Having acquired a taste for Xeikons, not to mention the toner, Mercian Labels is using its latest press to push the boundaries of label print
Adrian Steele loves his new Xeikon 3300 so much that he eats its ink.
"If you look at the consumables that go into the Xeikon process," says the Mercian Labels managing director, as he explains the machine’s environmental credentials, "you essentially have bottles of CMYK dry toner. That’s edible. It’s FDA-approved for direct contact with food – and you couldn’t get that with UV flexo ink or water-based ink."
Most people might be happy to take the FDA’s word for it, but Steele is rather more thorough: "In one of the demonstrations where we tour customers around the factory, I’ll just pop a finger in and eat some of the ink as a mid-morning snack. We’ve got quite a lot of customers involved in the food industry, who are sensitive to and aware of environmental issues. Certification goes so far, but there’s nothing like dabbing your finger into the toner."
It’s unclear exactly what visitors to this Cannock, Staffordshire-based label printer think when they see Steele slurping ink from his fingers, but most surely can’t fail to be impressed by the Xeikon 3300’s admirable eco credentials.
However, despite providing such sought-after value, and such a lively sideshow for customer tours, the environmentally friendliness of the Xeikon 3300’s inks is not in fact the main reason Mercian Labels decided to invest in this printer.
Spread over two sites, with 25 staff at Cannock and another 10 at Derby, this 43-year-old firm has recently been experiencing increased demand from its broad range of SME clients – everything from "a small bakery to a fire extinguisher manufacturer". The 3m-per-year turnover firm has a customer database of approximately 9,000, and is on the up, registering around 80 new customers a month.
And so last year, the company invested £1m in four key areas: short-run labelling, tape labelling, high-volume barcode labelling and a gamma-radiation indicator product called Gammatex. The new Xeikon 3300, installed at the Cannock site in December 2011 as a replacement to a Xeikon 330 that Steele says served him well for three-and-a-half years, came as part of this investment drive.
"We swapped the 330 for the 3300 for a number of reasons," he reveals. "We had always had a strategy to upgrade our production capabilities at some stage; we just felt that the market had moved to a point where the increased productivity and increased quality on the newer model meant that it was going to be productive for us to make that upgrade."
Before Mercian Labels bought the machine direct from Xeikon, it looked at some alternatives. Among these alternatives were the Memjet Rapid X2 and the Epson Surepress, but Steele says the only real contender was the HP Indigo 4500.
"The HP is a very good machine," he says, "but it doesn’t serve every market perfectly. The cost-per-click model that HP runs didn’t resonate particularly well with us. Also, there is the reliability of the 3300; the amount of uptime you get. This is critical when we have an operation where 98% of work is turned around in three days – we can’t afford to have breakdowns. The uptime was a key feature for us and something we were keen to take on."
In the end, the firm’s familiarity with the 330 sealed the 3300 deal. Steele says that Mercian Labels has fostered a good relationship with Xeikon, which continues with this move, as the manufacturer supplied the kit direct.
"Xeikon has a very friendly, collaborative style," he reports. "They listen to us in terms of things that we want and what we look for. The installation was remarkably quick. We scheduled in seven days of downtime, but we stood the operators down on the Friday morning in preparation and our first productive jobs came off the machine the following Tuesday. It was a brilliant process."
As with any such installation, there were inevitably some hiccups. But Steele says that these were resolved swiftly. A component that became loose during transport was quickly identified and fixed, as was a software upgrade needed to get the machine up and running.
On the whole, it didn’t take long for the 3300 to earn its place alongside Mercian’s other machines. Indeed, its performance, Steele claims, exceeded the company’s expectations.
"The key area of surprise for us in moving from the older platform to the new one has been the lower temperatures that you can actually fuse your toner at," he says. "This means you can use more heat-sensitive substrates. We’ve actually been able to do some interesting things with difficult substrates on the 3300, because it’s not as restrictive now with the QA-I toner as it was with the old X3."
Those difficult substrates – such as static-cling materials or polyethylenes – may not be listed by Xeikon as viable for use on the 3300, but Mercian’s experimentation has proved that the machine’s potential is vast for innovative and experienced users.
Steele has just one minor gripe with the machine: "The speed could be improved. That’s one area where we’d like to see some work. There are no issues with quality or resolution, but we would like Xeikon to make it quicker and I have no doubt that they will do that in due course."
Xeikon responds that it has listened carefully to this feedback and that for those wanting a faster machine, the new Xeikon 3500 might be a more appropriate choice. "Today the Xeikon 3500 is the most productive five-colour digital label press available on the market," claims segment marketing and business development director Filip Weymans.
And despite Steele’s small complaint, his faith in Xeikon is still resolute. This is perhaps down to its good track record for call-outs. Mercian Labels sees Xeikon approximately once a month – once a week if Steele’s really pushing the boundaries with one of those tricky substrates. But he says this reflects the trend of digital providing a less robust platform than flexo, and that it’s not an issue exclusive to the 3300.
Of course, the trade-off for digital’s lesser hardiness is the freedom to alter ongoing jobs. According to Steele, the 3300 has already proved its worth here, as his SME clients prefer not to incur the origination costs of flexo, but want speedily produced, short-run jobs delivered without fuss.
This must be music to the ears of Xeikon’s Weymans, who reveals that flexibility was the manufacturer’s key goal in developing the machine: "The beauty of the Xeikon press is that it offers customers greater flexibility thanks to its ability to run different applications. This allows customers to maximise their investment and isn’t that what every company wants?"
This is certainly what Mercian Labels wants, anyway. Steele confirms turnover has increased with the migration from the old machine to the new, and that margins have also grown. This is because the 3300’s running costs are much lower than the 330’s, which offsets the cost of the initial investment.
All of this, then, leads to the burning question: would Steele recommend the Xeikon 3300 to his peers?
"Absolutely," he says. "I frequently act as a demonstration site for Xeikon because I have just been so happy with the kit, and the more people who move across to digital, the better for customers, really. There’ll be certain situations where Xeikon is not right for printers – such as where they’re running very heat-sensitive substrates – but for the vast majority of people, Xeikon is a very good choice."
Anyone in any doubt would only have to attend one of Mercian Labels’ demonstrations to see how pleased the firm has been with it. The lucky ones might even get treated to a little mid-morning ‘snack’ along the way.
Max resolution 3,600dpi
Max speed 380sqm/hr
Printing width Variable
Web speed 350gsm: 9.6m/min 300gsm: 15m/min 250gsm: 19.2m/min
Imaging width 322mm
Price £450,000 to £550,000
Contact Xeikon +32 (0)3 443 13 11 www.xeikon.com
Mercian Labels is a 35-staff label printer with two production sites, one in Cannock, Staffordshire and one in Derby. Founded in 1969, the company began to focus on short-run label printing for SME clients across the UK in 2001, when Adrian Steele was appointed managing director. The £3m-turnover company uses a combination of digital, hot foil and flexography to create its products.
Why it was bought...
After using a Xeikon 330 for three-and-a-half years, Mercian Labels saw the opportunity for growth by boosting its capacity and identified the Xeikon 3300 as the machine to help them do it. The upgrade also extended the range of substrates the firm could print on and helped it become more environmentally friendly.
How it has performed...
Steele says that the Xeikon 3300 has boosted his firm’s margins due to the machine’s relatively low running costs (in comparison to the platform it replaced). He is so pleased with it that Mercian Labels has become a demonstration site for Xeikon. blog comments powered by Disqus