06 June 2018 Digital Printing Technologies

Digital drive to put Delga on the packaging map

Delga Press is the best known name for printing packaging for the entertainment industry. Now the company wants to extend that to other areas of high profile packaging, using the quality of an HP Indigo to do so.

The second UK company to buy the HD version of HP’s Indigo 12000 is a leader in its sector, but is not printing high quality artbooks, photobooks, look books, report and accounts, nor any of the high end marketing collateral that is assumed to be the most demanding print jobs and the natural home for the extra resolution the HD version delivers.

The second UK company to buy the HD version of the Indigo 12000 is Delga Press, the UK’s leading company producing entertainment packaging. It began printing record sleeves when 12-inch vinyl was the only game in town, migrated to CDs, DVDs, and is once again printing a considerable number of record sleeves for the vinyl revival. But this is not the driver for the investment, although it will have applications in the music and entertainment industry.

Managing director Ian Conetta describes a project for the band Hot Chip last year. The group wanted unique packaging for each CD shipped. This was achieved through digital printing and use of Indigo’s Mosaic application.

Delga was able to produce the CD packaging on the Indigo 7900s it has at sister company CSP, but needed to go to FE Burman for the larger format vinyl packaging to use its B2 Indigo.

Every sleeve, every CD inlay, was unique, with slight adjustments to the colours used and the geometric elements of the page set out in the program.

When a similar job comes up again, Delga will be ready. However, if and when it does, it may not be on an album or film. Conetta is planning to use the investment in the HP Indigo to underpin a push to broaden the company’s client base into more general markets for cartons. The press has been specified with the ability to handle thicker materials and so to print cartons. It will be a door opener for the business he says.

While Delga is extremely well known and trusted within the entertainment sector, its reputation outside this area is limited. “Nobody knows who Delga is,” says Conetta. “While the demand for vinyl is up, the industry as a whole is declining as downloads have increased. The resurgence of vinyl has been phenomenal for Delga. Like books, people want something physical to hold. For vinyl this means there are a lot of collectors who are prepared to buy boxed sets and will not even play the records.

“But we cannot lose sight of the fact that the sector we are working in is in decline.” While operations to press LPs are starting up, facilities to replicate CDs are closing or consolidating. One of the largest serving Europe is now located in the Czech Republic, a challenge for a printer located on the Medway estuary in Rochester.

Delga needs to find new customers, and with the investment has found a way to unlock the door. “First you have to get a foot inside the door,” says Conetta, “and to be able to answer the question ‘what do you do?’. With the HP Indigo we have the answer. People want to talk to us now.

“We have B1 and B2 litho, a lot of cutting, gluing and UV varnishing. But as a company you have to ask what is it in your tool kit that brings something different to the customer. This investment is about creating a different dynamic going forward.

“The HD quality gives us a USP, a window of opportunity because at the moment it is something that nobody else in carton printing has. It’s something that we can shout about.”

And he intends to shout about it, in particular to customers producing luxury products whereas in the music business, the appeal of the packaging is emotional as much as functional. While almost all packaging is ephemeral, the record sleeve endures for as long as the record it carries.

When Delga first took space at the London Packaging Innovations it loaded its stand with samples of the packaging from the bands it had produced work for. Visitors pored over the records, but did not make the link to Delga. The next time Delga took part, it showed some interesting packaging concepts using Delga’s own branding rather than that of the product.

The result was a tenfold increase in interest and responses. Customers were no longer caught up reading about a band from their youth, but were intrigued by some of the box styles that the company could produce. “We got the attention of the people we wanted to,” he says. This year it will also be able to demonstrate customisation and personalisation as well as a print quality that in digital is ahead of the pack.

So far Delga can point to boxes it has produced for wine and spirits clients, cartons for vaping and personal care sectors. It is a start, but Conetta wants more: “With the decline in music we have to become more prominent in other sectors where there is a need for folding box board. We recognise these are areas where there are suppliers that are well established,” he says. He cannot go and simply offer what the brands and customers already receive, which the digital press will address along with the creativity that has already been deployed in the music sector.

There are gatefold sleeves, throw outs, inserts and boxed collections using foiling, die cutting, spot varnish and metallics in engaging ways. “Our music customers are looking to their suppliers to offer innovation to them,” Conetta continues. “HD gives us that opportunity.”

Conetta joined the company as managing director three years ago, allowing Alan Wells to retire. There have been quick wins internally. Previously Delga would use outside suppliers for the material that could be included in a special edition box set, the photo book, magazine and so on that adds value to the collector.

The company would bring these together and sort them with the packaging to provide the set to the client. Now Delga will produce as much of this work in house as possible. It retains the profit and keeps control of a supply chain that would need to be monitored for response and quality.

Not everything is kept in-house, foiling and some special effects are sourced from trusted parters that have deeper experience of what he calls the ‘stop start processes’ than Delga can effectively deliver. It is, however, keeping hold of a development to print on a polymer inner sleeve protecting the vinyl from scratches on the uncoated surface of a cartonboard.

There have also been changes to the operation of the group business. There are separate boards for delta and CSP, its operation in Aylesford that runs two SRA3 Indigos and has focused on stationery and stock work for customers including the NHS. last year CSP acquired local commercial printer Scarbutts, adding a commercial print arm to feed work to the digital presses.

