Me & my: HP Latex 3500

By Simon Eccles, Monday 27 July 2015

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Last year PressOn printed a dazzling success, literally. It decorated the vinyl panels used to wrap a complete historic warship on the Thames.

mandm-andy-3500

Wilson: “The best thing is definitely the productivity of the machine”

Designed by artist Tobias Rehberger, the wrap was a modern interpretation of the submarine-bamboozling dazzle paint schemes used during the First World War. PressOn’s stirling efforts won it the Gold Award and the People’s Choice Award at Fespa 2015 in May. 

The panels added up to 2,000m2 and were printed on polymeric multi-fix vinyl by PressOn’s HP Latex 3000 large-format industrial inkjet. Towards the end of last year that machine was heavily modified on-site to become the world’s first installed HP Latex 3500. 

Also at Fespa, HP officially announced the Latex 3500 and it expects to start shipping new machines at the end of August. But PressOne already has some eight month’s experience of using one. What’s the story?

“We’ve had all the Latex machines,” says managing director Andy Wilson. “We beta tested the first of the baby Latexes for HP, the 26500. We were replacing an ageing bank of solvent machines, HP 9000s, and were asked to trial the new HP machine. Then we had an 850, then a 3000 and now we have the 3500. The 3500 is four times the speed of an 850 – it’s producing about 90m2 per hour.”

Introduced in 2008, HP’s Latex ink technology is a water-based resin alternative to solvent-based inks, suited to indoor and outdoor print applications on vinyl and similar media. The third-generation ink used in the 3500 has higher scratch resistance and uses a primer called Latex Optimiser which enables curing at lower temperatures.

PressOn specialises in wide-format printing and the majority of its work is with vinyl, for signage, vehicle wraps (including taxis), building wraps, retail graphics, exhibition graphics and similar. In addition to the Latex printer it also has an EFI Vutek QS2 Pro UV hybrid flatbed/roll press, mainly used for printing directly onto sheets and panels. Early in November 2014 the company moved from Rochester in Kent, where it occupied several units in a trading estate, to adjacent Chatham, where it has a large single unit that it has been able to lay out to suit its needs. 

“We got the 3500 in November, the week after we came to the new unit,” Wilson says. “It was all cloak and dagger at first, under cover. We had non-disclosure agreements because we were the beta site and HP wanted our feedback from it before they pushed the button for production this year.”

Heavyweight performer

The new 3500 has the same printheads and print speed as the 3000, but the important change for PressOn is the media handling that allows all-night unattended operations, he explains. 

“The original birth of the idea was after we’d had the 3000 for about six to eight months, when HP came over from Barcelona to see how we were getting on,” Wilson says. “We were the first company with a 3000 and while we were really impressed with it we told them there were a few things they could do to make it more productive, particularly with the larger rolls and the unattended printing that we’d already started doing with the 850. This also improved our production schedules with the 3000. 

“When HP came to see us we were doing things with the 3000 that it wasn’t designed to do. We’d worked out we could run it unattended, but we were really pushing the boundaries with the weight limits on the spindle bar.” 

This is the bar that supports the rolls of media. The 3000 and 3500 are 3.5m wide but can run two separate rolls side by side. The 3000’s construction limited the weight (and therefore length) of vinyl rolls. “The only thing limiting how long we could run it unattended overnight was this bar,” Wilson says. “We said ‘look, if you could just do this, to improve the spindles, then we could run the machine for 10 or 12 hours unattended.’ 

“They listened and went away and after six or eight months they said ‘come over to Barcelona and we’ll show you what we’ve been doing.’ 

“Sure enough when we got out there it was a 3500 with all the stuff we’d wanted.”

The remote monitoring was also inspired by PressOn’s work, Wilson says. “HP asked us how could we tell it was still printing overnight, so we showed them how we monitored the machine via various apps; they came up with their own. 

“In the night you need to know it’s still printing. But rather than have someone sitting here just watching it, which is what used to happen, our print operations manager Tristan Harold can just dial in and watch it remotely. It tells you how many metres it’s got left, how long it has to go, etc. That’s all sorted, no problem now and we’ve much more confidence in it.”

Although PressOn’s machine is a heavily modified 3000, the jump to the 3500 was quite a big deal, according to Wilson. “The platform that the rolls sit on is new, so are the new gearbox and motors and the bars that hold the rolls. It can take both 3in and 6in cores now as it has core converters. We were running 135m rolls on each side with the 3000, but we are now running 250m and 300m rolls.

