In 2016, managing director of Boston, Lincolnshire-based Kalas Packaging Jonathan Padley was looking for
something that would help his then seven-staff “niche” business to break through the £2m-turnover ceiling.
Specialising in printing horticulture trays and labels, as well as some food packaging, for some of the UK’s major retailers, the business was spending around six figures annually farming out a lot of this core business, with its KBA Karat B2 UV litho press running at full capacity.
So Padley wanted not only to bring this back in-house, but to diversify its offering to future-proof the business.
New technology, he decided, was the route to follow.
“We looked at several areas, but all we would be doing was reinventing the wheel if we bought ourselves a small UV carton press, for example,” Padley states. “We wanted to do something different and really it’s digital and the ability to do variable data, personalisation and randomisation that is the future.
“We followed the progress of HP Indigo presses to the point that they started to print on a B2 format and then we waited for them to be able to print on heavier substrates and synthetics with light fast inks,” he explained.
Robust, light fast inks are a must for horticulture printing due to the very nature of the product life: plant labels will sit in glass houses for the duration of a growing cycle before they are transferred to the stores where they will often sit outside, Padley adds.
And so, when HP unveiled its Indigo 30000 digital folding carton press in 2012 with the ability to use light fast inks, Kalas went on to sign a letter of intent at Drupa 2016, making it the first UK business to do so.
The simplex device, which prints at speeds of up to 4,600 B2 sheets per hour, takes a maximum sheet size of 750x530mm and media thickness ranges between 250 and 630 microns. It prints at a top resolution of 2,438dpi in a maximum of seven colours: CMYK plus orange, violet and green, and is integrated with a Tresu iCoat 30000 flexo coater.
“It was a completely entrepreneurial decision, meaning we had no actual business for the press at the time, because we wanted to be the first to get the machine and then develop the market once we had it,” explains Padley.
The eagerly-awaited Indigo was delivered to Kalas Packaging’s facility at the end of October 2016, where it was installed into a newly built 280sqm, climate-controlled extension, which had expanded Kalas’ premises size to 1,200sqm.
Changes were also made to the repro division layout, and new staff were taken on to accommodate the device’s anticipated output with production scheduled to begin the following January.
What happened over the course of the next three years is rather shrouded in mystery, but full production as had been anticipated was not to come until just this last autumn. It is understood by PrintWeek that the device itself was, perhaps, simply not ready for market.
“It has taken three years to overcome some technical difficulties and teething problems in general, and to get everything running the way we wanted it. That’s all I can say,” says a tight-lipped Padley.
He also concedes that the business itself would have benefited from doing more research into what direction the company wanted to take, before the actual installation.
“Admittedly, a bit more work in advance might have been better for us. But that said, we believe even if we had been up and running sooner, the market wasn’t actually ready for its capabilities.”
During the three years it’s taken to come to fruition however, the business hasn’t stood still.
Firstly, training on the Indigo has been considerable, according to Padley, with staff spending “weeks and months” in HP’s Israel and Barcelona training sites.
“It means we are quite technically proficient and can solve any issues without having to involve engineers,” he says.
Next was the installation of an Omega Allpro 70 folder-gluer in July 2017, enabling the company to bring carton production fully in-house and, since then, the business hasn’t looked back, testing the technology and the market with a raft of ideas.
With the device fully up and running since autumn last year, Padley says that the 30000 is finally doing “exactly what it says on the box”.
“There are a lot of HP Indigo B2 format printers who’ve been running work for a lot of years, but that’s on paper and thin cards. The uniqueness that we have is that we can run on thicker substrates, we can print on white and clear synthetics, we can print with light fast and food safe inks, and we can varnish inline and prime inline.
“Really that combination of features has made the possibilities limitless,” he asserts.
Since its installation, the Kalas team has used the time it has taken to iron out its teething problems to really explore its full potential and test the market opportunities for a range of new and innovative products.
While the KBA continues to produce the majority of horticulture items, the work is split, according to suitability, with the Indigo.
