With a need to bring mailing work in-house, design and print all-rounder Superior Creative sought out the ideal machine for its demands
There are not many printers that can boast "20 or so designers, some creatives, some cardboard engineers and around 20 ladies doing weird and wonderful things in the post-press department", but the company where Stewart Powell is production director, Superior Creative, can. The 135-staff, £15m-turnover firm caters for the retail sector with a complete design, litho and digital print, e-marketing and fulfilment service, so this perhaps unusual staff roster is a must to meet a diverse set of client demands.
"We are very diverse – we do everything," says Powell. "But whether we print on a NexPress, the Inca Onset S40 we installed last year or a Heidelberg CD 74, the quality is always of the high standard our clients demand."
The mailing and fulfilment arm of the business is a relatively new addition to the company, which has been running since 1976. The direct mail department was set up two years ago to service existing client needs. It meant Superior Creative was in the market for a polywrapper.
"We did not set up trying to offer mailing services to all and sundry – though we will provide that service if approached – it was more to offer our existing clients the full package," explains Powell. "For one of our biggest clients we used to print the material then outsource the mailing – we decided to bring that in-house to save us the costs and to have a greater control over the process. It means we can process jobs a lot quicker too. The demand was for polywrapping because clients perceive that they can achieve a better response if the recipients can see what is in the envelope."
The firm initially installed a second-hand Sitma polywrapper, but it proved troublesome to use, ill-fitting for the task at hand and unpopular with the staff.
"I’m sure it was fine 20 years ago, around when it came out, but we did not get on with it," says Powell. "We do a lot of shorter runs and by the time we got the machine ready each time everyone was pulling their hair out. We needed to find a machine that was more compact to suit our shorter runs, that was newer and that had much faster changeovers – our runs are generally around 10,000-50,000."
With those run lengths, Powell says a new Sitma machine would not have been worth the high price tag. Instead, he looked for a lower productivity machine and says the only option he really uncovered was the KAS Paper Systems Mailwrap machine. And the source of this information was none other than these very pages.
"We saw an article in PrintWeek about the machine and recognised it as the perfect fit for what we wanted," says Powell.
A step up
KAS says the machine has been designed for companies who want to move on from hand-fed drop-in baggers to a fully automated system, providing greater throughput and efficiency, but without much more time being spent on set-up.
Standard feeders can feed thicknesses up to 7mm, while specialist feeders can go up to 15mm and a shuttle feeder can also be added for even thicker items. The insert stations can handle a wide variety of documents and products, including single sheets, card, reply envelopes, pre-folded items, CDs and books.
The company says the feeders are top load for ease of filling without stopping the machine and adds that it is possible to pre-select the number of items fed from each insert station on each cycle. The machine also utilises print registration recognition when using printed film.
The Mailwrap uses single-ply film from a roll. Typical thickness is 30 microns but it can handle some films of just 16 microns. It can take film width up to 520mm and the rolls are loaded via a pull-out cassette system. The machine folds the film around the pack leaving an overlap in the middle where the two layers are fused together by a heated semicircular bar. This bar rocks backwards and forwards to apply an even heat. The film runs over a plate at the point of seal to protect the contents from the heated bar as it comes into contact with the film. A second heated bar then cuts the film in between each bag and provides the end seal before the completed bags are collected on a conveyor stacker. The maximum pack thickness is 22mm.
Installation of Superior Creative’s machine occurred 18 months ago and Powell says it was up and running within a couple of days at the company’s Melksham, Wiltshire, base. He adds that the small footprint of the machine meant that the site required little in the way of preparation before the machine arrived.
"It was relatively straightforward to install the machine – it was modular and just slotted together quite easily," he reveals.
He says that initially the main operator was trained up, but since then the KAS team has been to the company a few times to train up additional members of staff.
In terms of ease-of-use, he says the machine is pretty straightforward.
"Operators have control over the settings through the machine’s pivoting touchscreen, which enables station selection, speed and heat settings," he explains. "There is a settable counter and the screen displays the current speed, heat settings, feeders in operation and run summary. An error automatically stops the Mailwrap and its location is displayed on the control screen. Heat settings are preset for a given throughput, but can be adjusted to suit the thickness of film. Each insert station has a miss, double and jam detector and there are further sensors throughout to check the path of the document."
In reliability terms he has also been very impressed. When the occasional issue has occurred, Powell says he can’t hold the manufacturer entirely responsible. "We had a slight issue with the sealant head, but to be honest it was probably as much the way we were using it as much as a problem with the machine itself – that said, KAS have been exceptional at coming out and solving any issues we have had straight away," he reveals. "I think it really helps that the machine is designed and built in the UK. It means that when you ring them up, you speak directly to the people that designed and built it, rather than talking to an agent. It makes a real difference in solving any issues very quickly."
Powell similarly has no complaints about speed or quality. For the latter, he says comparisons with the company’s previous Sitma machine cannot be made because of the age of that system, but he says that the quality off the KAS machine is very high.
For speed, he says that it is ideal for the company. "Although it can envelope 6,000 packs an hour, we prefer to run it between 4,500 and 5,000 per hour depending upon the type of insert and materials used. That’s perfect for us."
He says that the machine gives the company the opportunity to do longer runs if needed, around 50,000, but that it is also quick enough in the changeover to do multiple 4,000 runs.
Considering the latter, Powell says the machine is not going to fulfil the needs of a 24/7 operation, but if you are running it over 12-15 hours with shorter runs then it is "more than suitable and very affordable".
At present, Superior has no plans to expand into the higher run mailing environment, instead it is concentrating on future large-format investments and the soon-to-be-delivered Diecut Goldline, the self-proclaimed "world’s biggest die-cutter". Mailing will remain a key service for the company’s clients, however, and Powell says the KAS machine is the best bit of kit to ensure it meets those service demands to the best degree going forwards.
"It has been a great investment and remains a key part of our kit portfolio," he concludes.
Max speed 6,000 packs per hour
Max pack thickness 22mm
Max pack dimensions 120x105mm
Film thickness Around 16-30 microns
Price from £65,000 depending upon the number of feeders required.
Contact KAS Paper Systems 01582 662211 www.kaspapersystems.com
Superior Creative is based in Melksham in Wiltshire and has 135 staff and a turnover of around £15m. Serving the retail market, it runs digital kit, including a Kodak NexPress, as well as litho machines, including a Heidelberg CD 74. It also boasts extensive design, post-press and mailing and fulfilment services.
Why it was bought…
Production director Stewart Powell says that the company was formerly outsourcing mailing work, but decided to bring that work in-house to cut costs and have more control over jobs. The company originally set up with a secondhand Sitma machine, but soon realised a more modern machine was required. After seeing the KAS Mailwrap featured in PrintWeek, the company knew it was the machine for them.
How it has performed...
Powell says the machine has been a great addition to the Superior Creative offering. He says the machine is capable of runs around the 50,000 mark, but also has quick enough changeover times to make shorter-run work just as viable. He talks highly of the machine’s reliability and says the quality has been excellent.