Industry Chatter

Buying Used Machinery. Some Questions and Answers

Why should printers look at second-hand presses? And do you have to fight a fear factor sometimes?

Presses like cars are now manufactured to be much more reliable and to work both longer and harder.  15 years ago a Heidelberg or Komori press with 80 million impressions was looked on as a rather doubtful investment: today people happily but machines with 250 million on the clock knowing that they will still get another 5 years of trouble-free running from them.  A press on double shift would, in the past clock up 10 million a year.  Automation, faster make-readies and higher running speed means that 25 million a year is now not unusual. 

It is all about return on investment: a 6 year old used press from a good manufacturer will be 90-95% as productive as a new press but with half of the initial investment, so for many companies, even those who can afford new, a good pre-owned machine is a no-brainer.  The best way to make sure you are getting a good press is to buy from a reputable dealer – and there are excellent and highly respected outfits in Europe, North America and beyond – and to take the time to thoroughly print test the press, inspect cylinders etc.  There are also good engineers – mainly former Heidelberg, KBA, Komori or Manroland technicians – who will, for a few hundred pounds, do a detailed inspection.

How should printers go about ensuring they get a good deal and a good machine - i.e. what to check...- and where should they look, private sales or dealers? 

Before the advent of the internet it was very difficult for printers to know what was available on the market.  They would contact their national dealers who would have a better idea, but they too did not have access to the huge amount of information available today.  Sites like and allow printers easily and quickly to find out what is on the market worldwide from printers and dealers – though still most machines are sold by dealers, either as owners or intermediaries, and four or five emails to dealers offering similar machines will soon give an idea of market values.  Going via a dealer may cost a bit more - though, as they constantly bemoan, their margins are far tighter that they used to be due to the transparency of the internet.  The advantage of using a good dealer is that he can make things happen – he knows about financing purchases, letters of credit when necessary, dismantling, re-installing, electrical connections etc.  He’ll normally know what is a good machine and which, for the sake of his reputation and a quiet life, he shouldn’t touch with a barge-pole.  He won’t dare to sell you a dud.

When buying a machine what happens differently to a brand new press purchase and install? Is a warranty normal?

Partly because machines are now much better made and partly because of the very high cost involved not many dealers now offer the kind of full rebuild which companies like Dornier (my old company) and others used to undertake.  Machines are now normally offered ex site, loaded into container, site-to-site or, at best, cleaned checked and installed.  Installation of a used machine may take a little longer than a brand-new press as inevitably some glitches will come to light, the odd roller will be found to need recovering, hydraulic pipes or bearings to be replaced etc.  But a dealer, his contractor or a specialist installation company instructed by the buyer will not leave the site until the buyer is happy and satisfied the press and its first test job – and the printer will release the final payment until then.  Most dealers will offer a limited warranty – three months on parts and labour for example where they carry out the installation in their own country, but this may be less comprehensive than the guarantees we used to offer on fully rebuilt machines.  Machines exported by a dealer may come with a three months’ parts warranty, or with none if it a purely “as seen” deal with a printer who has inspected and approved the equipment.  Warranties cost the seller money, and he has to have the lee-way to build this into the selling price.

What other print machines are good buys second-hand - presses are the most high profile but what other kit lends itself to second-hand market?

There is great demand for used bindery equipment, especially from the main manufacturers like Polar, Mueller Martini, Kolbus, Heidelberg and Stahl.  A smaller but equally flourishing market exists for packaging machinery from makers like Bobst, whose autoplatens seem to last forever, Jagenberg and others.  The most depressed market at the moment is for coldset and heatset web presses, and astute buyers can pick up excellent presses at a fraction of their original cost.  Good and highly productive machines with the potential to produce for many years to come are being scrapped.

The used machinery market for second-hand digital presses has not matured as I expected it to do, due, I think, to a combination of built-in obsolescence, rapid technical changes, lack of support from manufacturers on pre-owned machines and the cost or availability of inks.  This is changing, though, with specialist suppliers emerging who deal in nothing but these products and have the technical knowledge to make sure that end-users get a good deal.

What type of printer is best fit for second-hand?

For many years start-ups proved to be a very good market for used presses, but these seem a thing of the past, in the UK and western Europe at least.  Nowadays demand comes from established medium-sized printers who see the sense in, effectively, getting more for less in terms of potential productivity and turn-over.  Larger companies who need a machine to develop a particular new product range or want to dip their toes into a new area of print or finishing are also keen customers.  Finance companies still see good equipment from major manufacturers as the right place to invest their money, and they know that the machinery will not suffer the precipitate initial fall in value that a new press does the day it is commissioned and first becomes a used machine.


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