ImageData's factory just off the A27 in Brighton, almost in the shadow of the Amex stadium, seems an outlier for the business. First its location on the south coast is several hundred miles from Howdon and Willerby, the main ImageData sites in East Yorkshire, producing large format and B1 litho work respectively. Second, the customer base in Brighton is a heady mix of a wide range of commercial jobs, compared to the retail heavy work load at Howdon or Willerby.
The connection though, is there, represented by thick and thin vertical lines defined as a barcode. ImageData’s founder Roger Birkin built the business on understanding barcodes, which are used in retail for stock and price management. XPS, a digital print business that had started as an instant print shop, was also strong in barcodes. When the owner of XPS realised he could take that business no further, Birkin was ready to step in.
Less than two years later in 2006 the business and its iGen3s were moved to the current premises, where IDG has continued to invest in the business. The company was the first in the UK to install the iGen 150, running alongside an iGen5, Versant 2100, and pair of Nuvera 288 mono presses.
“I’m a big fan of Xerox,” says operations director Jason Vivian. “Xerox technology for me is by far the the best. I think the Indigo was best thing that happened to Xerox. It gave them the kick they needed.”
Both iGens are essentially the same machine, same speeds, specifications and configuration. The big difference is that the iGen 150 does not have a fifth colour option. But then the iGen 5 at ImageData is a four-colour only press. There is no need for a fifth colour says Vivian. “I’m also a big fan of Duplo,” he adds.
This is demonstrated by a succession of booklet makers from Duplo, a perfect binder and now a top of the range multifinisher, the DC746. The continuing investment is proof that IDG, under stewardship of Helen Birkin, continues to hold the business in high esteem. Brighton is also included in the roll out of the Tharstern MIS which brings all operations under the same umbrella and is being implanted across the rest of the year. As IDG has spent £5 million in the last three years, Brighton has been part of this, leading 18 months ago to an 600i bookletmaker as a replacement for a DBM 350, which had replaced a DBM 120.
One of the key justifications for the latest Duplo investment is production of a company contract. This is for shelf tickets for a food retailer, produced for each of the chain’s supermarkets. Each is a small format item that has required significant guillotining time which will no longer be needed on the automated finishing device. “The guillotine had been a bottleneck for us, which the multi finisher will address,” he says. “The nature of digital printing – short run and on demand – lends itself to the multifinisher.
“And I have never been a big fan of finishing business cards on a guillotine because there’s no value to it.”
The demonstration took place in February at the Duplo offices in Addlestone. Negotiations continued during the lockdown with the DC746 delivered at the end of July. Training has continued at a social distance and wearing masks.
It offers slitting, creasing and cutting of digitally printed sheets, uses a barcode reader to automate the set up of jobs and camera system to ensure that the sheet remains in register to the processes that are applied to it. The only element missing from the full list of possibilities is perforating, though this can be added at a later point.
It will replace separate finishing processes, each with their makeready set up and labour requirements. “It will be a real asset to the finishing team with the type of work that we do,” he says. “How we have been working with different devices and multiple makereadies is so time consuming and wasteful.” This can be literally so as there are no overs printed for finishing makereadies.
Consequently if there is an image shift through a stack of business cards cued up for the guillotine, this will show up. For, despite the improvements in digital print technology, which have ended concerns about colour consistency, paper is not so advanced and some papers will stretch or shrink during printing. Add to this that designers can be inexperienced in designing for print and leave no margin for error, resulting in finished jobs that do not look as they should. “Every so often we will receive artwork which has been placed very close to the edge or with a boarder where movement in paper can ruin the end product if we trim it on the guillotines,” he says.
The camera registration system which shifts the paper into perfect register sheet by sheet results in perfect business cards every time. A sheet of 21 cards is trimmed and delivered to a jogged pile ready to pack in seconds.
The next step forward will be to work with Duplo's Fiery connection to link the multifinisher to the iGens via prepress. Instead of jobs being set up for the press with minimal reference to finishing processes, the DC746 can set up templates for finishing recurring job types, say business cards or greetings cards, and deliver these templates to prepress so that designs can be automatically fed to the finishing template.
A barcode is added to identify the job, to access its settings and so reduce errors. Every job is identified through a unique reference number that will be printed on paper job ticket that travels with the work as it travels around the factory. The level of automation will create additional capacity to take on work.
Implementation of shopfloor data collection that will come with the Tharstern installation will also change the game. There will be real time tracking of jobs and how much time is taken on any job, enabling more precise estimating. “We have a good idea of which jobs are the most valuable based on our long experience,” says Vivian. “It will be great though to calculate with greater accuracy whether we win or we lose on a job.”
The immediate applications will run from business cards though vouchers, greetings cards and the shelf tickets. “We have a variety of applications that will suit,” he adds. “Once we have the workflow set up we will be batching groups of similar jobs, say all the business cards at a certain time each day,” he explains.
The profile of work the Brighton factory handles extends into brochures, prospectuses for schools and universities, and marketing materials. There are packs for manufacturing businesses and housing association and care home businesses. Demand from these customers has provide resilient during lockdown. The site has come down to a single shift five days a week instead of running 24 hours a day. But with at least one member of the team starting early in the morning and another working into the evening, the operation has managed more than 12 hours of coverage a day.
The print for a manufacturer of medical equipment includes that material that is sent out with every installation, either as print or via a CD/DVD or USB stick. There is replicating equipment as well as the print production machinery.
At one time IDG had expected great things of the Home Information Packs scheme, but having developed the software, the plug was pulled. However, IDG has been able to repurpose the software to work for housing association packs and care home packs where, via an online portal, standard printed items can be ordered to enable the smooth running of those establishments. Each consignment sent out will have a different combination of forms, clothing, promotional items and so on. The job ticket is repeated on different coloured papers so that any missing elements can be spotted rapidly.
This will require some personalisation, some fulfilment, perfect binding, lamination, all of which are provided in house. Die cutting and spot varnish are services that are bought in from trusted trade suppliers. The investment in the 600i comes with a digital sheet feeder to take advantage of sheets being collated on the presses. It also meets a growing need for A4 landscape products, using the ability of the iGens to print a longer sheet than standard.
There are occasions when papers are so difficult to pick up and feed that, says Vivian, it can be quicker to hand feed rather than spending 30 minutes to get the booklet maker to run. There is also perfect binding a small scale with the DB500 perfect binder. It uses a Planatol hot melt adhesive. “We don’t do enough perfect binding to justify a PUR machine,” he adds.”And times have changed. The difficulties in binding toner jobs have lessened with developments of new toners and adhesives.
Times continue to change with automation rather than increasing the headcount as the way to expand the business. Files can already arrive in a number of ways, from FTP, email, direct interfaces to purchasing portals, and rarely on a CD. The workflow to the Xerox machines, with Fiery for the iGens and Freeflow for the mono presses, is automated. And now automation extends into finishing.
So that when the number of jobs again reaches the fast and furious volumes, ImageData will remain in control.
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