In the run up to Christmas it was necessary to edge past stacks of Edixion paper to get to the press room at Healeys in Ipswich. The congestion continued into the finishing area where a pallet truck could not manoeuvre its load to the packing area because there were piles boxes and other work waiting to go out. In another corner, a huge stack of gathered sections was waiting its turn on the Horizon perfect binder.
Philip Dodd, Healeys’ managing director, explains that this runs overnight so that by the next morning the 5,000 brochures ordered by a funeral director in the midlands would be bound. Healeys has been busy.
This is reflected in the turnover which had edged up to £4.2 million in the 2019 financial year. It had also been a busy 12 months on the investment front. Last year began with installation of a brace of Polar guillotines, continued with an Autobond laminator, Ricoh Pro C9200 and culminated at the end of the year with installation of a four-colour RMGT 524 LED UV press, thought to be the only new B3 litho press installed in the UK last year.
This choice appears to run completely counter to industry trends for ever more digital print capacity, especially as it occupies a slot in the digital print room previously filled by a Kodak Nexpress. And the volume of digital print handled by Healeys is still rising, though recently not as fast as litho has been increasing.
“The RMGT is not a replacement for the Nexpress,” says Dodd. “It’s serving a different market. We took the Nexpress out because it was no longer economic for us to run. It had been a phenomenal piece of kit for us to grow our digital market and I have no regrets about buying it.”
Three Ricoh presses now fulfil the digital print requirement. Two are Pro C9200s, one with a long sheet feeder, the third is a Pro C7200 with fifth colour station for white, neon and clear toner currently. Healeys is already queuing for further additional colours, salivating at the opportunity of metallics when these become available.
There is no question about quality. Dodd extracts a perfect bound book from its slip case. The print quality is unquestionable, regardless of the process. It was printed on the Ricohs. Healeys no longer has to place work according to the suitability of each process, but according to the profitability of each process. The Ricohs are less expensive at short runs, but so too is the LED UV litho press. It has extended what can be printed litho down to 250 sheets, squeezing the need for a long run digital solution which the Nexpress had provided. And it is a perfect foil for the five-colour XL75 when litho capacity has been under pressure.
This has been Healeys says Dodd. “It was at the point we had a visit from Robert Rowe at M Partners and it was explained to him that what I wanted was a cost effective way of increasing output in litho without spending too much money. We didn’t have the space nor the finances to buy a second B2 press.”
At that point Healeys was thinking secondhand and a further Heidelberg. “Four or so weeks later, Robert called saying ‘I have an idea’. This was a new three-year-old B3 press with LED UV that had never left its travelling crate. I had never really considered LED UV, but the more I thought about it, the more having a press to take the very short run low pagination work away from the XL75 made a lot of sense.”
Operations manager Andy Clarke says he had briefly looked at a UV retrofit for the XL75, though this had never got anywhere. Now he has relished the task of getting to grips with the dedicated LED UV press.
The first benefit is being able to print with greater lift on the uncoated papers that are increasingly popular. “Some customers say they like the dull look of four-colour images on uncoated paper,” says Clarke. “But once they have seen the extra vibrancy few will want to go back. Greens are so much more vibrant – all the RGB colours stand out more.
“The sales team can go out and market that as high definition offset. It is a USP that wasn’t the intent when we were looking to increase our litho capacity. We now think that the combination of XL, LED litho and digital is a pretty good offering.”
If the appeal was not about the added value potential that printing with LED UV opens up, it was certainly about sound finances.
Dodd subscribes to Plimsoll analysis of company results to track the financial performance of other printers. Lately it has made grim reading. “It is very tough to make money in the printing industry,” he says.
Healeys has avoided competition with the online printers and the price first approach to winning orders. He is also fastidious about managing cash, especially over the Christmas shutdown period when outgoings can easily exceed the money being earned.
There is a fanatical commitment to keeping work in house if possible. Sending this out loses control of the work and of the associated added value.
The additional litho capacity should mean the company can keep more under its roof in the spring when the company is at its busiest and has in previous years had to put work out.
Equally important is the internal culture of the business. It simply is a nice place to work thanks to cultivating a supportive, rather than competitive attitude, except perhaps when participating in the company table tennis league.
The smaller format of the new press will increase the retained value of shorter run litho work merely through the savings from running a smaller plate. It happens that Healeys is changing plate supplier to Fujifilm and its Platesense contract where the printer is in effect paying for the coating on the plate not the aluminium carrier, the plate being supplied and collected by Fujifilm under the contract. A new platesetter is part of the deal kicking off at the start of this year.
The effect is to push litho back into B3 and into the digital print world. Healeys ran a pricing exercise, Dodd explains, running 300 and 500 copies of a brochure. “At 300 copies the job is definitely digital. At 500 copies the job was a fit for the LED UV while the XL remained too expensive because of the additional plate cost. We believe this shows that there is a sweet spot for LED UV that sits below the XL75.
“But equally the RMGT can be effective printing 4,000 copies of a 16pp brochure, even with the extra cost of UV ink, because the transport costs alone of sending the job out are greater than the extra cost of the ink and this way we keep the trimming, folding and binding in house and the margin from that.”
The company is starting with the Toyo recommended ink, though Clarke is keeping an eye on any variation between mixes supplied from Japan and those supplied from its European factory.
On press stability and supply is more important than shaving a little from the price of a batch he adds. “We will not be using huge volumes of ink, so we will find a suitable ink platform for us.”
Tighter control is needed over ink water balance than with a conventional litho press and Clarke, trained as a litho press operator to run with minimal levels of ink and fount for best results, likes this aspect.
“It calls for good operator skills,” he says. “And it means you have to ensure that you have the right suppliers: fount, blanket and ink compatibility is important.” Finding that right balance is essential given the claims and counter claims of the different suppliers which he puts down to salesmanship. The expectation is that the technology will quickly settle as it matures.
Although early days, Healeys expects to be using less ink as the instant dry aspect of the UV cure means there is no ink being absorbed into the paper. “And we can see that simply by looking at the amount of ink carried on the rollers. It is well down,” Clarke adds. The RMGT technology to control the ink on the rollers gets a thumbs up, both simple and avoiding over inking.
That the new press is placed in the digital print room is down to expediency more than provocation.
But it fits neatly in place. It uses the same papers as the digital presses and, as there is no spray powders to consider, is just as clean as the digital presses. There was an initial push back, says Dodd: “The digital supervisor was concerned about this cuckoo in the nest and if it would take digital print volumes. I told him he should be looking to take work from the XL”.
One of the operators in the digital room already had a litho background, says Clarke, and will be able to run the litho machine if needed. The B3 provides extra flexibility when planning and managing work. There will be some discussions with paper suppliers to maximise the opportunity of supplying material in the most effective way for either digital or litho, namely more of the standard grades supplied on the pallet to suit the smaller litho press rather than wrapped for digital.
These are the details that are being worked out ahead of a full exploration of the new papers that Healeys will be able to offer customers. And that others will find it hard to compete against.
Healeys has bucked trends to install a B3 litho press to bring down the cost of printing short runs that would have been sent to its digital presses. The RMGT litho press has an LED UV unit to deliver fully dry sheets and a short turnaround time to compete with digital at shorter run lengths.