"We went to Belgium, Barcelona and... Ramsgate," reveals Richard Blueitt, operations director and co-owner at Wiltshire based retail printer Superior Creative. "In fact, we went to Belgium twice."
These are not the boastings of a frequently vacationing print boss, but instead the journeys of a man on the hunt for the best wide-format press on the market – an expedition that back in 2009 he hadn’t envisaged having to embark upon.
"In 2009, we were getting more and more demand from our clients for large-format work," explains Blueitt. "At the time, we were farming this out. So we decided to invest in an Inca Spyder to meet the growing demand and we thought that the press would be enough to cope. It turned out we were wrong and the demand from out clients increased further. Last year, we realised we had to go into premier league in that sector."
The shift into wide-format digital print would come as a shock to those who knew the company when it was established in 1977. Back then, it was a traditional social stationery printer.
A different beast
The company is a much different beast nowadays, virtually unrecognisable compared with its former self. It has bloated out of its original building with several extensions and added a few more buildings for good measure. It’s also shifted focus to the retail sector with clients including Heineken and Noble Foods, set up what the company believes is the largest design services team in the south-west, and has gone digital with two Konica Minolta Bizhub Pro C6500e SRA3 printers and a Kodak Nexpress. In addition, Blueitt, who has worked for the company for 26 years, took control of the business in 2005 in an MBO with three other directors.
Being used to all this change, clearly a shift further into the wide-format area was not going to be intimidating, but that’s not to say the decision as to which press to buy was taken lightly. Those European jaunts and trips to the east coast were part of a six-month research project to ensure the wide-format press that Superior Creative eventually bought was the best available.
"We looked at all the big name suppliers," says Blueitt. "We went to demos and did our homework and in the end it came down to two possibilities: the Agfa M-Press Leopard and the Inca Onset S40. In terms of quality and speed, we were really impressed with both."
One of the reasons the Inca Onset S40 edged out the Agfa was that the latter didn’t do the paper sizes the company wanted. But there were other reasons, too.
"Fujifilm has a little bit of a headstart, as we had already purchased a machine with them in the form of the Spyder, so we had already ironed out the teething problems you can get with a new supplier," reveals Blueitt. "Also, the deal Fujifilm put on the table in terms of cost of inks – and it also included a plate deal for our litho machines – was a good one."
The machine was installed in September, but not scheduled to be up to full production until a month afterwards. This was to enable the machine to bed in and for training to be completed. In terms of the training, four staff members were instructed on how to use the machine over a single weekend.
"Because we had the Spyder, the training was not too long winded as the front ends are quite similar," reveals Blueitt. "Two staff also went to Ramsgate to have a look at the machine before it was installed, which we found quite helpful."
When it came to bedding the machine in, Blueitt was fully prepared for some teething problems.
"We planned full production a month after installation, as we are realists. We understand that this is high-end technology and there will be technical problems," he says. "As it happened, we only really had one issue. We had what seemed to be a suction bed problem, in that the machine said it wasn’t holding the sheet down properly. The engineers called back to the production line in Cambridge and they looked into the issue there. They tested the machines on the production line and came up with a resolution very quickly. We didn’t lose any time or work on it."
Blueitt says this level of service is crucial in the retail sector as deadlines are immovable and very, very tight. While the firm was by no means disappointed with the service on the Spyder, it says Fuji has really upped its game in the service area since that purchase.
"Because we had the Spyder before, we knew what the service and engineering programme was and they have really improved it over the past 18months," says Blueitt. "One thing that has really improved is that they are giving us feedback, which they did not do before. They have invested in more engineers and a better service set up, too."
Since the initial fault, this "excellent" service has not had to be called upon. Blueitt says the machine has been a great addition , both for its speed and for its quality.
"Our volume levels for customers are still growing, so speed is especially important," says Blueitt. "The Spyder was doing 15 boards per hour but this one does nearly 100 – so you can see from that the level of productivity it offers. As for quality, the fact that we are looking to run some of our short-run litho work on the machine tells you how high the level of quality is."
Not that these are things the company necessarily expects its clients to pick up on. Superior Creative does not expect a flood to its door because it has bought an Onset S40. Blueitt says for most clients, as long as deadlines are hit and the quality is good, they don’t really want to know anything about how it is printed.
That said, sales director James Hodgkiss argues that this is beginning to change.
"Our clients are learning about the presses and want to have an opinion," he explains. "I look after Heineken; when you deal with them, they want to know the machines you are using; they’re on-board with our investment programme."
At present, that ongoing investment programme would include another Onset S40 if the company found its present machine reached capacity, according the Hodgkiss. Blueitt confirms this would be the case, and explains that he has kept an eye on the market since the installation and, to him, it is still clear the S40 comes out on top.
"Having been through the research process and having kept an eye on developments, we still feel this is the best machine on the market at the moment," he explains. "Our relationship with Fuji has grown, too. We know their engineers now and would have no hesitation buying another one or recommending it to another business."
Max speed 470 sqm/hr (94 beds/hr)
Max print size 3.14x1.6m
Max substrate thickness 10mm using automation / 50mm manual load and unload
Resolution Up to 600 dpi
Max substrate weight 20kg evenly loaded / 10kg using automatic handling / 80kg evenly loaded at reduced speed
Price From £750,000
Contact Fujifilm UK 01234 245245 www.fujifilm.co.uk
Superior Creative was established in 1977 as a social stationery printer. Based in Malksham, Wiltshire, it has since morphed into a design and print hub for the retail industry, using digital, litho and wide format kit to print a wide range of products. The company was the subject of an MBO in 2005, where four of the directors took control. It then embarked on an investment programme that included the purchase of the Inca Onset S40.
Why it was bought…
Operations director Richard Blueitt explains that Superior was outsourcing its wide-format work until 2009, when demand meant it made more sense to bring the work inhouse, so it bought an Inca Spyder. However, demand increased again and it became clear that the company would need a higher speed machine if it was going to cope.
How it has performed…
"Our volume levels for customers are still growing, so speed is especially important," says Blueitt. "The Spyder was doing 15 boards per hour but this one does nearly 100, so you can see from that the productivity gains it brings. As for quality, the fact that we are looking to run some of our short-run litho work on the machine tells you a lot about how high the level of quality is."