Ten top buys for 10K or less

Jo Francis
Friday, May 14, 2010

From new kit to additional training, it needn't cost a fortune to revitalise productivity and rapidly recoup initial outlay, writes Jo Francis

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What can £10,000 buy these days? In the world of, say, Victoria Beckham the answer might be "a handbag". Or perhaps half a handbag. Meanwhile, back in the real world, 10 grand can go a surprisingly long way when it comes to the purchase of smart items of low-cost kit.

Major exhibitions are of course often memorable for the high-profile multi-million pound sales that are announced during the event - a prime example from the last Ipex in 2006 being the headline "Anton Group invests £10m".

But in a post credit-crunch world it's likely that similar seven- and eight-figure deals will be rather thinner on the ground in 2010, not least because even companies that are eager to reinvest are finding it a real challenge to put the necessary finance in place. And for print's legion of SME businesses eye-watering spends have never been on the agenda in the first place.

Hence the renewed and increased interest in more affordable bits of kit, along with upgrades, that will deliver tangible business benefits while not breaking the bank.

Suppliers are in tune with this mood, too. Komori European marketing manager Philip Dunn says the press manufacturer is conscious that its Ipex exhibit needs to speak to customers at all rungs on the investment ladder: "One of our three themes for Ipex is ‘assistance' and we are putting a major focus on retrofits and upgrades, as well as plant diagnosis, within this. We want to help our customers get as much as possible out of existing equipment," Dunn states.

And Goss International, more used to handling web press orders running into millions of pounds, proffers some cost-effective advice that has relevance no matter what size of business or press: "Spend a bit of time and money on areas that have been neglected over the past couple of years and are known to need attention. For example reset and refurbish ink ducts," says marketing manager Eric Bell.

Business development programmes will also feature prominently, and are particularly prevalent among digital printing equipment suppliers. Océ has been running its programme for the past five years and during that time it has evolved to meet the changing demands of its customer base, with facilities such as web-to-print coming increasingly to the fore. Nick Chalk, Océ UK's business development manager for production printing, says: "It's not just about a new bit of kit - improved training, CRM systems and looking at web-to-print solutions are all going to make that extra difference to bring better ROI to the printer and their customers. Chalk cites kit such as digital creasers and card cutters - both of which feature in our top 10 selection, as being typical of the type of item that provides improved ROI for relatively low outlay.

"There are also many software systems that help improve productivity and ensure that companies bring added value to their own customers, Chalk adds. For example companies such as Sage now have a CRM system called ACT that costs less than £200, which will give the ability to improve customer communications and customer service and hopefully help retain customers. Lastly, but not least, companies have to make it ever-easier to trade by looking at using web-to-print systems."

Sometimes it could be the case that the performance of a key piece of equipment can be improved by the addition of some relatively low-cost software. Polar's £5,000 Compucut software sets up the cutting programme to optimise cutting accuracy, while the accompanying Cut Manager package feeds information from the guillotine back into the MIS, allowing precise monitoring of machine performance, waste levels, and operator output.

Similarly, a £5,000 software package for Horizon's BQ470 perfect binder allows the machine to produce single- or short-run books without requiring constant manual intervention. "It's one way printers can make a real difference to productivity without making a huge investment," says IFS technical finishing products manager Alan Harrison.

And if print finishing is the often-overlooked Cinderella of the industry, then drilling is the Cinderella of finishing according to Friedheim International sales manager Stuart Bamford. "So many people make do with old drills with just one head. With a two- or four-head machine they could work so much more efficiently."

The suggestions on this and the following pages show that even a relatively small sum, invested wisely, can provide a pleasing uplift in performance and profitability.

Pre-press

Bodoni PressSign Pro 3
At the Northprint exhibition in 2009 Bodoni's stand was one of the most consistently busy booths at the show, leading director Ian Reid to joke that he was "fending off customers". No doubt at Ipex he will hope to be similarly deluged. The appeal of the firm's PressSign system, which can cost well under £5,000, is understandable because Reid has achieved his original aims for the product. "The reason it's at this price point is because we wanted to find a way for people to achieve what they want to achieve without it being cost prohibitive." PressSign Pro began life as a software tool to help printers implement ISO 12647-2, but since then additional features have been added that make it more powerful. One of the neatest additions is a ruler-like piece of plastic that an X-Rite i1 spectrophotometer slots into, creating a budget-priced manual alternative to expensive scanning systems. The company now has more than 500 users of the system, and has ambitious plans to expand worldwide sales. Customers such as Lexon Group provide glowing endorsements: "It has saved a considerable amount of time due to the fact our proofs are accurate and this in turn ensures that we have much quicker makeready times on the press, being colour accurate within 50 sheets."
Contact Bodoni Systems 01923 220530 www.bodoni.co.uk

