In recent years Bluetree has been one of the success stories of UK print, growing from a small online business founded in 2009 to become a major force in trade service work, through its mainly online Route 1 Print wing, while still offering B2B/B2C print through its Instantprint.co.uk service.
Last year the group was typically handling 5,000 jobs per day and sales had increased by 31% to £41.5m, with £50m turnover as a goal for this year, though Covid-19 interrupted expectations.
In August 2019, Bluetree Group installed the UK’s first Landa digital press, a four-colour S10P perfector model. It uses the new Nanography offset inkjet process first announced at Drupa 2012. Bluetree introduced it to customers and international press at a high-profile visitors’ week at the beginning of February 2020, attended by Landa founder Benny Landa. Unfortunately the Covid-19 crisis struck soon after.
The group employs about 600 people in total, with about 60% working on print and the rest in the new medical division set up last year to make surgical quality masks for the NHS and other caring professions.
The print factory is divided into production ‘cells’, each with printing and finishing facilities to handle broad product types. The huge 14.1x4.8m Landa S10P occupies a prominent position. We asked Mark Young, Bluetree’s print division managing director about the Landa experience so far.
Why did Bluetree opt for Landa?
“We first saw the Landa at Drupa in 2012,” Young says. “Following that, our team took a trip to Israel to see the press and meet the team. At this point it became clear that the values and aspirations of the Landa team aligned with ours here at Bluetree.
“There are a few really key things that make the Landa a great fit for Bluetree. Firstly, it means we can perfectly bridge the gap between our digital and litho work. We have a lot of what we’d call mid run-length work, that puts pressure in our digital stream but carries cost into litho. We can shift a lot of this work through the Landa and it makes everything more efficient. Secondly, the quality is fantastic, and this is something we take very seriously. Finally, it’s new technology and it’s exciting. We want to be part of the journey.”
On the other hand it’s a new technology that’s taken Landa many years to iron out. Any qualms about that? “There will always be a nervousness surrounding taking new technology,” he concedes. “However, we spent a lot of time with the team at Landa, we’ve seen the technology and what it’s capable of and we trust that they can and will deliver exactly what is promised.”
How did the installation go?
“We placed the order in August of 2018, the press arrived in August 2019 and installation began immediately,” says Young. “The press was running test sheets within the month. It was a really smooth installation process, with Landa talking through the entire process and supporting us everywhere possible. It’s a bit of a beast so we did have to move a few things around, but that is normally the case when we invest in a new piece of kit. Things don’t stay still for too long around here! We also had to concrete-reinforce the floor in that area due to the weight of the press.”
There was also digital integration to consider, he says. “As we have a bespoke workflow, the Landa team worked to ensure the press fitted within that rather than us having to make any changes to the way we operate. The Landa team have always shown a keenness to work with us and ensure we are getting the most from the press.”
Existing press operators were retrained. “There was no external recruitment because we had so many colleagues who were interested in the Landa technology.
“The team here underwent a full training programme on operating the press and how to get the best results. We have initially put two operators on the machine, one with a litho background and one with a digital background. This has worked well, although it was difficult in the early stages with both operators having to learn Nanographic technology alongside the standard process that they were not familiar with.
“We do feel we have overcome this now and both operators are now more than competent to run the machine. We are now recruiting for two more. We have also had a member of the Landa team on site since the installation and they continue to support us as required.”
How has it been in practice?
Landa has always made ambitious predictions for the high quality and low costs per copy of its Nanography process. Does Bluetree’s experience so far bear these out?
“The process is unique with the combination of litho, digital and Nano technology,” says Young. “We believe that the cost of running the Landa will compare favourably with some of our other processes, particularly on short-run work up to about 500 copies. The first major transition for us will be when full business card production is moved across.”
How about the ability to print on pretty well any substrate? “We are still in the testing phase. We have not yet expanded to produce the full range of stocks on the press, but we are making good progress.
“Currently we are printing on our standard range of silk, gloss and uncoated materials from 150gsm through to 450gsm. We do not have to treat or coat any of the materials in any way prior to printing.”
He praises the print quality too: “Our experience is that the print quality is exceptional and noticeably sharper than other print processes. The loss of colour and definition on uncoated materials when printed with traditional methods is less of an issue with the Landa.”
