Going on a diet at label printer Customark must be tough. Alongside the more perfunctory barcodes, health and safety and toolbox labels whizzing through the company's machines, there's also an onslaught of images of delicious-looking cakes and gooey gateaux. Fortunately - or perhaps disappointingly - having the food labelling sector as your largest client-base doesn't, reports production manager Barry Foster, involve any free samples.
What it does increasingly involve, he says, is quickly turning around high-quality, five-colour labels that will stand out on the supermarket shelf. And while the four-colour Comco Cadet Customark bought in 1999 to produce these kinds of labels was "very good in its day", according to Foster, it has become too old to keep pace with the shorter lead times and with customers’ quality demands.
"These days, even simple food labels are getting complicated and there’s only so much you can do with a four-colour press," explains Foster. "The Comco was just very old; it was getting worn out and so wasn’t up to the job anymore."
So, in September last year, Customark decided to upgrade to an Edale Alpha flexo press, taking the Comco machine off the shopfloor for light refurbishments, with the intention of eventually reintroducing it for basic jobs.
The Edale press, says Foster, has lots of small features that the Comco didn’t, which collectively make all the difference when it comes to maximising efficiency and ensuring quality.
"The new machine has automatic rewinds, unwinds, full tension control, web inspection, laminating and a turn bar," he says. "Of course, those are all fairly standard these days, but it’s the simple things that make the difference, especially when you’re doing tight registration work."
The new press also enables the West Midlands-based printer to offer cold foiling. Although it’s only been used so far for some promotional Christmas labels, to show what the company is capable of, Foster hopes this application will attract those wanting labels for consumer items such as shampoo bottles, which often feature silver foiling.
The purchase of the Alpha, explains Foster, is part of an overall company strategy of focusing on short-run, high-margin, quality work. "We’ve been owned by a lot of people over the years, which has meant we’ve done all sorts of work, depending on who owned us at a given time," he says. "But for the past five years now, we’ve been owned by a single person rather than a larger company, so that means we get the freedom to take the company in the direction we want."
This diverse history since being established in 1968 does mean, however, that Customark still does "all sorts of work", reports Foster. "We try and get in as many niches as we can, which keeps us busy. One industry can be a bit quiet so it’s good to be able to pick up a bit of work from a different sector," he says.
But the area of quality label printing isn’t one that is currently showing any signs of going quiet and so the Alpha was much needed. The company actually had an older version of the machine around eight years ago, and so when the time came to purchase a new machine for this type of work, Foster says Edale was in the hot seat.
"I did have a general look around and even looked at Chinese machines just to see what was on the market," says Foster. But the solid build of Edale’s machines clinched it for Customark, as did the good service support Edale has offered the company over the years.
Indeed, Foster cites the first Alpha installation as a good example of this. "When I bought the original Alpha we had some modifications done on it that were a bit out of the ordinary, to do a specific job that needed an extra laminating unit and unwinds fitted," he says. "Edale did a lot of work for me on that."
The manufacturer was also very obliging, says Foster, in helping Customark access the finance to invest in the latest machine. "The biggest problem was getting funding from the banks last year," he says. "But we met with Edale’s director Grahame Barker a few times and he helped sort out a deal for us where Edale helped finance it."
And true to form this latest Alpha has proved as reliable as its predecessor, reports Foster. "The longest the machine has been down was while we were getting hold of new UV lights when we had a couple go and neither we nor Edale had a spare in stock," he says. "But Edale were still very good and got us one in a couple of days. Apart from that it’s just been things like the odd bearing going as it would on any machine."
This has provided a refreshing change for Customark’s operators, says Foster, as the company was used to having to battle with the idiosyncrasies of an aging Comco each day.
"The staff are definitely happy because it’s nice to have a new machine to work on," he says. "What they managed to get out of the Comco was fantastic when you think about it – they were having to compensate all of the time for the machine’s faults."
Staff are also pleased with the better working environment the Alpha’s smaller footprint gives, compared to the Comco. "The Comco was modular so you had the print stations and then the unwind was another separate module," says Foster. "All in, I think the Edale is about half the size of the Comco, so it’s given us a bit of space on the shopfloor rather than being cramped."
"The staff also got on well with the new press because our first Edale was basically the same machine, and so they didn’t need any further training," he adds.
A resounding success, then, for the latest Customark/Edale collaboration. "It’s perfect for what we do," concludes Foster, saying that, should an application arise that the Alpha can’t deal with, he is confident Edale would be very helpful in enabling the company to adapt this modular system.
"While the machine isn’t built speed-wise to do lower-margin work where you have to run your machines flat out," he says, "it’s perfect for printers doing shorter-run, quality, higher-margin work and perfect for the food packaging labels we do."
It seems the only thing Edale could now add to their offering, then, is the odd gateau now and again.
Max print stations 9
Max die stations 3 Web width 250mm or 330mm
Max print width 246mm or 326mm
Max mechanical speed 100m/min
Max unwind capacity 657mm
Max rewind capacity 657mm
Waste matrix capacity 457mm
Max print and die repeat 457mm
Min print and die repeat 52mm
Substrate calliper range 50-250µm
Price from £80,000
Contact Edale 01489 569230 www.edale.com
Customark was established in 1968 as the consumables division of Markem Systems. Since then, the company has changed hands several times, meaning the sort of work produced has also varied over the years. Having recently acquired two screen-printing companies and a pad print company, today the operation’s output is diverse and includes barcodes, tamper-proof and ‘mark and seal’ safety labels, food packaging labels and component printing.
Why it was bought...
Customark purchased an Edale Alpha flexo press to replace an aging 10-inch waterbased four-colour Comco Cadet. This has boosted the company’s capacity for the high-quality, short-turnaround, five-colour work it is seeing increased demand for. Customark went for the Alpha, reports production manager Barry Foster, because the company has had several Edale machines over the years and so built up a good relationship with this manufacturer.
How it has performed...
Foster says the Alpha has performed very well with very little downtime. "Edale machines have pretty simple mechanics and are well built," he says. "That’s why we’ve always owned Edales. I’ve always liked them and I’ve always had good service with the company."