StudioRIP 3.0
The self proclaimed "Ford Focus of workflows" has a starting price of just over £2,000 for the Standard Edition and is aimed at companies that are looking for a cost-effective way to update their workflow. Even the all-singing, all-dancing Workflow Edition incorporating every available option - including imposition, trapping, FM screening and ink duct presetting - costs less than £6,000. The ideal StudioRIP target customer would typically be outputting fewer than 2,000 plates per month, and be in need of a more modern system capable of handling today's complex PDF and PostScript files while dealing with features that older rips tend to struggle with, such as transparency. Proofs, film and plates are produced using the same RIP, and it can also drive an Oki digital printer. Its screening and dispro functionality make it relevant for flexo printers as well as commercial litho.
Contact StudioRIP 01759 304333 www.studiorip.co.uk

Centurfax EasyDot
Twelve years ago Centurfax caused something of a revolution with its CCDot quality control system for computer-to-plate, a product that was subsequently snapped up by X-Rite in 2002. Now Centurfax is hoping to do something similar for the generation of printers working to the ISO 12647
standard with its new simple and affordable device, the EasyDot. The £995 plate reader allows users to be in a position to say "unequivocally" that the plates being produced are 100% correct, says Paul Foster, managing director of Centurfax's sales partner, Ripware. Existing users of the old CCDot (of which there are more than 500 in the UK) are being tempted with a sub-£800 trade-in deal. The EasyDot can also read film, and later this year will be able to read paper, too. Foster asserts that payback is rapid because using a dotmeter can cut unnecessary press downtime and reduce wastage. "It doesn't take long for downtime costs to mount up on a big press," he says. "From a user's point-of-view they only need to avert a couple of problems and they've got their money back."
Contact Ripware 01483 578618 www.ripware.co.uk

Epson Stylus Pro
In a business environment where it has become a normal requirement for firms to do more, with less, systems that offer multiple functions have understandable appeal. Epson has spotted this opportunity and at Ipex it will be showcasing the versatility of its Stylus Pro range with a package aimed squarely at SME print firms. With formats from B2 right up to B0, the Stylus Pro has well-established capabilities in producing high-quality, colour-accurate proofs, as well as short-run display graphics and signage. What might come as a surprise is the idea that it can also produce printing plates. Epson has teamed up with polyester plate specialist Technova, and will show the Stylus Pro producing plates using Technova's PoliJet inkjet plate. These plates require no processing and claim to be dimensionally stable to a degree suitable for four-colour work. Run length is up to 2,000 without fusing (or 10,000 with fusing). With prices ranging from £2,000 to £7,000 depending upon format, this package combines affordability, flexibility and space efficiency.
Contact Epson 0871 222 6702 www.epson.co.uk

Printing
Roland DG VersaCamm SP-300i
The fact that Roland has sold more than 20,000 VersaCamm printer/cutter devices worldwide says a great deal about the machine's versatility and ease-of-use. By combining an eco-solvent inkjet printer with a cutter in one unit the company provides its users with a simple to use, space- and labour-saving package with tremendous production flexibility. The VersaCamm can handle a vast range of substrates and the list of potential applications goes on and on: signs, banners, posters, point-of-sale, decals, labels, vehicle wraps, along with print and cut heat transfers for garment and fabric applications. The latest SP-i devices are billed as Roland's "most powerful entry-level models to date" and are up to 50% faster than previous models. The 30 inch (762mm) wide SP-300i is priced at £8,999 including Roland's clever VersaWorks control software which calculates ink usage and print time on a job-by-job basis, allowing users to keep a precise track of job costs. ROI is peppy too, with Roland's calculations showing that payback on the wider SP-540i model can take less than two months.
Contact Roland DG 0845 230 9060 www.rolanddg.co.uk

Domino A-Series
Domino's continuous inkjet A-Series has more than 100,000 installations worldwide, and lays claim to being the global bestseller in its class. For commercial printers the CP range can be fitted on to presses, finishing or mailing lines to provide sophisticated high-speed variable data printing of text, numerals, barcodes and logos. With a print speed of 325m per minute and non-stop operation thanks to its ink reservoir, the A-Series can keep pace with on-press or post-press production. Users praise the system as "phenomenally quick, user-friendly, economical and does exactly what it says on the tin." The stackable A400 costs £7,000 and can print up to four lines of text, and the unit's compact construction allows the print heads to be integrated easily into existing production lines. As well as producing "near letter quality" with the FreeForm printing system, the A-Series is also capable of micro printing and produces barcodes to the recognised UCC/EAN and ITF-14 standards.
Contact Domino 01954 782551 www.domino-printing.com

