Bluetree's Landa S10P is winding up to full operation, but it is far from the final piece of the jigsaw for the fast expanding online print business.
The innovative press, the first in the UK, occupies just a small part of the factory where tweaks are constantly underway. And there is an adjacent building which has hardly been touched yet. The Landa S10P is simply a chapter in this continuing story.
The press is the first of its type in the UK and one of a very few in the world that is configured to print on both sides of the sheet. It is clearly a revolutionary, game changing technology. And it is a perfect fit for Bluetree. However, Bluetree is not stopping with the Landa. At the same time as an open house to show the Landa being put through its paces, the first B1 MGI JetVarnish 3DW in the UK had arrived in Rotherham. And shortly after, a Nela automatic plate bending line was installed.
Managing director Adam Carnell says: “We see a fantastic future in print. It is a very strong industry that’s going through lots and lots of change with a huge amount of value in the product and what is delivered to the end user. The installation of the Landa is just one example of how we are trying to push the business forwards.”
Last year’s installation of another CutStar equipped Heidelberg Speedmaster XL106 with LED UV is dwarfed by the investment in the Landa S10P for various reasons. While long perfecting B1 presses are not as commonplace as they once were, the Landa is the first of its breed to reach the UK. After attracting huge interest when first announced at Drupa 2012 and then four years later when the press was clearly much closer to commercial availability, that interest is now focused on progress at the handful of installations that have taken place to date.
By the end of this year there will be around 20 Landa nanographic machines installed worldwide, followed by a further 50 in 2021 and then three times that in 2022 as production capacity in Israel increases to meet demand. Orders placed today may not be shipped for two years. A Landa is not an impulse buy, it is a strategic investment. If the strategy is not judged to be right, Landa has plenty of other customers to consider.
Bluetree is a perfect fit. The company was revealed as the pilot UK customer at the end of 2018, when it was aiming to use the press to work in tandem with the two Screen TruePress Jet 520HD continuous feed presses it had just installed. The inkjet presses could produce the body sections for short run books and brochures, the Landa would print the covers for these. The strategy would ease the burden on the litho presses by shifting the very short run work to the digital press and would improve scheduling without increasing work in progress that has to be stored on pallets.
That concept remains. But the Landa offers so much more, thanks to the technology employed. There is a certain mystique about the impact of nano sized pigment particles, explained on the open day by Doctor Nano who must surely be running a clinic at Drupa in April next year. There is no question about the vividness of the finished print and colour gamut that covers 86% of the Pantone range from four colours, rising to 96% when seven colours are employed.
The thinness of the pigment layer accounts for this colour lift just as skilled litho press operators understand that less ink means a brighter, cleaner image. Where Landa scores over other inkjet printing methods is in imaging to a transfer belt, akin to litho’s blanket, and serving the same purpose of coping with the range of substrates that needs to be printed.
With standard inkjet, the printed result can be variable as each material will have different characteristics, absorbing water to a greater or lesser extent and changing the printed result as a consequence. A primer is required to create a uniform ink optimised surface. Without water, and with Landa no water is transferred to the substrate, this issue simply does not arise.
The silicone image transfer belt is a key component of the technology, both holding the latent image in place and heated to drive off water in the ink. In operation, the developer says the belt will need replacement every two weeks, a process that a trained operator can manage in 30 minutes. Landa’s development team is working to increase resilience and expects to be able to double the life of the belt. It fails because the surface over time is worn away, not because the surface loses its properties in releasing the image to substrate. The onboard quality inspection system will alert an operator to the need to replace the belt, though this is not ready yet.
Likewise, Landa has promised to increase the speed of printing, though is not yet ready to make announcements. It had expected to announce something in Germany in June, though that timetable is now out the window. However, the press is already printing 6,500sph B1 and 3,250sph when perfecting. This is the most productive sheetfed digital press available and doubles the format that Bluetree can handle digitally.
After Drupa 2016 the company had installed an HP Indigo 10000 as a B2 digital press, chosen because it offered true production capability. It can run from a stack of paper, not by pulling sheets from a drawer as all other toner digital presses do. At once it expanded the capability by offering flyers, posters and leaflets below thresholds that make sense on the Speedmaster, and beyond the capacity of its iGens. It also bought a Fujifilm Jetpress 720 B2 sheetfed inkjet press specifically to print business cards.
At around the same time, Bluetree shifted focus from trying to manage the chaos of online orders across the factory into a focus on production cells where it can build expertise in cut and fold sheets, books, business cards and large format. More specialities will follow. What will remain is the focus on running this as a business, judged in one of the KPIs on revenue per square metre. This encourages optimised use of the space and minimises time between each of the production steps that any job spends as work in progress.
Its line up of Xerox iGens (including one with a Tecnau reel sheeter) is now dubbed the Incubator Cell. This is where the company tests new products ahead of their formal introduction to the group’s websites, a sort of nursery to see what products can survive transplanting.
All the cells are constantly refining processes both for the sake of efficiency and to expand the product line up. Hence the business card cell now houses the UK’s first B1 MGI JetVarnish 3D W. The glass walled unit can produce a business card every six seconds, every day and every week of the year. These are printed 36 up on the Jetpress 720 and can be passed to the MGI for spot UV varnish, digital embossing effects and shortly, foiling; to a Harris and Bruno UV varnishing line or to an Autobond laminator with different styles of film.
The company has had a first generation Scodix B2 digital embellisher and at one time had considered buying a second. However, the additional flexibility offered by the larger B1 sheet and the huge step up in throughput thanks to this size and faster running, meant that the MGI option was the obvious choice. Bluetree can now handle 250,000 sheets a week, up from 25,000 on the existing equipment. The AIS image register system is a better option than reading print marks, which may have shifted through stretch during the print process, it says.
