Me & my: Agfa Anapurna H2500i LED

Simon Creasey
Friday, October 30, 2020

In a normal year Southend-based Solopress would be churning out between 2,000 to 3,000 orders per day, depending on seasonality. These orders could be anything from 100,000 leaflets, a single roller banner or 100 business cards.

Clifford (Right with Agfa’s Paul Fitch): “They’ve done everything if not more than what we were expecting from them”
Clifford (Right with Agfa’s Paul Fitch): “They’ve done everything if not more than what we were expecting from them”

“Our USP is if you were to order a large selection of products today at 12 noon you would receive them tomorrow,” explains Jack Clifford, head of operations at Solopress.

However, this isn’t a normal year. Since the government enforced lockdown commenced in March, Solopress, like many other UK printers, has seen the volume of its orders fall off significantly. But not in its large-format department.

Clifford says that over the past five years, large-format has been a growth engine of the company and during the initial lockdown period the department continued to churn out a significant number of jobs thanks to the two Agfa Anapurna H2500i LED hybrid systems Solopress took delivery of last year.

The company was essentially forced to make the purchase as it was struggling to keep up with the volume of large-format jobs it was receiving that were being cranked out on its existing Inktec Jetrix RX3200s.

“We’ve seen a 30% increase year on year in our large-format department and we were running out of capacity due to print speed,” says Clifford. “Plus the existing machines were coming to the end of their life. We’ve been running them 24 hours a day, six days a week since they were installed.”

He explains that the company thoroughly researched all options available on the market before eventually opting for the Agfa machines. “We looked at various Vutek machines and we looked at Durst, but to be honest for the price point we were looking to pay we found this [the Anapurna] was the best machine and it gave us what we needed. We did do demos on the Vutek, but we didn’t on Durst because the pricing wasn’t where we wanted to be.”

The Anapurna H2500i devices are 2.5m wide and can take both rigid and flexible media. The machines are fitted with air-cooled UV LED lamps, which can be switched on and off instantly, enabling the Anapurna to print on thin, heat-sensitive material. The machine is capable of printing at a top speed of up to 115sqm/hr in draft mode or 57sqm/hr in production mode and Clifford says that making the investment in the Anapurnas effectively allowed the company to double its capacity because the new machines were almost twice as fast as its existing printers.

“The speed of the machines has been consistent. When we went to Antwerp to demo the machine we quickly realised that we could double our capacity at the quality we need,” explains Clifford, who says that he even timed the machines on his stopwatch during the demo to see exactly what they were capable of.

The other thing Solopress was looking for from its investment was to maintain the quality of print it produces, but at lower running costs. Clifford says the Agfa machines delivered on both fronts.

“They print at a higher quality [than our old machines] and the running cost is 40%-45% less than what it was at previously.”

What’s also impressed him is their reliability. “One thing we didn’t know at the time we made the investment [in the Anapurnas] was their reliability. These Agfa machines are seriously reliable. We’ve had four service visits in 16 months across the two machines.”

New markets

In addition to being “seriously reliable” they’re also incredibly versatile, according to Clifford. “We decided to go for hybrid machines because we wanted to go into rigid as well and diversify into new markets.”

And throughout the spring and summer months, the new machines have proven their versatility and allowed this diversification to take place. “We have introduced many new products like floor vinyl, signage boards and hand sanitiser dispensers,” says Clifford. “Previously we would have been able to print floor vinyls, but not cut them. Now we can cut to shape with the additional investment of a Kongsberg [C44 cutter], that was made at the same time as the Agfa investment. A large portion of our revenue has come from this type of work during the pandemic.”

Going forward he thinks these jobs will continue to present opportunities and he also foresees the company adding other large-format printed products to its offer.

“I believe floor vinyl is here to stay for the next year or two, but it all depends on what happens with the coronavirus pandemic,” says Clifford. “We will continue doing window stickers and signage boards and these will continue to grow.

“We want to continue expanding that area of the business and we’re trying to add as many products as we can to grow revenue and broaden our range.”

A good example of this were the aforementioned hand sanitiser stations the company has been producing over the last few months. “With the hand sanitiser stations we came up with the idea in the morning, we produced a prototype in the afternoon and they were available on our website the next day.”

Clifford says another major attraction of the Agfa machines is their ease of use. After a couple of days training Solopress’ operators were able to get up to speed on the Anapurnas and once the presses were fully up and running “they’ve done everything if not more than what we were expecting from them”.

He identifies the key strength of the Anapurnas as their reliability with service call outs kept to a minimum since they were installed at the company’s 9,300sqm premises. “When we have raised service issues the service has been excellent. We received an engineer on the same day twice and on the other two occasions both were next day.”

Clifford struggles to find fault with the machines and says there’s nothing they don’t already have that he would like them to have. Solopress invested in the Anapurnas at the same time as it splashed out on two HP Indigo 10000 digital presses and the Kongsberg cutter, a combination that fundamentally changed the company’s production capacity and its ability to generate revenue at a time when the printing industry has been under immense strain. It topped this off over the summer with a major spend on an HP PageWide T250 HD inkjet web press.

“It’s [the investment] boosted revenue,” says Clifford. “We are now able to continue growing at 30% year on year and during the pandemic we’ve been able to increase revenue by four times in that department. We wouldn’t have been able to achieve that without this investment.”

As for whether Solopress would splash out on another Anapurna in the future Clifford says “no”, but only because if the company needs another large-format machine it would be looking to make a step up in terms of model range. However, he wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the machine to other businesses.

“We already have done,” says Clifford. “We’ve had a couple of on site demos for Agfa’s clients and one of them did invest.”


SPECIFICATIONS

Max width 2.5m

Min media thickness 1mm

Max media thickness 45mm

Print resolution 720x1,400dpi

Max speed Draft mode: 115sqm/hr; production mode: 57sqm/hr

Price From £145,000, depending on configuration

Contact Agfa UK 07831 100771 www.agfagraphics.com


COMPANY PROFILE

Solopress was founded in Southend in 1999 by Andy Smith and Aron Priest. It started out as a traditional litho house, but over the years added in-house digital and finishing capabilities. In 2017, it joined the Onlineprinters group and in 2019 made a significant investment in the two Agfa Anapurna wide-format UV printers, two HP Indigo B2 digital presses and a Kongsberg cutting table. Solopress racked up sales of just under £21m in 2016, but this grew to circa £28.5m in 2018 and today it’s around the £30m mark. In March 2019, the company fulfilled its two-millionth order and later that year celebrated its 20th anniversary - it marked the event by producing its very own custom-brewed ‘Solohop’ ale. Today, it employs more than 270 members of staff.

Why was it bought...

The company wanted to upgrade its existing large-format Inktec Jetrix RX3200s, which were coming to the end of their natural life having been hammered for 24 hours a day six days a week since they were installed, with faster, more productive and more cost efficient machines.

How it has performed...

Clifford says the Anapurnas vastly exceeded expectations and the company has effectively doubled its capacity. The speed and versatility of the new machines has allowed Solopress to introduce new products and keep growing revenue in its large-format division. “The new machines have been excellent for us,” he says. “We wanted to future proof ourselves for three years and with the Anapurnas we’ve done that.”

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