An overall board will meet and discuss opportunities for a group sell, exploiting all the technology that is at the company’s disposal. CSP printing CD inlays for the Hot Chip project was a perfect example. And as Delga pushes to find new packaging customers this may prove another advantage that can be discussed.

The company has added two sales executives to reach and develop these new customers, hand in hand with the marketing strategy to make the most of the capabilities.

It is needed. Where previously Delga had been able to play a discreet role, happy that it had a high profile in its chosen sector, Conetta wants Delga to be better recognised among both peers and potential customers.

A recent industry listing of the leading carton printers managed to pass Delga by even though its £13 million turnover ought to have earned a position as one of the larger independent suppliers. He does not want the omission to be repeated.

The investment in the digital press has a key role to play. But it is not solely about marketing. There are sound business and productivity reasons for the investment. “We did a lot of pricing exercises, a lot of time and motion studies into understanding the impact of digital on our production,” he says.

“With the HD press we will have window of opportunity for a USP because we have something that nobody else has in this country. It’s giving us something we can shout about and something that we can talk about to potential customers.”

The choice on the Indigo was not automatic. Delga looked hard at the Jetpress 720S, ruling it out because it is single side only. Likewise the Indigo 30000, the Indigo described as a carton press, is a simplex machine.

“That seems to be more for medium or longer runs, running with inline coating” saysConetta. “We want to produce short run and bespoke packaging. We are getting a lot of inquiries for short run carton work through our website.

“These will go to the digital press. Litho needs plates, a makeready and generates waste. In contrast digital has minimal set up cost. And we are very much aware that we can bring personalisation into short run packaging.”

This will apply to its existing customer base as much as to new markets. All are looking for innovation to make their products stand out. The use of Mosaic was a prime example. “And the HD press will give us the ability to bring innovation to the existing business. We have already shown that we can produce records sleeves that are absolutely unique. And this gives a different dynamic in other areas. Packaging for luxury products is and continues to remain a growth area.

He is confident that Delga’s background in carton production will stand it in good stead against commercial printers that are trying to produce packaging. “We have the skill set and knowledge and specialism in this business and we are now adding a digital press to our array of equipment as part of a packaging production environment,” he says.

“Commercial printers who try to offer carton printing will always fail because they are always chasing work on price. But they need the right equipment and attitude. We are not a carton printer that will go and chase commercial work.”

Coating is one of the essential elements for carton printing, adding a deep gloss and a layer to the digital ink to protect it against scuffing later down the line. Delga will be installing a Harris and Bruno coating to apply the coatings offline where the deep cells on the anilox will produce a high gloss says Conetta.

Further investment in specialist finishing for the digital press may follow once the press has been in operation for several months and the company can see where the work is coming from.

The press is housed in a purpose built air conditioned area within the factory, with glass wall to show it off to visitors and to remind staff that Delga is now a digital printer.

This has meant instilling a different ethos in a what is a very stable workforce. There have been workshops and seminars explaining why the company needs to change the way it has worked. Unsurprisingly there was some resistance. “We needed that staff buy in,” Conetta says. “Some were able to come along for the ride, some weren’t. Now staff have bought into the direction that the management team is leading them.”

This has also involved a shake up of customer service “an area we were only paying lip service to previously,” he says. A year ago a customer service manager was recruited from outside the business and has developed a layer of professionalism, that will stand the business in good stead as it chases high profile brands as customers. It also instated a full colour management system last year, profiling and standardising print quality across its Heidelberg litho presses last year, and this will included the Indigo. Delga has been upping its game.

“We will still be 100% committed to the media and entertainment and the largest supplier to the sector in the UK, but we know that these customers can always go abroad where there are lots of printers happy to take work from us,” says Conetta.

“In five years I want Delga to be recognised, and not just by its peers, as a providing many more facets of packaging and a front runner in digital printing.”

The company will almost certainly be active in web to print. It is a perennial subject for board meetings and attractive because payment up front for short runs helps mitigate any risk. It would also be something to offer as an additional service to entertainment industry publishers to fulfil requests for special edition and boxed sets.

It will equally be printing a lot more for non sector companies, as Delga becomes a ‘go-to’ for creative packaging. And there is likely to be more digital printing equipment. Before buying the HP Indigo 12000 HD Conetta toyed with the idea of a UV litho press, but changed when seeing the Indigo and looking at trends towards ever shorter production runs.

“Our next investment depends on the success of the HD press,” he says. “But I do not see us buying another standard litho press.”

Gareth Ward

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Ian Conetta joined Delga as managing director three years ago and has switched the strategy to ensure that the company can cover all bases from its own resources, while also aiming to put Delga on the map as a significant carton printer.

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Luxury packaging: Delga already produces includes cartons for drinks brands and believes there are more opportunities here, especially with digital printing.

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Delga built its reputation on print for music and the entertainment industry, where quality, service and innovation go hand in hand. It will harness this to expand beyond what is a shrinking sector.

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Delga chooses first carton capable Indigo 12000 HD in UK

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Record sleeves remain a major part of Delga's output and the vinyl revival has spurred a welcome increase in orders. With the digital press, the company has the opportunity for additional creative effects, having demonstrated this using HP's Mosaic application to produce 'every one is different' sleeves for Hot Chip last year.

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Delga chose to invest in theUK's first HP Indigo 12000 HD in the carton sector rather than invest in additional litho print capacity. The press has been installed in its own air conditioned room within the Rochester factory.

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