The S10P’ 11m-long heated offset blanket is a consumable, so what has Bluetree’s experience been with this? “The blanket changes are done by our operators with no need for Landa engineers to attend. Although the change does take some time, the frequency of the changes is not proving to be any sort of issue to us,” Young says.
“All of our consumables are costed into the click charges we pay for the Landa”, he adds.
Reliability has been good so far, he reports, helped by having an on-site Landa engineer (Covid restriction make flying engineers over from Israel trickier). “We have not actually experienced too many physical issues on the press, with most periods of downtime coming from software upgrades and then the testing of the press afterwards. We’ve had no issues with engineering or parts support.”
What decides which jobs go on the Landa? “We use the best equipment for any job really,” Young says. “We have an automated system that evaluates the size, the stock, the quantity, the required turnaround and the current work we have within the factory, to understand the best routing for each job.”
What do the customers think?
Most never find out, he says. “Due to the way our workflow operates, a customer would only know the work was produced on the Landa if they contact us post-production. But the work we tend to run down this press is short- and medium-run flat and fold products.”
However, he says, “We were overwhelmed with the positivity we got from the open house events last February. For us here at Route 1 Print, it was a great opportunity to connect with our clients and understand what we can be doing to improve their experience with us. It is definitely something we would like to do again in the future, when it is safe and legal to do so.”
“We would be nothing without the amazing people in the industry so we’re doing everything we can to keep people going.”
Process Nanography offset inkjet
Ink Water-based NanoInk comprising a suspension of nano-scale pigments encapsulated in resin
Colours Up to 7+1
CMYK gamut 84% of Pantone claimed; 7+1 colour gamut claimed 94% of Pantone
Printheads Fujifilm Dimatix Samba greyscale piezo
Speed 6,500 sph (13,000sph as design goal)
Max sheet size 750x1,050mm
Max print area 714x1,032mm
Media thickness 0.06-0.6mm
Dimensions 14.1x4.8m (requires floor area of 16.1x6m for work area and cabinets)
Weight 22 tonnes
Operator controls Cockpit Touchscreen, Feeder Console, Landa Tablet
Front end Landa DFE
Contact Landa Digital Printing www.landanano.com +972 7734 44270
Bluetree Design & Print was founded in 1989 in Rotherham but its current form emerged in the past eight years after its 2012 merger with Instantprint.co.uk, set up in 2009 by Adam Carnell and James Kinsella, who now run the group. It launched the mainly online trade service Route 1 Print in 2012. Business grew rapidly and in 2015 it moved to new 9,200sqm premises in Manvers, north of Rotherham.
It has B1 and B2 Heidelberg litho presses and a wide range of digital machines in large and small formats. The Landa S10P installation began in August 2019.
Bluetree took on an adjacent 4,200sqm unit in 2019 intending it for exhibition graphics work, but instead has used it to set up a new medical PPE supplies operation.
Why it was bought...
Young says the press bridges the firm’s digital/litho divide nicely, processing jobs that would be inefficient using another process. The high quality of the output was also a factor and the fact that it’s a new technology was exciting: “We want to be part of the journey,” says Young.
How it has performed...
In terms of cost, substrate options, quality and reliability, Young has been very pleased and says Landa has delivered on its promises.
LANDA DIGITAL PRINTING
Landa Digital Printing is based in Israel and headed by Benny Landa. His original company Indigo developed the first successful liquid toner digital offset colour press, launched in 1993. After HP bought Indigo in 2001 Landa invested the money into investigating the physics of very small pigment particles. He set up Landa Digital Printing to develop this into a water-based ink called NanoInk and a new offset inkjet technology to print it, called Nanography.
The initial prototypes were shown at Drupa 2012, with Landa claiming high image quality with very sharp dots and wide colour gamut at high speeds, on virtually any paper, board or plastic substrate, while predicting lower cost-per-sheet than any other digital process.
The only production press that has shipped to date is the B1-format sheetfed S10 range. This was originally introduced as a single-sided seven-colour model for carton work, but at Drupa 2016 the S10P was announced for duplex commercial work.
Presses delivered so far have a maximum speed of 6,500 B1 sph (half for duplex), though it’s believed that this will be doubled to 13,000sph soon, possibly with resolution limitation. Web-fed models are also imminent: a simplex W10 for flexible packaging and a duplex W10P for publications.