BCQ is a well-established ‘full-services’ offset and digital print group based on the outskirts of Buckingham. The ‘BC’ part of its initials comes from Buckingham Colour, which merged with Colour Quest exactly 10 years ago in January 2007.
The resulting BCQ group today has a turnover of £11m and employs 130 people, making it the largest printer for miles around.
The company’s origins go back more than 30 years to 1976, when it was founded as Busiprint in Well Street in Buckingham town centre. This name has been retained for the high-street print shop that still operates from there. Apart from today’s main print production site on the outskirts of Buckingham, there is also a large-format inkjet signage operation, JollyBig, based in nearby Milton Keynes.
Chris Knowles has been managing director of BCQ since 2015. His father Richard Knowles remains chief executive. Chris Knowles says the business split between processes is roughly 50% litho, 20% digital, 10% wide format, 15% direct mail and 5% warehousing services. In commercial terms, 60% of its £11m print sales go to commercial clients and 40% to the print management and agency market.
“We deal with a lot of automotive, retailers, charities, agencies and PMs,” says Knowles. “In terms of the types of work, it’s quite a varied mix, with lots of general commercial print along with signage and a fair amount of DM thrown in.”
With plentiful digital and offset presses already, BCQ turned its attention to workflows and its finishing department with a £750,000 round of investment at the end of 2015. The new kit included one of the first Promatrix 106 CS die-cutters to be sold by Heidelberg in the UK, plus the final Stitchmaster ST 500 saddle stitching line to be supplied by Heidelberg UK before the stitching and binding operations were transferred to Muller Martini. A new Tharstern MIS was also installed on the admin side.
It’s the Promatrix machine that we’re examining here. This is the result of an OEM outsourcing deal that Heidelberg signed with Masterwork in China in 2014. This involved a technology transfer from the Heidelberg Varimatrix line, which in turn came out of Heidelberg’s purchase of Jagenberg in 2003. Machines are built to Heidelberg’s standards and sold and supported by Heidelberg in the UK.
The Promatrix 106 CS is an automatic flatbed platen type machine for sheets up to B1-plus size, from 90gsm up to 2,000gsm solid board, or 4mm thick corrugated. Speed is up to 8,000 sheets per hour. Makeready is helped by a quick lock chase.
Once running, notable features include a non-stop feeder, belt table with suction tapes and central roller and brush adjustment and registration up to the stripping station.
Motorised cutting pressure adjustment and nonstop delivery with rolling carpet allow machine operators more time for production monitoring and quality control, says Heidelberg. A gripper opening device allows easy sheet removal in the stripping section. In the cutting section a thin plate and micro adjustment are standard, with no hand tools needed to unlock the cutting tools.
A step up
Like many commercial printers, BCQ had previously relied on old converted letterpress cylinder and platen machines to handle its cutting and creasing needs.
“We have a long-term relationship with Heidelberg and trust their sales and service,” says Chris Knowles at the time of the order. “The Promatrix is an affordable option for commercial printers and we are confident that the equipment is being manufactured to Heidelberg standards by Masterwork in China. We viewed the machine in Germany and are very pleased with the test results.”
Knowles took along one of his more challenging regular jobs to Germany, to see how the Promatrix handled it. This was a large kiss cut in the shape of a phone. On the old systems the job was taking two hours to make ready, with about 100 waste sheets. In Heidelberg Knowles saw the same job being set up in 15 minutes and output at 7,500sph with only two waste sheets. The cut quality was better too, he says.
He says he also considered alternative suppliers and methods: “We looked at the usual suspects like Bobst and some of the rotary cutters on the market now, but they didn’t quite have the full package – and in a few cases the capability to even do a full B2 sheet – so the Promatrix won the day.”
With the order signed, putting it the machine into the factory went smoothly, he says. “The installation was very quick and professional by the Heidelberg guys over the Christmas period last year, and was up and running during the first full week of 2016. It did take a fair bit of manoeuvring to get it in and in position as it is a big old thing.”