A purpose built Rollem slitter cutter delivers the cards in stacks that are picked up and placed in cardboard boxes. These are designed to fit the standard UK postbox so that they can be delivered directly to a home address rather than to a business office. The use of board is a recent upgrade to replace plastic and part of a drive to eradicate plastic from across the business. The operation is now working on an increased range of card styles using the additional finishing techniques, as well as rounded corners.
The battery of four litho presses, three B1 long perfectors and and an XL75, provide the printed sheets for most of the business. When Bluetree, traditionally a screen printer, merged with Instantprint, the only litho press it had was an Anicolor 52, causing Bluetree’s owner Bryan Shirley to tell Instantprint’s founding pair James Kinsella and Adam Carnell, when the two businesses came together, “you’ll never fill that press”.
Now the larger machines are in constant operation, running with push to stop technology that has been refined to a standard of 35 waste sheets at each makeready. This is helped by sticking to the same paper loaded on each CutStar so keeping set ups to switching plates. The XL75 is the press used to print on the range of papers that would be disruptive to run on the larger presses. This will be ideal for the Landa, switching instantly from one paper to another without makeready waste.
Just as the Landa straddles the smaller format digital world and the conventional litho printing world, the staff that have been trained on the new press come from both sides of the business, digital and litho. Bluetree has already shipped work that has been printed on the Landa, without alerting customers to the fact that their jobs have been produced on the new press. There has been no negative feedback.
The litho presses are fed from four high speed platesetters housed next to the machines in a walled off prepress area. This has been extended and the platesetters have been moved to accommodate a Nela plate bending line, more usually associated with newspaper plants.
Automation removes the need to bend each plate manually and will enable the company to cope during the daily peak period each afternoon when Bluetree needs the 200 plates an hour capacity that is available.
Impositions for the plates are created on a Metrix system linked to Enfocus Switch for the automated workflow. This is the only human intervention in an otherwise black box production flow from order received to plate output, and even then only 5% of impositions need tweaking to optimise downstream finishing processes. The meta data attached to the job is supplied as instructions to each of the production stages that follow, automatically loading machine settings where possible. There is a dashboard view at each production point to show the next job and job queue and to capture data about job progress for the central management system.
Jobs destined for digital printing, decided by run length, schedules and costs, skip this point and are delivered directly to the print queue at each press. The Enfocus Switch set up analyses each job for ink coverage and therefore cost across each of the in house processes to help decide which technology and which direction production should take. The same imposition used for litho printing will also be used on the Landa, bypassing Landa’s own DFE.
In the longer term the Landa will find its own space as well as for applications that litho or smaller format digital cannot touch. At this point it provides a further option to the flat sheet print operation, perhaps production on a wider range of substrates or for shorter runs than makes sense on the Heidelbergs.
Bluetree will also offer a trade printing service on the Landa, so printers can send imposed artwork to Rotherham along with a run length and paper specification and receive back printed sheets that can be fed through existing finishing lines. Traditionally, a trade printer would take on longer runs that fill capacity. Today the Landa tips this on its head. Printers can send work that is too short to handle profitably in house but which needs a B1 sheet for a new style of trade printing.
After printing, Bluetree has a fleet of five Polar guillotines, each with Compucut to automate the planning of the cutting sequence and, once the lays have been identified ahead of the first cut, to move the back gauge into place without further intervention. A Baumann BASA handling system jogs and loads the back table on one of the cutters, followed by lifts to load a pallet if further processing is needed or is fed to a shrink wrapping device. The wrapped bundle then lands on the conveyor which takes it to the packing area ready for delivery.
Bluetree learned early on that few things annoy customers more than receiving fewer items than ordered. Consequently, a currency counting machine ensures that the precise number is supplied. The investment has repaid itself many times over.
There are multiple Stahl folders, each set for a different fold pattern and with roll feed. Heavier grades of paper go through MB folders while Morgana Digifolds handle creasing and folding of simple jobs. A Heidelberg Cylinder (the only machine that is not JDF enabled) and Moll folder deliver non standard finishing where required.
A line of StitchLiners, in an area dubbed ‘Horizon Avenue’, includes six MkIII machines and one 5500. Each of the StitchLiners can be expected to handle 120-150 jobs a shift. Horizon BQ470 and BQ480 PUR binders deliver the perfect bound jobs with an offline trimmer, simply because there is not enough space to accommodate a drying conveyor, even a spiral line. Bound books are held aside to cure before trimming rather than trimming inline.
What happens next has still to be decided. There are early thoughts about investing in a line up of roll fed large format inkjet machines for Unit B and meetings with potential suppliers are well underway. There are thoughts too, about a move into textile printing and promotional goods. This building will definitely house office staff, including the account handlers that manage clients across Instantprint and Route1.
There will be a link passage, probably glazed, between the two factory areas. What has to be decided is whether automatic guided vehicles, a conveyor system or grunt power will move work and materials between the buildings. There are some logistics around support pillars for the upper floor to organise. While work will start, this is not a project that will be in full operation for 2020.
Foiling, on the other hand, is. The company has already started to include digital foiling in its product offerings and this will be rolled out in the next few months. Likewise, the Landa may well result in new product lines to be introduced this year. The coronavirus crisis has, however, prompted Bluetree to offer direct mail and some personalised products, invitations and the like, that it has shied away from until now.
What is certain is that these will be in place for the peak season coming at the end of this year.
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Bluetree invited Route1 customers and guests to see the Landa put through its paces over a two-day open house in which the technology and its benefits were explained by Route1 account handlers and by Landa's Dr Nano.
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