Talk of impressive feats of engineering are not uncommon at Cranfield University. The Bedfordshire institution is home, after all, to one of the top schools of science and engineering in the country, with leading specialists in the aerospace, automotive and energy sectors.
And once upon a time talk of ‘pneumatic pressure systems’ or ‘easy thrust control’ could have referred to some very large feats of engineering actually found onsite, trundling along runways and preparing for take off. In fact, the university’s core buildings started life as an RAF base, established in 1930s when the UK realised it needed to re-arm in light of the threat from Germany.
Operational throughout the Second World War, the base was then turned into an aeronautical college, becoming The Cranfield Institute of Technology in 1969. It then gradually evolved to incorporate internationally recognised business and management courses too.
Now, techie talk might also refer to the university’s extensive in-house print department. It might well refer to the department’s new Foliant Gemini C 400S supplied by Intelligent Finishing Systems (IFS), a semi-automatic high-pressure laminating machine, equipped with ‘a pneumatic pressure system of laminating rollers with an easy thrust control’.
Starting out as a print site for the aeronautical college some 50 years ago, this print facility has developed into a sophisticated technological operation in its own right. Cranfield University Press prints leaflets, brochures, booklets, books and other materials for university departments, but also external clients, a customer-base which makes up around 25% of the facility’s total workload.
The printer now boasts an impressive plant list including a Canon imagePress C6000, a Canon imagePrograf 8100 and Morgana KB 2000 perfect binder.
The latest addition to the facility might be a relatively simple bit of kit by fighter jet standards, but it’s nonetheless impressed Cranfield University Press’s eight staff.
The reason for investing in a Foliant Gemini C 400S back in January was simple. Just like any other print business, Cranfield has to ensure it stays competitive. This isn’t just to court the facility’s external, predominantly healthcare-oriented clients. University departments are certainly at liberty to go further afield for their printing needs if they find a better deal elsewhere, explains business and marketing manager at Cranfield Press, Christopher Ward.
"We’ve got to compete for all the work. It doesn’t necessarily equate that people have to use us, we’ve got to stay competitive," says Ward.
So investing in laminating kit was a classic case of bringing a service in-house to cut outsourcing costs. "We were outsourcing all of our laminating before, and now we do it all in-house," says Ward. "The beauty of what we have now is that the minimum charge to set it up is just £10. Because we’re not dropping the job off and collecting it, we’re not now paying a minimum set-up fee of £50 to £60.
"That £10 is just needed to pay for the warm-up time of the kit and making any minor adjustments that are needed. So that’s been cut by £50."
A crucial factor in choosing the right machine for the job, then, was this warm-up time and ease of set-up.
"The rolls are a nice long size and fit nice and comfortably on the machine; it’s got a very good pressure impact onto the sheets without curling," says Ward. "The set-up you can leave as SRA3 sheets so once you’ve set something up you’ve only got minor adjustments to do on the machine. It’s very quick to heat up, so within a few minutes of turning the machine on you’re ready to go."
Also impressing Ward and his team was the quality of the soft-touch matt laminating film supplied by IFS.
"A normal matt laminate quickly shows scuff marks whereas a soft-touch matt gets rid of 70%-80% of that problem. When you laminate a book cover with this it makes a really good impact. It just gives it a quality look," says Ward.
This is particularly key for a mostly digital operation such as Cranfield, says Ward, as digital jobs "tend to look quite glossy" otherwise.
So has the kit’s performance been worthy of an institution so highly thought of in engineering circles? In short: yes. Ward reports he has been very impressed with the technology behind the Foliant.
On just why the machine works so well, Foliant reports that the main feature is a pneumatic pressure system in a heavy-duty mechanism, which enables a very high working pressure. The machine uses one single-phase 220-240V supply cable and a small integrated compressor inside the frame, which dispenses with the need for an external source of pressured air.
The laminating process is carried out between two rollers: a highly polished chrome roller, and a lower hard rubber pressure roller. The laminating roller is heated with an infrared heating spiral, with a sensitive contact temperature sensor.
Optional features a printer might want to specify include a simple adjustable reception unit for stacking the laminated sheets, an adjustable vibrating reception jogger unit, a module for longer sheets than the standard maximum sheet size of 380x580mm, and an extra film roll shaft.
The only extra Ward specced, however, was a catch tray. For Cranfield, the standard machine is just the job.
What Ward does see a need for though is a safety trip feature for when the machine’s guards are up. "Common sense should prevail, but there is the chance to run the machine without the guards in a safe place," says Ward. "So the one feature I would say is needed is trip guards, so the machine stops completely when the guards are upright."
IFS responds that the Foliant Gemini C 400 range complies to CE certification and that each machine is fully certified and fitted with a locking main cover. The company did comment, however, that full guard switches would be introduced to the range later this year.
Performance-wise, the machine has been very good, says Ward. The only problem Cranfield did experience was with a two-sheet detector. But this was quickly resolved by IFS.
"We had one sensor that was playing up – the sensor that’s supposed to trip the machine if more than one sheet goes in at a time," reports Ward. "But IFS has been very good, they came and refitted the part within a couple of days. And the machine didn’t actually stop running, we just disengaged the two-sheet detector so it was never down. And generally the machine has been a reliable little box."
"The machine rolled off the van, rolled into the plant and was operational within the hour," adds Ward on how smoothly installation went. "We had two lots of training on the machine," he adds.
With the Gemini’s performance compromised very little since it started life eight months ago, the impact on Cranfield has, then, been profound. Bringing laminating in-house hasn’t just cut down on outsourcing costs. The printer is able to pass on these savings to customers and it can now offer the soft-touch matt finish, so demand has soared.
"We’re doing about 200% more lamination now, because we can do it very easily. We show clients the sample book and guides we’ve produced and if it’s a prestigious job they go for it because it’s a minimal increase in the cost for a lot better quality product," says Ward. "It has given us the edge to offer the clients something that’s just a little bit different."
Although reluctant that his competitors should also start offering this edge, Ward does concede, then, that others would do well to follow suit. He points out, though, that anyone doing long, perhaps litho, runs would do well to go for an automatic machine, rather than a semi-automatic, manual feeding model like Cranfield.
"Because we are predominantly digital, the maximum number of covers we would laminate would be about 500, so manually feeding copies works really well with that. Anything over, I’d say pay the difference and go for the automatic feeder," says Ward.
But for Cranfield, the level of sophistication it has is just right. The department no longer prints solely materials on aeronautical engineering. But the prints still have a brush with a pretty impressive bit of technology.
Warm-up time 5 mins
Max speed 15m/min
Film capacity 3,000m
Pneumatic pressure 1 tonne
Features Feeding table with transport belts, inline sheet separator, built-in compressor, electric heat element
Contact Intelligent Finishing Systems, 020 8997 8053, www.ifsl.uk.com
Cranfield University Press is a £600,000-turnover, eight-staff company operating within Cranfield University, Bedfordshire. Around 25% of work printed goes to external customers, with the health sector a key client-base. Cranfield is a predominantly digital operation, with a kit list including a Canon imagePress C6000, Canon imagePrograf 8100 and a Morgana KB 2000 perfect binder.
Why it was bought...
The print department installed a Foliant Gemini C 400S in January, in order to bring all lamination work in-house. This has also allowed the company to offer a soft-touch matt finish, and so a slightly more ‘special’ effect than was previously possible, reports business and marketing manager Christopher Ward.
How it has performed..
The Foliant has allowed Cranfield to offer very competitive minimum set-up charges, reports Ward, and has also proved highly reliable. "We had one sensor that was playing up to start with but that was it, it’s been a pretty reliable box," he says.