Me & My: Duplo PFi Blade
Thursday, April 29, 2021
BCA Group in Enfield is a long-established family printing business that’s managed to adapt to changing times and fortunes for more than four decades. First set up in 1980 by Brian Cottee, it’s currently a two-person company owned and run by his son Mark who joined the business in 1984.
By the end of 2019, BCA was doing a fair amount of work for events based companies in addition to general commercial print, but thanks to lockdowns all those events went on hold. However the purchase of the UK’s first Duplo PFi Blade compact B3-format digital cutting and creasing table in September has let the company break into new short-run packaging work.
Embracing change in order to keep going has been a theme running through BCA’s history, says Mark Cottee. “My father had firstly worked in advertising agencies then progressed over to selling print, when an opportunity came along from two friends who ran a four-colour litho business who lent him an investment for him to start his own business operating out of their premises. This was called ‘Brian Cottee Associates Limited,’ as my father would be using associates to fulfil his services.” Brian was still actively involved until recently.
The business grew and moved premises a few times before the financial crash hit in 2008, Cottee says: “When that happened the majority of our work started to disappear and we had to take the decision to become smaller and we had to let four staff go. This was a difficult time for us, so we had to get out there and secure as much business as we could going forward.” Digital printing with its potential for short runs and personalisation offered new ways to serve customers across financial services firms, architects, charities, and in education, sport, hospitality, and food and drink.
“About 2015-16 we started to look at customers who were looking for small-run, high-quality, quick-turnaround events-based materials with a reliable customer service. Customers included Dow Jones, Wall Street Journal, London Stadium and the SES Group among others. This was working for us fairly well until Covid happened. Up to that point we had had the best start to a year in the past five years!”
Lockdowns meant events were cancelled, postponed or migrated online. “When a lot of our event customers were not operating, we needed to change course, to packaging which seemed to be in good health. This diversification kept us going and now we’re in a good position to gain the benefits of the technology.”
BCA runs a Xerox Versant 80 digital press, a Vivid Matrix laminator with foiling capability, a Duplo DBM-120 stitch trimmer with collation tower, a Morgana DigiFold folder, Watkiss SquareBack booklet maker, a gluing machine and a guillotine.
Cutting and creasing used to be outsourced, Cottee says. “We always used partners for creasing and punching out for that type of work, but when you are operating in the short-run market the costs become prohibitive for the smaller quantities, so the price becomes too much for a lot of customers and they end up not proceeding.”
Trials with a hobby cutter
Cottee said he originally tried a Cricut tabletop cutter aimed at the hobby market (and indeed sold through the Hobbycraft retail chain in the UK). This wasn’t initially for packaging work, however – he was looking at consumer markets such as weddings and social events.
“The reason we looked at the Cricut was because we were doing a very small number of presentation books – 10 copies – where the customer required a circular aperture on several leaves. When I mentioned we would need to create a die etc, etc, the cost started to mount up. He then said he had a small desktop cutting machine that he used for his paper samples that we could borrow. So we borrowed this small machine and completed his books for him. At this point we started to look at these ‘hobby machines’ and decided to buy one purely for this sort of work that might come along now and again. The technology was a real surprise but painfully slow, so it was something we could not upscale.”
A more solidly built, productive digital cutter was needed. “I saw the Duplo Blade at the NEC Packaging Innovations exhibition in February 2020, just before lockdown,” says Cottee. “The main theme I came away with was ‘embellishment’. And I thought, wow, this is the direction we need to go in because in today’s climate you need to operate in niche areas because otherwise you end up competing against the whole world and going out of business.” He says he also considered the VeloBlade models from Vivid Laminating Technologies, first introduced in 2019.
What’s a PFI Blade?
Duplo introduced the PFi Blade last year as a compact B3-plus die-less digital cutter and creasing table priced around £20,000. It has an auto feeder for sheets from 210x279mm to 400x600mm. Its top cutting speed of 800mm per second equates to around 30-45 seconds per B3 sheet, depending on complexity. Its maximum cutting depth is 1.3mm.
It features a CCD camera registration system. The tool head can hold three tools; four knives for conventional and kiss cuts, plus a scoring wheel are supplied as standard. The PFi Connect software processes vector files from the likes of Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw. A QR code module can be used for higher productivity.
The PFi Blade can complement Duplo’s other small-format embellishment systems, DuSense (an inkjet device for raised or textured UV varnish) with the optional DigiFoil cold-foiling applicator.
What’s it used for?
“The Blade, combined with our digital foiling technology, has opened up a new market for us that did not exist before, so it’s now possible to produce cost-effective small-run boxes with added foil embellishment with variable foiled content,” Cottee says. “Almost instantly, we had a job in production which was a kiss label for one of our music customers. I’ve also been sending out little WhatsApp movies to clients to show what we can do on the machine, and they’re already coming back with ideas of things that they could do.
“We have been working with a local packaging company that doesn’t have a digital print facility for small-run boxes. So far we have been producing small orders and pre-production samples for testing and photography before committing to larger quantities.”
BCA can set up the cutting guides or they can be part of the customer-supplied digital artwork, Cottee says. “Firstly we check the guide for any drawing errors, then we will perform a test before we start printing to make sure that the box makes up correctly. Our tie up with the packaging company means we can call upon their expertise where guides are concerned and for generating bespoke guides for more complex boxes.”
How has it been in practise?
“It’s been really good,” Cottee says. “The main reason we looked at the Duplo was because of the ease-of-use operating the software. It’s been a revelation, really. It doesn’t replace a platen if you’ve got 10,000 cutouts to make, but what it has done is to create a new market for us. We can now make small-run boxes with the flexibility to refine or amend the die in real time, without the additional cost of a new die. We test and check then just get on with the job, cutting down on old timescales. The best thing is that we can produce a sample very quickly.”
As BCA’s experience has grown it’s been exploring the capabilities of the table, he says. “We have recently used our machine to emboss although it’s not designed to do this. With a little R&D from ourselves we managed to find a way to do this for a customer who needed to have this for a photo shoot.
“You really need to understand what type of materials you want to use. We have found that some materials behave differently so getting an alternative is sometimes the best solution. Although this doesn’t happen often, we are creating a bank of information all the time.”
Any snags? “We have not experienced anything bad about the machine but if we have had a problem the support at Duplo has been great for us to resolve,” Cottee says. “We had a software upgrade that was performed very early on, but other than that the machine has been very reliable.”
Would he recommend the Blade to others? “Yes, absolutely, but like every piece of equipment you buy, do your homework.”
Max sheet size 600x400mm
Min sheet size 210x279mm
Feeder capacity 100mm
Max cutting thickness 1.3mm
Max cutting speed Up to 800mm/sec
Price About £20,000
Contact Duplo International www.duplointernational.com 01932 263900
Established in 1980 by Brian Cottee, BCA has weathered changing economic circumstances over the years, expanding, contracting and changing direction as needed. By 2019 it was a two-person business owned by Brian’s son Mark, carving out a niche in serving event companies with their print needs.
Why it was bought...
Covid-19 put the events work on hold. The PFi Blade was purchased originally with social stationery in mind, but also opened up markets in short-run die-less packaging.
How it has performed...
Cottee says: “It’s been a revelation, really... We can now make small-run boxes with the flexibility to refine or amend the die in real time, without the cost of a new die.”