According to Loop Print managing director Chris Gray, “each individual in our team has their own specialist skills they bring to the business”. But could those individuals step up to the mark when the litho and digital printer in South Yorkshire bought a Komori Lithrone S29?
“We were running an old Heidelberg Speedmaster 74 without a coater, and it was starting to creak a bit,” he recalls of the time prior to the purchase last year. “The market we’re in is becoming more and more demanding; printers across the board are up against online outfits and on to a hiding to nothing.”
Gray considered another Heidelberg machine but concluded that he wanted something more than a like-for-like swap: “The SX 74 would have been just a straight replacement for the Speedmaster 74; it didn’t do anything particularly new that the other machine did. What really caught our eye with the Komori machine was the H-UV curing system.”
Gray recognised that this, alongside the press’s five colours plus coating, could open up new markets and consolidate the ones already covered by the company. The core market for Gray’s team of just over 20 staff for the past decade has been work for advertising agencies. The Komori Lithrone S29 was, says Gray, a “good fit” offering exciting finishes on a range of substrates.
Loop was established in the 1960s and its product portfolio today includes catalogues, brochures, newsletters, mailers, reports, manuals and stationery for sectors including retail, engineering and manufacturing. It also has two divisions: Loop Promo, which produces personalised business gifts, and Loop Display Graphics, which produces exhibition and POS banners and posters.
“I could see the added value from instant drying and being able to work with a sheet immediately after hitting ‘delivery’. Quality of colour reproduction on uncoated stocks was also a bonus. If we hadn’t gone down the UV drying route we would have just replaced like for like – not an option given how fast the sector is changing.”
That said, it was not Loop that made the first move, as Gray explains: “Komori approached us, as they have done from time to time, and when it came to the Lithrone their persistence paid off.”
To ensure he was making the right decision, Gray checked out a couple of printers that had taken the same model, one in Oxfordshire and one on the Wirral. Like Loop Print, both “couldn’t speak highly enough” about their Komoris.
“We started our search focusing our analysis on the latest fast-drying techniques. Our visit to the two printers who had Lithrones with the same specification as we subsequently selected opened our eyes to what we could potentially achieve,” he says.
“We didn’t test the machine, but saw it running on a few jobs, checked out the makereadies and talked to the operators. It quickly became apparent the H-UV system was special and it can be used on many different substrates, including plastics, vinyls and heavy-gauge materials up to 800 microns thick.”
Gray adds: “The H-UV process highlighted not just the obvious benefits of the system but also the added value it generates and the tactile finish and colour intensity it produces – features that are becoming increasingly important for branding on high-end promotional brochures, mailings and leaflets, which are the mainstay of our business at present.”
The press as sold to Loop has a list price of around £800,000, but Gray says he and his wife Joanne, who tackles the sales and finance side of the business, secured an offer “we couldn’t refuse”. The Komori, in fact, had been built to a spec for another buyer, but financing issues torpedoed the sale. Loop Print not only secured a good deal, but a better spec than they would have chosen for a machine tailored to their own specification. It has, he says, “all the whistles and bells” such as an uprated feeder for handling plastics and special substrates.
Belt and braces
Installing the 19-tonne beast was lengthy, taking about one month to build, test and commission. The machine it was to replace, the Speedmaster 74, was left in situ while the new Komori took shape, enabling the company to keep production underway while the new Komori was being built. Only when the Komori was up and running did the Speedmaster go.
“It was not a quick job, but fortunately did not require any major building prep work, such as floor strengthening or room enlarging. Installation required some rewiring and within a month it was up and running alongside our only other litho machine, a two-colour Heidelberg Speedmaster 52, producing brochures, magazines and leaflets.”
Using the new Komori was a “steep learning curve”. Not only was the company switching from Heidelberg to Komori, but the technology itself was new. Coming to terms with the H-UV system “took a while to get our heads around – you can’t just start banging out work; in effect you are learning to walk again. We are now up to speed, but it took us longer than we anticipated”.
