This direct imaging press has boosted profits at Falkirk Council's in-plant and took the the workload much higher than expected
When John Watt talks, the hierarchy at Falkirk Council listens. And that is not just because he is a feisty Glaswegian with self-confessed "limited patience". It’s because since he took charge of the Falkirk Council Printworks in 2004, he has transformed it into a profitable and coveted operation, expanding services while cutting costs – music to the ears of councillors besieged by demands for spending cuts
He started by bringing a lot of outsourced work in-house with the aid of a five-year-old secondhand B3 four-colour Ryobi 5244. This almost doubled turnover while cutting costs. That press, though, had a limited lifespan and, working far in advance as councils do, Watt had to predict back in 2004 that he would be needing a replacement set of kit in 2011 when he believed the press would need changing. That meant in 2009, he started looking at possible replacements, but he found the market was quite different to what it was back in 2004.
"I could have gone and got another Ryobi press, or the equivalent, but the run lengths had reduced over the five years: a job that would have been a run of 8,000 is now only 2,400," explains Watt. "And we were manually making plates for each job, which was massively time-consuming. We also had more work – our turnover went up from around £400,000 to £800,000 in that period. So we had an issue with run lengths and an issue with platemaking and more work to produce. After 18 months of research, I found that the Presstek four-colour 52DI was the perfect solution."
That research incorporated looking at most of the presses on the market, including those of Komori and Ryobi in particular. Watt says a B2 press was not an option as he did not have the work to justify the premium, so he stuck with B3. After shopping around, he realised that the Presstek 52DI hit the sweet spot for the run lengths and so he put it through its paces.
"We print tested at Presstek HQ on jobs that had been a major headache to us previously," says Watt. "We arranged our specific stock to be delivered so we were comparing like for like. The jobs were produced in a fraction of the time in which we were doing them at the time, with minimum fuss. I also spoke to other DI users in Scotland and England to gauge their experiences and if their expectations had been matched after install. The feedback was very positive."
More for less
The 52DI also offered the bonus of Watt going back to his employers and once again offering them more for less – Watt offered them a five-figure saving on the amount budgeted for kit replacement. "When we formed the budget back in 2004, we predicted we would need to replace both platesetter and press, but because the 52DI images the plate, we did not need a platesetter and so I could go to the council with a budget saving."
The press was installed in December last year, following the 18 months of research. It has a maximum sheet size of 520x375mm and a maximum print speed of 10,000sph.
All four plates are simultaneously imaged on press in "precise register", using thermal, chemistry-free imaging, which Presstek says eliminates the variables of processing and exposure. The manufacturer says that 16-micron lasers produce "sharp, well defined dots and easily support up to 300lpi and FM screening". It is pitched as being an optimal performer for runs between 500 to 20,000 and, with a fully automatic process from plate advancing to imaging, printing and cleaning, it aims to fill the gap between digital and litho. Watt certainly finds it perfect for his run lengths.
"At the run lengths we found ourselves doing, the press gave us the productivity we needed over any other we looked at," says Watt. "It can still do the longer-run work we were doing on the Ryobi, so I can keep that work in-house, but it also lets me do these increasing short-run jobs much, much quicker."
When the press was installed, Presstek removed the existing Ryobi press Falkirk was running. Watt reports that the weather was kind to the installation team – it was relatively mild compared to the previous year when there were blizzards. Hence, the swap was done in a single day. Three or four days of testing and training followed.
"In those testing days, we did do a couple of live jobs and they came off perfectly so it was all very impressive," he explains. "The training was also very comprehensive and we were up to speed very quickly – we had to get used to the waterless printing, but we found the press very easy to use."
Since installation the press has had more of a workout than Watt predicted. At the start of August it had completed nearly 3m impressions, which Watt says is "significantly more" than he had foreseen. The reason has been the ability to transfer some of the work off the council’s digital presses onto the DI.
"Our cut-off between our Xerox 700 and previous Ryobi press for colour was 1,000 pages – with the 52DI we have taken that down to 500," reveals Watt. "Previously, a 4pp A4 500-run job would have been done digitally on the Xerox, now we run on the DI as we get better quality and just as quick turnaround time."
In terms of quality, the inline spectrophotometer makes for very fast colour accuracy, according to Watt. He says the quality exceeds that of the former Ryobi machine, as that machine was significantly older. As for speed, he says the speed the press runs at is not necessarily where he needs it to be fast.
"The speed is fine – I sacrificed a little speed compared with the Ryobi, but we only very rarely put the Ryobi up to 12,000sph," he says. "The bulk of the jobs are shorter runs now, so speed is more important in the changeovers and platemaking, and we have that with the Presstek."
With so many jobs coming through – and with most of them being time-critical – a key issue is also reliability. Watt says that in the main, everything has gone perfectly since the install, aside from a nagging issue at the start of the year.
"The only glitch we have had was a consistent generic error code," he explains. "It meant there was an imaging problem, but we found the specific type of problem changed so it was tough to fix. The problem lasted two or three months. We could get around it by re-imaging, so it was more of a nuisance than a hindrance. Presstek dealt with it very well, they sent a few engineers up who tried to work out the issue, but we eventually got a visit from a technical specialist who solved it."
"We were grateful for John bringing the problem to our attention and delighted that we could solve the issue swiftly for him," responds Peter Banks, sales director at Presstek. "The Falkirk Council install has been really positive for both sides and we look forward to working with John in the future."
Obviously with any install, no matter how good the press, the financials have to work – but working for a council at a time of deep spending cuts, the ROI has to be even more pronounced. Luckily, Watt says the 52DI delivers in this respect as well.
"Some people say the plates are more expensive, but overall it works out much cheaper than running separate platemaking as we were before," he explains. "With the manual platemaking there was a labour element and there was a fixed price for the maintenance for that machine. So, combined with the ability we have gained in pitching and winning shorter-run work; we are better off now."
So much better off, in fact, that the print arm of the council is delivering a surplus back to the budget every year that can be transferred and used for other frontline services.
"We have faster turnarounds, we have made cost savings on existing repeat jobs and we are seeing profits rise – it has been a really successful product for us, it has exceeded my expectations," says Watt.
Max speed 10,000sph
Max sheet size 520x375mm
Sheet thickness 0.06-0.5mm
Image resolution 2,540dpi
Price From £295,000
Contact Presstek www.presstek.com 020 8745 8156
Falkirk Printworks is the in-house print facility of Falkirk Council. It prints the full range of commercial products, including stationery, leaflets and newsletters, on its kit that includes a Xerox 700, wide-format and office print kit and mailing and envelope machines. Around 30% of its turnover comes from external business for smaller councils and public-sector bodies such as the local NHS trusts. The Printworks employs 10 staff.
Why it was bought…
The company’s existing two-colour Ryobi machine was coming up to its 12th birthday and manager John Watt felt he needed a machine more suited to the increasingly short runs the business was producing. The Presstek offering of on-press plate imaging would bring productivity savings and Watt felt the press as a whole was the perfect fit.
How has it performed…
"We have shorter turnarounds, we have made cost savings on existing repeat jobs and we are seeing profits rise – it has been a really successful product for us, it has exceeded my expectations," says Watt.