“We can run anything from a few hundred to a few millions, in the case of key card holders,” says Knowles. “It turns a nightmare 50-hour cylinder job into a six hour breeze and the operators have learned to love it.”
This class of machine is usually associated more with carton work than commercial print. Knowles says this may be important in future: “The packaging market does hold a fair amount of interest for us as a business and this machine will offer a firm foothold into making it viable. We do a limited amount of packaging at the moment but it is definitely something we would look to expand in the future and the Promatrix certainly gives us the capability to do just that.”
Cutting and creasing dies are now bought in from an outside specialist, he says. “We have to buy them in as they are pretty complex things which are quite a bit more involved than the old cylinder ones.” The old cylinder machine is still running too, but is gradually being phased out. “We do certainly still have it and it still runs a few hours a day but it’s becoming less and less frequent,” Knowles says.
Pros and cons? “The best thing is the speed, and it’s incredibly quiet considering what it does.
“Worst thing? Not really a bad thing but it does take up some space. A foiling capability would have been fantastic but I suppose you can’t have everything.” He adds “the makereadies are not quite a spritely as the Heidelberg demos would have you believe, but they are still a lot quicker than previously.”
There haven’t been any servicing issues either: “It’s been pretty good – touch wood – with nothing significant that required me to wade in, but as always with the Heidelberg service team they always offer a first-class service.”
So, would he order it again, or recommend it to others? “Absolutely, it’s a great bit of kit.”
Max sheet size 1,060x760mm
Min sheet size 350x300mm
Max diecutting size 1,060mmx745mm
Stock weight range 90-2,000gsm
Sheet thickness 0.1-2mm
Max pressure 2.6MN
Max speed 8,000sph
Weight About 16,000kg
Price From €330,000 (£280,000)
Contact Heidelberg UK 020 8490 3500 www.uk.heidelberg.com
Claiming to run one of the most diverse print production facilities of its type in the country, BCQ Group was first established in 1976 and today is a full services communications company with an approximate group turnover of £11m and a staff count of 130.
Operating mainly from the small town of Buckingham (with a large-format inkjet offshoot called JollyBig in Milton Keynes), BCQ describes itself as offering “intelligent communication services which provide tangible and measurable benefits for our clients,” adding the plug “our innovative ethos, high standards, consistent quality, attention to detail, customer service and value for money help single BCQ Group out as a partner to trust.”
BCQ provides marketing communication services, which can be broadly segmented into lithographic and digital print production, wide format and point-of-sale, creative services, storage, mailing and fulfilment, data and online solutions.
The main offset presses are all B2 Heidelbergs, a mix of two XL 75s (one four- and one five-unit) and a six-unit Speedmaster 74. There’s also a B2 two-colour Speedmaster. A new XL 75 with LE-UV curing is on order for delivery in spring 2017. BCQ’s use of digital goes back to the late 1990s when it operated a Xerox DC70, which was a rebadged Xeikon. Today it has a mix of Konica Minolta dry toner colour presses plus a pair of HP Indigos. There are also Xerox and Océ mono toner presses. The Scodix S75 inkjet is used for digital enhancement effects, which the company calls BCQ Touch.
“The company ethos has always been about the ability to say yes in an ever more competitive market, while ensuring that value is not dictated by price,” says managing director Chris Knowles.
Why it was bought...
BCQ needed a more efficient machine for cutting and creasing, with faster makeready and running speeds. It replaced older letterpress-style platen and cylinder machines. Although used for general commercial finishing work, BCQ also has ambitions to handle more carton work in future, with the Promatrix central to this.
How it has performed...
“It has certainly made life easier,” says Knowles. “Bottlenecks are the bane of every printer’s life and this has certainly relieved the worst of ours. Now we don’t look at a 50,000 run of folders and pray they don’t want them quickly and hope that nothing else that requires die-cutting gets booked in. Now when asked ‘can you do it?’ we can just say ‘yes’.”