Gray says the H-UV curing along with the Lithrone’s fast makereadies and other added-value options gave the company the “armoury and total confidence” to move further into its chosen markets and grow its client list. The reliability of drying ensures Loop Print can keep, and even improve, delivery and quality standards and squeeze out more competitiveness, he reckons.
But there have been “niggles”: The biggest of these was the coater. The technology was so new that when trainers from Komori were on site, even they “weren’t really up to speed on what the coater could do and how to use it – we have struggled a bit with that, but are now over it”.
Another teething problem concerned alignment.
“With feeding such a different array of materials the sensors don’t always work as you’d like them and we’ve had to have them altered. We have also had a problem with black solids: depending on which materials you use, you occasionally got white specks. That flummoxed us a bit, but we worked our way around that issue.”
More of a drawback than a teething problem is the cost of consumables – ink is two-and-a-half to three times more expensive than conventional inks. However, speeds are quicker and makereadies as little as 10 minutes on simple stocks. Instant drying meanwhile means Gray’s team no longer has to lay freshly printed material on the floor for 10 minutes before flipping.
Another bonus is service and back-up, which have been very good, says Gray: “I was concerned about back-up in moving over to Komori. Their infrastructure is nothing like that of Heidelberg’s, but the Komori guys have been very good and quick to jump in when needed.”
Loop Print is still in learning mode and “time will tell” just how good the press is, what the return on investment will be, and whether Gray would give a gold-plated recommendation. He admits to “naivety” on the steepness of the learning curve. The Komori, after all, “feeds paper just like the other machine and we didn’t realise how hard it would be – it’s a different ball game, but one we are now over”.
Loop Print recently worked on a range of marketing mailers to demonstrate what Gray calls the very outer limits and capabilities of the new technology. They were designed to show the Lithrone’s ability to print on uncoated stocks and give the kind of colour reproduction not achievable on a conventional press.
The high-spec mailers involved special incorporating UV varnishes and coatings and printing on to PVC and polypropylene using the H-UV curing and instant drying. One mailer, for example, was printed in CMYK along with drip-off spot UV finish, printed with one pass in-line. The front insert was printed on an 800-micron white polypropylene in CMYK again with a drip-off spot UV finish.
“Thanks to our H-UV coating technology, we can offer in-line spot varnishing, full-colour print and UV spot varnishing in one pass in perfect registration. This press is ideal for plastic wallets, folders, tags, backing cards, POS and packs, complete with perfect litho colour reproduction.
“We now have a press that performs as well as our old press but with the added benefits of being able to print on plastics and other thicker substrates, offering instant, clean drying, and promising excellent colour reproduction. There is no typical job for the Komori Lithrone S29, which is fitting. This is not a typical machine.”
Printing units Five plus coater
Max sheet size 530x750mm
Max print area 520x740mm
Plate size 605x760mm
Feeder pile height 800mm
Delivery pile height 900mm
Max speed 16,000sph
Weight 19 tonnes
Cost Around £800,000
0113 823 9200 www.komori.com
Loop Print has been established for 50 years, rebranding from South Yorkshire Printers in 2009. Two divisons include Loop Promo, producing personalised business gifts, and Loop Display Graphics, producing exhibition and POS graphics, banners and posters. The commercial print side of the 23-staff company also handles catalogues, brochures, newsletters, mailers, reports, manuals and stationery for sectors ranging from retail to medical, engineering and manufacturing. Kit includes Konica Minolta 1070 and 7000 bizhubs, EFI Vutek QS 2000 flatbed and Roland VS540 large-format machines, a two-colour Heidelberg Speedmaster 52 as well as the Komori Lithrone S529.
Why it was bought…
Managing director Chris Gray wanted to target work for agencies, print brokers and designers, with the kit’s drying technology enabling the company to provide a more extensive range of promotional collateral. “Komori H-UV curing along with the Lithrone’s fast makereadies and the added value options will give us the armoury to move further into this market and grow our client list,” he says.
How it has performed…
“Where the job format and run length is appropriate, the H-UV instant ink curing provides us with the facility to produce work on plastics and foil, which are not traditionally printed litho,” says Gray. It’s early days but in theory, this will open another whole new market for us within the point-of-sale and packaging fields.”