“If we kicked the 3000 off at 7pm, it would be running out at 1am, so we’d have to send someone to do a roll change. Now we just run the whole thing through the night. We know that a 250m roll with eight passes will take 10 hours. If you start at 8pm then when the finishers come in at 6am, it’s ready to be converted.”

Built to keep going

With the first machine of a new design there are inevitably things that can be improved, but PressOn has found the 3500 straightforward to keep in operation. “It has done 250,000m2 now,” Wilson reports. “It comes with an uptime kit so it’s quite easy to keep it running ourselves. It’s not automatically an engineer call every time it goes down. With both the 3000 and the 3500 we had the first machines and there are a few issues that we’ve overcome, but nothing major springs to mind. 

“I can’t think of the last time it broke down. It’s a proper industrial printer, with Scitex architecture. It’s built to keep going, to do 10,000m2 per month, which we more than fill.”

“The best thing is definitely the productivity of the machine, and the stability of the Latex inks on vinyl is second to none. There isn’t another machine that can give me those two.

“It’s difficult to criticise something that makes a shedload of money every month! That machine and a number of others around it keep 18 people in a job, plus six fitters. That’s 24 people who are kept employed because that machine’s running and it’s stable.

“Everything we wished the 3000 had, we told HP and that’s what the 3500 is. I know I’ll sound like an HP advert, but that’s how it was. It’s reduced the overtime bill, it’s made the operators’ lives a little bit better when we’re busy because they’re not having to do middle of the night changeovers and worrying about their shifts.

“It’s brought us economic savings because there are not as many roll changeovers, so there’s not as much waste and we can buy in bigger bulk. It enables us to do bigger jobs, because we can load up with 500m of vinyl at night and come back in the morning and it’s all done.”

Asked if he would recommend the machine to other printers, Wilson is adament, if not entirely serious: “No, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else. Don’t buy one, just buy the print off me” he jokes. 

“Actually we’re negotiating for our second unit now, so we are already buying again.” 


SPECIFICATIONS

Max resolution 1,200dpi

Speed From 27m2/hr (18-pass high-quality backlit mode) to 180m2/hr (two-pass billboard mode)

Roll handling 1x3.2m or 2x1.55m rolls

Roll weights 1x300kg or 2x200kg

Ink 3rd-generation latex

Colours Six: CMYK, light cyan, light magenta plus ‘Latex Optimiser’

Footprint 6x1.7m 

Price £280,000 

Contact HP 01344 363368 www.hp.com


COMPANY PROFILE 

PressOn was founded in 2000 when directors Nigel Webster and Andy Wilson, decided to combine their knowledge of digital printing and launch their own company. They had a background in print buying and graphic design. 

“Nigel and I put in £5,000 each on our credit cards. I was in my back bedroom in Whitstable. We had an office in Wandsworth that we traded out of for the first 12 months. We just blagged it basically. It would take eight hours to print one 3x6m billboard. Now it takes us about 10 minutes!”

The first wide-format printer was an electrostatic plotter, replaced by an early Encad inkjet. The company switched from solvent ink printers to latex with a L26500 model in 2010. 

Today PressOn employs 26 people and expects to turn over £3m this year. On 7 November last year the company moved from Rochester to a new 930m2 unit in Chatham. 

It specialises in wide-format printing for indoor and outdoor applications plus vehicle wraps, the majority onto vinyl. In addition to printing, PressOn handles installation, removal and disposal. 

The company produces work for customers including Harrods, Crossrail, VeriFone Media UK, and Limited Space. PressOn’s work has won numerous awards, including several from Fespa, and was last year a finalist in the Poster Printer of the Year category at the PrintWeek Awards.

Why it was bought?

PressOn needed extra capacity in the limited space it had before its move last year. The HP Latex 3000 was much faster than the Latex 850 it replaced. However, it had a weight limitation that meant it could not handle very long rolls. PressOn wanted it to take longer rolls to allow unattended all-night running. This was solved with the upgrade to the 3500. 

How it has performed?

“It does exactly what it says on the box, if you want to run dual rolls and want to run unattended for a long time,” Wilson says. “It is far more productive for us than the 3000 was, because we don’t have to do middle of the night roll changes.

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