Oki ES9410
Oki is perhaps best known in the office market, but machines such as its C9850 laser printer have gathered a growing band of fans among printing industry users who have recognised the appeal of some fairly sophisticated colour printing functionality combined with a low price point. The C9850 is notable for its duty cycle of 150,000 pages a month, together with an ability to print banner formats of up to 1.2m in length that belies its desktop printer appearance. At Ipex the firm is pitching its latest model, the ES9410, squarely at commercial printers looking for a versatile addition to their output armoury, because the machine is ideal for both proofing and short-run production printing applications. The ES9410 (ES stands for Executive Series) handles heavier stock weights up to 300gsm, prints full colour A4 at 31ppm, A3 at 16ppm, and has a print resolution of 1,200x600dpi. Colour consistency is good, too, and it is supplied with Oki's Graphic Pro colour management software, aimed at making it easy for users to manage ICC profiles. Price is circa £6,000. At Ipex Oki will be demonstrating the machine's versatility by showing it printing on to a range of transfer stocks from specialist supplier The Magic Touch.
Contact Oki 0800 917 6015 www.oki.co.uk
 
Finishing
Tech-ni-Fold Tri-Creaser
Just over a decade ago, print finishing manager Graham Harris had a brainwave for a new product that could be fitted to existing folding machines to improve the scoring of cover stocks. Working in his lunch hour, and with the help of a £2,000 loan from his sister, he honed his invention and the Tri-Creaser was born. The rest, as they say, is history as more than 50,000 Tri-Creasers have subsequently been sold, and Harris and his team continue to evolve the firm's product range. The latest incarnation, the Tri-Creaser Fast Fit, makes set-up times even faster for users. The device costs £997, and with eight different settings can crease stocks from 85-350gsm. "Some people think it is expensive because they just see it as a scoring attachment, but it's much more than that," Harris explains. "It has different creasing depths and widths so it can be set up to suit the job precisely." Having conquered his initial aim to find a solution to the cracking problem, the latest version also has an attachment that can crease laminated stock and section work. "We've come a long way, but there's still a lot of the market to go at and it's still very exciting," Harris adds.
Contact Tech-ni-Fold 01455 554491 www.technifold.com

Caslon Zip 21 Card Cutter
The Zip is one of those nifty little machines that, in the words of Caslon managing director Richard Caslon, "sits in a corner, works all day long, and makes money." What's not to like? The original SRA4 format Zip 10 was launched two Ipexes ago (so that'll be 2002), and Caslon reports that none of the firm's customers has required replacement blanks for it, so he's justifiably pleased with the robustness of the cutting mechanism. The SRA4 format Zip 10M is priced at just under £4,000, while the SRA3 Zip 21 can cut variable sizes and comes in at £6,950. As well as bread-and-butter work trimming business cards (it can produce 158 finished cards per minute), it can cut A3 sheets down to A4, and A4 down to A5 so it's understandably popular with digital printing companies looking for versatility. Caslon has also supplied bespoke modifications for specific markets, such as promotional photo products.
Contact Caslon 01727 852211 www.caslon.co.uk

Morgana AutoCreaser
How fitting that when Morgana produced its 25,000 machine earlier this year the model in question was an AutoCreaser. The launch of this device a decade ago marked something of a renaissance for the Milton Keynes company, as the AutoCreaser quickly found favour with digital printers. At the time, companies were struggling to find an affordable solution to the cracking problem that became a major issue when folding brittle digitally printed output. The AutoCreaser met that need, and went on to spawn a range of digital finishing kit aimed squarely at this market. The compact device features quick makeready, simple operation, and excellent creasing results thanks to the use of a heavy-duty blade and matrix system. "It hit a sweet spot and is still one of our most popular machines," says national sales manager Ray Hillhouse. The Autocreaser 33 handles a maximum sheet size of 630x330mm (a larger model is also available), takes stock up to 400gsm in weight and can run at up to 5,000sph. At Ipex a faster revamped version, the AutoCreaser Pro 33 will be launched. This features touchscreen controls and will automatically position the creases based on standard folding patterns. It retains its sub-£10k status, though, with a list price of £9,277.
Contact Morgana 01908 608888 www.morgana.co.uk

SOFTWARE: Free, gratis and for nothing...
The software as a service (SAAS) business model is finding increasing prevalence within web-to-print and MIS in
particular. It’s worth considering as a way of reducing upfront costs while dealing with a known ongoing monthly outlay.
RedTie, Bytes Document Solutions’ Infigo, Vpress, Ricoh’s NowPrint, and Crimsonwing PrintVis are examples
of product offerings where the manufacturer has embraced the SAAS model.

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