29 September 2019 Print Companies

Bell & Bain books in brace of Koenig & Bauer large format presses

Expansion continues at Bell & Bain, driven by increasing demand for colour book printing services – using conventional litho technology.

Bell & Bain has ordered a pair of Koenig & Bauer Rapida 145s for delivery to its Thornliebank factory in Glasgow next year.

One is an eight-unit machine and will replace an existing Rapida 142 installed in 2012. The other is a 2/2 four-unit press which will go into the adjacent factory, acquired by Bell & Bain at the start of this year. It will focus on mono book work while the eight-colour will cope with the growing requirement for high quality coffee table book printing.

The first press arrives in February, the second in April, says chairman Stephen Docherty. “That is as fast as we can get them. We are full to capacity.” This is reflected in the figures: this year, says Docherty, the company will record revenue of around £17.7 million, which is, he says, a £3.5 million increase on last year. “This investment will take us through £20 million.”

The company is relatively new to trade colour book printing, having cut its teeth on academic publishing. A focus on competitive pricing, delivery on time and quality has started to open new markets. Last year the company won the contract for the Tom Kerridge best seller which has helped cement its place, particularly for publishers who want to cut their carbon impacts by printing closer to the market and improve supply chain logistics.

“We have opened new markets,” he continues. This is helped by having almost everything in terms of finishing under one roof and by the acquisition earlier this year of J Thomson Colour. The funding for that deal by Close Asset Finance also provided the resources for this investment. “I would like to thank Nick Aust of Close Brothers for his backing in making yet another dream come true,” says Docherty. “I would also list to thank Chris Scully of Koenig & Bauer for making this deal happen and keeping everything on track.”

Other machine suppliers pressed their case for both litho and digital capacity. The company runs a Ricoh VC60000 inkjet web press for short run journals, but Docherty is not convinced by the business models linked to digital printing. “I can’t really get my head around it. It doesn’t work for us. With litho, even if you run the machine at cost, there is something when you come to sell it,” he says.

This also ruled out other pay by use operating models. Instead the company likes to have title to the machines it runs and continues to invest in. It is also investing in people adding to the quota of apprentices that started last year.

The technology is also intended to reduce stress on the staff by simplifying operation. The Rapidas come with colour quality controls, a 15,000sph running speed and Side Inlay System to ensure paper is positioned perfectly when entering the press. There is an emphasis on minimising makeready, but not on running to maximum print speed. “The 142 was delivering 8,500 sheets an hour net to the floor, the 145 is at 10,000 sheets. Even when running 70-80gsm paper we are getting a constant 10,000 per hour.”

The press is capable of 15,000sph, but Bell & Bain bases production on quality rather than on speed.

“The additional capacity with the same press format will give more more flexibility to batch jobs,” Docherty says. A job can be slotted in, he explains, without provoking excessive disruption and putting pressure on staff. “It is about making our staff’s and our customers’ lives better,” he adds.

There will be some reorganisation to accommodate the new capacity. The company added a 3,000m2 factory unit alongside its main litho factory and this will become the production hall for mono books with finishing alongside the press. But this is unlikely to be enough in the medium term with a group sales target of £40 million. “We are on the hunt for additional premises,” says Docherty.

There is no immediate need for further finishing capacity, he says, explaining that the company likes to keep as much as possible in-house. That is subject to change.

By Gareth Ward

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Chris Scully, Karen Bailie and Stephen Docherty

Chris Scully, Karen Bailie and Stephen Docherty

Bell & Bain will take delivery of two new large format Koenig & Bauer Rapidas next year, boosting production at its litho factory in Glasgow run by managing director Karen Bailie. The investment will allow the book printer to push sales beyond £20 million, says chairman Stephen Docherty.

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