times for these short run jobs IF their plant includes some card punching equipment for low volumes.”

“Smart card issuers can also differentiate the card manufacturing sources geared for high volumes, small volumes, and both, by whether or not they have invested in digital printers. Traditional offset presses require a fair bit of time to create printing plates and do job setups. In contrast digital printers can import any vector-drawn based file and proceed to printing immediately. If a smart card run is short, there really is no reason to go through the delays and costs of preparing an offset printing press for the job.”

“Even more importantly, digital presses are the only ones that can handle the variable data requirements of certain smart card applications, such as ID cards. That means that card manufacturers that boast high volumes of MasterCard and VISA card production, and which are often regarded by smart card issuers as THE best sources in the world are not even in the running for variable data jobs. Many of Tthese larger operations that focus on financial cards are not printing variable data. Rather, they are embossing variable data, which is an entirely different process.”

“As a supplier to card manufacturing operations of all sizes and throughout the world, Spartanics can report that there are in fact seismic shifts happening throughout the card manufacturing industry. Many card manufacturers are struggling to maintain competitiveness in ever smaller margin financial card products. Some of these larger companies are quite actively downsizing in order to build niches in short run jobs such as the fast-growing markets of smart ID cards. That is because the per card cost price that they can charge for short runs is higher, e.g. 15 eurocents for a short run of smart ID cards compared to 9 eurocentsa significantly lower price for a long run card.”

“Smart card manufacturers and smart card issuers alike need to heed these technology and market trends in order to remain competitive in the coming years.’

 

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