The company has had early success in its new digital market, says Padley, with synthetics for the horticulture and food sectors, while a major new growth area is a mixture of tiny cartons, point-of-sale display cartons and variable data coupons for the vaping industry.
Further capitalising on the variable data capability is its Vanillareindeer.com web-to-print online store, launched in 2018, offering premium quality, personalised items such as bottle boxes, gift packaging, rope handled gift bags, greetings cards, and advent calendars and Easter egg boxes.
Padley calls it a “three-pronged attack” with the company now looking to open up a third new service offering personalised, short-run small format cartons.
“People will be able to buy them in very small quantities, just as they do business cards. Pixart is running this model very successfully in Italy, but currently no one does it in the UK,” he explains.
Padley goes on: “It’s actually about the substrate we can print on rather than the market we are attacking. There are a lot of customers out there that use a lot of plastic POS and packaging, and with the 30000 we are giving people the ability to run promotions and be really clever with their marketing. Variable data really is the key.”
Padley says the company is now particularly targeting trade partnerships with businesses that work directly with major end users. “Rather than us knocking on the door of Procter & Gamble, for example, where we just wouldn’t stand a chance, we want trade partners that can go out to their customers and be able to offer all of their short runs where they have lots of variants,” he adds.
“Large customers don’t generally want to deal with smaller companies like us, but we are finding that there is some real momentum now where there wasn’t three years ago. People are giving us the orders and the work, which is the acid test.”
Padley is bullish about the future and says that while the business has been steadily turning over around £2m for “a considerable number of years”, the new capabilities offered by the 30000 have already secured enough new contracts to bring in a comfortable £3m this year – although he was speaking prior to the Covid-19 lockdown.
“We really are just at the start of it. Over the next two to three years, we would like to see our revenue climb to £5m-£6m and that will require another HP press,” he says.
“We’d possibly go for a duplex next because a lot of what we print for horticulture is four-colour on the face and single on reverse, so at the moment it’s two passes, so maybe a slightly different variant, but it will certainly be HP.”
Padley says adding another press would of course necessitate another extension, but because he owns the industrial estate on which the business is situated, there is plenty of flexibility.
Headcount has doubled to 15 and will continue to grow, he anticipates, stating that Kalas would be looking to take on more staff across its print, repro, conversion and finishing divisions in line with the expansion of the business.
“The bottom line is that we are the only ones that can do some of this right now, so we are the market leader in our area. Others will follow suit of course, but then it’s up to us to make sure we remain market leader.”
Location Boston, Lincolnshire
Inspection host Jonathan Padley, managing director
Size £2m / 15 staff
Product list Horticultural care cards, tray labels and pot wraps for plants, food cartons and sleeves all on synthetics; small cartons for pharma, cosmetics and tobacco industries; premium W2P personalised gift packaging
Kit Front end Infigo W2P engine; Esko Plato step-and-repeat, Fujifilm XMF workflow, Tilia Labs Phoenix imposition software
Production HP Indigo 30000 digital carton press with inline priming and Tresu UV coater with pattern varnish blanket CAD cutter; KBA Karat B2 waterless direct imaging UV press; Bobst SP76 cutting and stripping; Duran Omega 700 side seam and crash lock folding carton gluer; Kawahara TXR 800 blanking machine with bespoke conveyor system; Heidelberg SBG cylinder; Autobond Film laminator; Wohlenberg B1 guillotine
Inspection focus Investing in a unique printing system to open new revenue streams
- Padley advises anyone considering any new technology – but certainly any as game changing as the HP Indigo 30000 – to do plenty of market research in advance in terms of potential revenue streams.
- He explains that if you’re going to go for a completely new technology and something very different to what you’re used to, you need to be prepared to completely rely on the manufacturer, in Kalas’ case HP, and build a good relationship with them.
- “I think what we did well was that we had the balls to do it,” says Padley. “We were the first to get it in the country and although a couple of other companies now have it in the UK, they are in completely different markets to us, so although it’s taken three years to get going, we feel there is no one currently close to catching us up. I guess I’d say, be brave.”