Pre-loaded job settings and high-speed makereadies mean this press can help printers gain "a real advantage over the competition"
Three and a half years ago, Jon Lancaster, managing director of Hertfordshire-based Falkland Press, had a decision to make: the company needed a press and he had to decide whether to buy new or to go for a secondhand model. He was 24 and had taken over at his father Andrew’s commercial and trade printing outfit just two years previously. The company, meanwhile, had been running successfully since 1976. Hence, there was a lot riding on his decision. In the end, he opted for a secondhand 1998 Heidelberg SM74.
"I just didn’t have the confidence to buy new at that time," he admits.
Confidence issues or not, the decision proved to be an astute one. It has helped the company reach its current £2.5m turnover and a staff of 20 from its previous position as a £450,000-turnover, six-staff operation. This enviable growth brought him a new dilemma: to keep up with the market and to continue to grow, the SM74 needed upgrading after three years of dutiful service. This time, Lancaster had no qualms about opening the cheque book for some brand new kit. And he didn’t look too far for the replacement.
"We went for a Heidelberg XL 75-5-P+L," he reveals. "We have always used Heidelbergs and they’re the only company that visited us regularly. Also, from reading PrintWeek and checking online for specs of other machines, you build up a knowledge of what is out there and, for us, nothing really compared to this machine."
Falkland’s five-colour B2 perfector with a coating unit prints at 15,000 sheets per hour (sph). Lancaster explains that the perfecting module means the press cannot be upgraded to hit the machine’s top 18,000sph speed. Although he admits the perfector is useful, he says that if Heidelberg had had a non-perfecting model in stock at the time of purchase, he’d have preferred the extra speed that this would have enabled.
That’s not to say the press is slow – productivity at Falkland Press has trebled since the press was installed. Lancaster says this is down to intelligent software and good mechanics.
In terms of software, Lancaster says Intellistart has made a significant difference to makeready. The software gives the ability to pre-load all the settings for the next job while the current job is still printing. So the moment you finish one job, the press will immediately start preparing for the next, so the changeover is much faster.
"This is the first machine that has let us do this," says Lancaster. "It gives you a real advantage over the competition."
He’s equally complimentary about the InPress control software, despite initially not opting to include it in the package. The system analyses the colour bar using inline colour spectrophotometric colour monitoring devices and automatically adjusts the ink duct keys to that measurement. It is reading colour, not density, which Lancaster says means you get to flat line colour quality in around 150 sheets and this stays consistent for the whole run.
"You just wouldn’t get that quality manually, you couldn’t physically adjust all the ducts yourself in time," he explains.
This contributes to what Lancaster says is "the highest quality I have worked with", but the secret is also in the mechanics.
The vario dampening enables less alcohol on press and reduces hickeys, while the high quality of the dampening system itself means you get better tints. Meanwhile, the larger transfer cylinders and the air flow system prevent any marking.
"It doesn’t bend the sheet because the cylinders are big, unlike in the SM74," he says. "And it doesn’t put wet ink in contact with transfer jackets, which obviously has a significant impact."
Unsurprisingly, considering this glowing reference for the machine’s nuts and bolts, Lancaster says he can’t fault the mechanics of the machine. He does, however, have a couple of reservations about the software, mainly focused on the default settings. While he says the majority of the defaults are "spot on", a couple are a little off and so he is having to change these each time he starts a job. It’s an issue that Heidelberg constantly evaluates with customers, according to Matt Rockley, Heidelberg B2 and B3 product manager.
"We are always changing our default settings as we use any feedback we get constructively," he says. "If a customer points something out to us and we agree it is an issue, then we are more than happy to investigate those and change them for the next software release."
Lancaster has fed back his concerns, which are currently being considered by the manufacturer. Any other teething issues that you typically get with software have largely been ironed out. Other than these concerns, and some early problems using light stocks with the coater, the press has been running incredibly well at the company’s Hatfield facility. Lancaster says that, in terms of productivity, the makereadies of 3-4 minutes along with the press speed of 15,000sph equates to a net output (including blanket washes, makereadies, etc) of 12,000 sheets on the floor per hour. This is three times as many as the company was producing with the SM74.
So it’s no surprise that the press contributed to January being a record month in terms of profit for Falkland. Lancaster admits some of that success was down to changes in the way the business operates, but he says the press was central to the increased business.
However, if you’ve been blown away by Lancaster’s endorsement and are thinking of making a purchase, he has a few words of warning.
"Make sure your business is geared up for it and that you are busy enough to justify it," he advises. "For instance, we have just bought a new 30-plate-per-hour platesetter because our old one was too slow."
As for who it would suit, Lancaster says anyone with a long-term interest in commercial printing should definitely take a look, while Rockley is perhaps predictably more ambitious.
"What we have found with the XL75 is that it is equal in production terms in many cases to the B1 offerings of competitors," he says. "If you take the option of the speed package, so it runs at 18,000sph, it can easily compete in the B1 market for A4 and A5 work. It’s doing this in many places."
Lancaster’s ambitions for his own company are similarly expansive. The aim in the next two years is to move from their current 1,000m2 factory into a 5,000sqm facility. Whether that move will mean another XL75 depends on if the work is there to justify it, but if it is, Lancaster says he’d have no qualms about purchasing this machine again.
Top speed 15,000sph
Sheet size B2
Stock thickness 0.03-0.8mm
Price Speedmaster XL 75-5-P+L-C £956,000
Contact Heidelberg 0844 892 2010
Based in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, Falkland Press has been going since 1976 and is a commercial print operation dealing with, among other things, short-run magazines, cartons, boxes and short-run colour work, alongside specialist finishing such as foiling and embossing. In addition to the XL75, it operates a Heidelberg SM52, a HP Indigo 3050 digital offset press and a Xerox DC-250 digital copier, while finishing kit includes a Polar 115XT guillotine and an Autobond TPMH laminator. Managing director Jon Lancaster joined the family firm five years ago at the age of 22 and has presided over a growth in staff from 6 to 20 people and a turnover increase of £450,000 to £2.5m.
Why I bought it…
It replaced an existing 1998 SM74 straight six-colour machine that didn’t have the automation or the quality for the modern market so an upgrade was needed to a new press. It also added capacity.
How it performed…
"The quality is great, the machine is easy to use and we’ve won new work off the back of it," reveals Lancaster. "I can’t fault the mechanics and any problems with the software, such as default settings, Heidelberg are assisting us with. We had some issues running lighter stock through the coater but we have managed to fix this. All round it has been a great asset for the business."