RNB reaps rewards of inkjet switch

Darryl Danielli
Monday, August 1, 2022

Direct mail specialist RNB Group has revamped its offering by swapping out its litho firepower for a high-speed inkjet line and is adding at least £30,000 straight to its bottom line each month as a result.

Metcalf: the new Ricoh line has been "phenomenal"
Metcalf: the new Ricoh line has been "phenomenal"

The Leeds-based group installed a Ricoh Pro VC60000 in April, with the high-speed inkjet line going into production in May with a trial customer and into full production in June.

The main driver of the investment was breathing new life into the business post-pandemic.

“Even pre-pandemic we found ourselves in the middle of the road, with no real USP, we could do things fast and were good, but we put things in envelopes and so did everyone else,” said managing director Ryan Metcalf.

“With this kit now, the speed, reliability, quality and flexibility – it puts us right back up there and enables us to take runs that before we would turn away from.”

The 120,000 A4 images per hour machine replaced the firm’s five-colour B2 Komori Lithrone – making it an all-digital operation.

The 150m/min twin engine, duplexing VC60000 was installed in the space vacated by the Lithrone in a ‘L’ configuration to make best use of the space.

The firm opted for a reel-to-reel configuration to maximise productivity, with a Hunkeler unwinder which feeds into a cutting, perfing and folding unit forming part of the spend.

It also added a Quadient DS-1200 G4i folder/inserter with inline inkjetting to the re-equip.
The total investment was around £1.5m.

“One of the things the pandemic taught us to spend more on the equipment to make operations less staff intensive and also faster,” said Metcalf.

Initially he was set on buying Ricoh’s flagship VC70000, which offers the same features as the VC60000 plus the ability to run coated stocks at top rated speed, but Ricoh talked him out if it.

“For the 20% of our jobs that are on coated it just didn’t make sense for us,” he said.

“This is what I really liked about Ricoh, they don’t just sell you something for the sake of it, their after sales has been ace. They’re the best company I have ever worked with in that they give a damn after they have sold you the shiny grey box.”

The business was co-founded by Metcalf and Bob Rhodes in 2005, but during 2018 he bought out Rhodes.

Metcalf described the group as being in great shape following the buyout and just prior to the pandemic it started to look at moving into high-speed digital. However, when the first lockdowns were announced, like most businesses, the focus shifted to survival.

“We thankfully grew out of that [the pandemic] and had quite a speedy recovery, but God, what an awful couple of years it was,” Metcalf said.

He used the pandemic enforced downturn in work to look at its litho department and concluded that the litho market was too congested to maintain long-term profitability.

So, he took a “long, hard look” at the firm’s output and identified that 90%-plus was effectively litho letterheads that went through a cut sheet digital for personalisation.

This knowledge, when combined with the restructuring the business was forced to undertake as a result of what he described as the “induced recession” of the lockdowns meant that logic of switching to digital was undeniable.

The firm went from close to 80 staff to nearer 40, although it only had to make 14 redundancies.

“It was a way of coming out of the pandemic and grabbing the bull by the horns while a lot of businesses were still licking their wounds,” he said.

“We’re now able to produce with 40-staff double what we used to produce with 70”.

In terms of the productivity boost the switch to inkjet offered the business, Metcalf cites one regular 100,000 run litho/cut sheet job that would be in production for nearly five days with eight staff involved, now it takes three hours and two people.

“The change has just been phenomenal,” he said.

While the £7.5m turnover firm’s main focus is still direct mail, it is gearing up to grow its transactional business and has secured the required regulatory standards and recruited a compliance manager.

It's also looking to continue to grow its home-grown, cloud-based hybrid mail platform, Intelliprint, although Metcalf said it is already growing “mega guns”.

“It’s almost doubling in size every six months. It’s maybe three months away from getting a reel a day out of it and then we can move it onto the Ricoh as well.”

As well as Intelliprint and its main direct mail operation, the group also runs an eCommerce fulfilment arm, Jigsaw Fulfilment, from its 5,500sqm base.

And while the business no longer undertakes litho inhouse, it does partner with two litho businesses and has retained its battery of paid for Konica Minolta cut sheet engines.

In terms of future spends, Metcalf hopes to install a reel-fed enclosing line sometime next year, but also didn’t rule out possible M&A in the future.

“We’ve done this investment, and I’m not planning to spend another £1.5m in the next 12 months, we’re going to realise the gains from that – but in six months’ time I might get itchy palms again, we’ll see. But I know there’s a massive future for print and mail.”

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