David Clarke leads Vario Press, a print company that has over the years turned itself to print almost anything. It has added digital printing to litho, large format printing to digital, mailing, and software development.
If a company has wanted cups to be sent to its customers, Vario Press has handled it. It has several thousand chopping boards in a corner of a warehouse held for an over enthusiastic promotional campaign it bought on behalf of a customer and it supplies hundreds of Christmas cakes for a customer who wanted to reward its clients.
Specifically Clarke has taken on representation of Sakurai’s sheeted presses in the UK and Ireland, setting up a new company, Sakurai Oliver Offset, able to refurbish, service, retrofit UV, and sell new machines from the Japanese manufacturer.
It is a supplier that the Langley printer has been a customer for since buying its first Oliver rather than a GTO in 1988. Across this territory there are more than 110 UK customers with Olivers, around 50 with multi-colour presses and a number of companies with multiple presses. Vario has three.
Sakurai inspires strong loyalty among the user base, for good reason. These are far removed from lightweight machines. They are assembled in a highly automated factory in Japan which is more like an electronics plant than an engineering operation. It operates a high precision 3D laser measuring table, one of just a few in the press production industry.
While Sakurai buys standard components, servo motors, switch gear, compressors from the same coterie of expert providers as all press manufacturers, its own design department keeps on top of the engineering. What attracted Clarke to Sakurai was a back edge separating shingle feeder at a time that Heidelberg’s GTO was feeding a sheet at time, letterpress fashion.
There is an element of self interest in taking over the agency Clarke agrees. It ensures continuation of service and support for his three five-colour B2 presses, but there is more to it than this. Two of Vario’s presses are LED UV machines and it is that which creates the difference.
He says: “There have been a handful of revolutions for printers in my working life. The first was the arrival CRTronic phototypesetting keyboard in the 1970s where for the first time you could see what you were keying. Then there was the introduction of semi automatic plate changing. Now there is LED UV.”
Vario bought its first LED UV machine two-and-a-half years ago, swiftly followed by a second. These were not the first in the UK, that honour going to B&B Press in Rotherham, another loyal Sakurai customer. But the enthusiasm for the new way of printing litho cannot be matched elsewhere.
“At the time Sakurai was going off the boil in the UK. It had changed management and the country manager in the UK was more interested in the screen printing arm than litho,” Clarke says. It meant that while RMGT in particular was reaping the interest in LED UV, Sakurai was sitting on the sidelines.
Clarke convinced owner Ryuto Sakurai that his customer could become his dealer and in July last year, Sakurai Oliver Offset became the UK agent. For five months the company has set about looking after existing customers, sorting the spares and creating the facilities able to refurbish Sakurai and other Japanese presses. And looking for its first sales. That has happened with Mailmate in Jersey buying a 588 LED UV machine and before that delivering a retrofitted press to SG World in Crewe.
This is a machine that came from defunct Flowprint in Maidenhead. It had just 15 million impressions on the clock and now has a Baldwin LED UV unit into the bargain. It has been shipped to SG World’s factory in Cheshire while the company moves the equipment from the Printing House which it bought last year, to its own plant.
There have been other retrofits to the new way of printing, giving Sakurai a footprint of LED UV users that is second only to RMGT in the UK. “We were already the demonstration facility for Sakurai,” says Clarke. Now that is taken a step further.
Not only will the company show off the technology to those interested, it will provide a start up package to go with every installation comprising start up kit of inks and consumables from Flint, time with Flint’s chemists, on site demonstrator, but also one of Vario’s press operators to help with the reality of getting LED UV up and running. And helping overcome the issues that arise and that Vario has already dealt with over the last couple of years.
“We have been printing on plastic, we have experience of lamination issues and have solved other issues that will save a customer a long learning curve to help get the customer up to speed quickly,” he continues.
The ink issue is a chimera he insists. There is a price negotiated with Flint of £12.50 a set, much lower than when LED first came on the scene, but still above the price of a conventional set. The benefits far outweigh these costs. One of Vario’s demonstrators picks up an old ink can. It is two-thirds filled with a mix of old ink. “This is the total ink waste we have had in two-and-a-half years,” Clarke explains. “There is no daylight into this part of the factory and we can just leave the ink in the ducts.”
Everything else is a strong benefit. “We reckon to save £80,000 a year operating a single long day shift. There is a saving with electricity as LED uses 4kW compared to 34kW with a conventional dryer. That is enough of a saving to cover the costs of the ink. There is no spray powder, so there is no need to stop the press to wash the blankets to remove the powder from the sheet when printing the reverse side. We have had no need to reprint a job because the ink has set off in all the time we have had the presses.
“People have come here and said to us ‘there is no print in your factory’. That is because as soon as it is printed, it’s in the bindery. There is no problem with printing on any substrate, either the expensive uncoated and textured papers nor the cheapest piece of 100gsm bond.
The finished result always looks the same. One customer made a mistake specifying a matt paper when she really meant uncoated. We were able to reprint the job and have it back to her the next day when she realised what had happened. That would have been impossible previously.”
There are other examples where the digital print speed of LED UV has helped out customers on print runs that are far in excess of those sensible for its Nexpress or Indigo digital presses.
More importantly, it has enabled Vario to print on substrates it would previously have had to put out. These include window cling films where it can print in four-colour, a solid white and then four-colour for what will be the reverse of the image, all using the LED UV. “This is the first process where it allows the printer to do more and at the same time to reduce his costs,” Clarke explains.
But there are issues that have been uncovered and solved. Lamination can be a problem because the ink, sitting on the surface of the paper, does not key as easily to the film. The solution is to run the laminator at a higher temperature, which may mean a more powerful laminator is needed and one able to maintain these temperatures for longer runs.
Similarly Vario had uncovered a minor fit problem at the tail end of the sheet, discernible on small type reversed out of a four colour solid. “The impact of grain direction was one of the biggest revelations,” he says. “We spoke to Antalis about the problem and discovered that elsewhere in Europe, B2 printers are running short grain paper. We tried it and we no longer have any concerns about fit. And we have two merchants prepared to stock short grain paper for us.”
It is this hands on practical experience that Clarke believes will set Sakurai apart. “We are not in competition with any of the printers that we sell to. Indeed, if there is a problem, we are able to print their work for them as a trade service while their machine is fixed.”
Alan Dunn, Vario’s lead operator (left), will work with new customers to get them up and running, says managing director David Clarke.
Story 1 of 2