Ding, ding! All aboard! Plenty more space, move along down the bus please. An old London Routemaster bus is the most unusual thing on Alpha Colour Printers’ kit list. And it was all aboard in the finishing department when the firm decided to insource foiling, die-cutting and embossing a few years back, which led it to invest in another slightly unusual bit of kit, a Kluge EHF platen.
Alpha Colour Printers is a general commercial printer based in Gloucester. While its work mix includes anything from 50 business cards to runs of 2 million, and spans litho, digital and wide-format, it specialises in greetings cards and increasingly packaging. It was to better serve the needs of its greetings card customers’ requirements for foiling that it first started to investigate bringing in-house what had previously been sent out to specialist print finishers.
“We were getting bottlenecks with jobs coming in and out of the factory,” says operations director Dave Oldfield. “So we decided to have a go at doing the foiling ourselves.”
It had thought foiling would be too specialist for it to handle but found it had the core skills in-house in the form of a press minder who had been a letterpress operator prior to converting to litho. That minder agreed to apply their skills to foiling, embossing and die-cutting and an old Heidelberg platen conversion was bought to get started.
As the firm got to grips with the process and began to bring more finishing in-house it outgrew the capabilities of that machine within a few months and so looked around for a more capable bit of kit, which it found in the form of a secondhand Kluge EHD with a bed size of 13x19in.
“When we started looking, the Kluges were clearly the right machines,” says Oldfield. They are fantastic – much easier to set up than the old Heidelberg.”
The EHD was installed in the summer of 2013 and has helped take the company from strength to strength, to such an extent that to meet increased demand eight months later, in early 2014, the business installed an additional machine, this time a brand new EHF, which had a larger 14x22in bed size.
Both the machines are platen presses. While there are modified Heidelberg letter-press machines that have found a second life in finishing departments, Brandtjen & Kluge made the decision back in the 1950s, as litho started its ascendance, to focus on using its expertise in platens for post-press rather than diversify. These are presses in the truest and oldest sense of the word – they are able to generate the huge amounts of pressure needed for hot foiling, die-cutting and embossing.
For hot foiling there is a programmable dual-zone heating plate to enable precise temperature control and the firm’s patented delayed dwell system that doubles the time under impression without reducing the number of sheets per hour.
The steel and iron construction and their very mechanical nature are throwbacks to an earlier era of printing and they look it. However, the Kluge devices are manufactured to modern standards with all the necessary guards to ensure safe operation and, in the case of the EHF, electronic controls.
Although easy to set up these machines nevertheless offer a skilled operator lots of parameters for control, in order to achieve the best results.
“One customer had a specific die-cutting job that they didn’t want any ties left in,” says Oldfield. “Because of the way the Kluge feeds and delivers it was able to do that.”
When embossing the machine is used for some sophisticated jobs using multi-height dies.
“We can, depending on the board, do some really deep embossing, for which the control of the pressure offered is key,” Oldfield explains.
Since first bringing its finishing processes in-house the firm has continued to invest more and more in its own equipment, most recently investing in UV coating. Now the only process that it outsources is PUR binding. Increased demand for foiling after installing the Kluges led the firm to invest in additional machines from Saroglia and Gietz.
“We’ve had no issues with the Kluges, the only reason we chose to buy additional machines was because we needed a larger format,” he says. “Without the Kluges we would have had a much steeper learning curve. If we had started with one of the other machines I don’t think we would have been so successful with this part of the business.”
The Kluges still have their place for foiling despite the additional kit.
“For certain jobs – those that are especially complicated or difficult – we still put them on the larger Kluge,” says Oldfield.
One useful feature is the Kluges’ ability to increase the dwell time.
“Running slower gives us more control, it helps to provide a smoother finish, especially if you have large areas of foil that need to adhere,” he says.
The installation went smoothly. “The training was fantastic and the engineer who installed it was brilliant at showing us how to run it,” he says. “Even now we still call Kluge about really challenging jobs and they always have helpful suggestions. The on-going support has been excellent.”
Buying the Kluges and subsequently bringing most of its finishing in-house has delivered a lot of benefits, initially reducing costs and improving turnaround times.
“The savings in transport costs alone were huge,” he says. “We have shaved a week off turnaround times for more complicated jobs – there’s always at least two days transport – there and back – if it’s outsourced and then the time to do the work too. It’s also made it easier for us to manage. We don’t end up with pallets stacking up or with production bottlenecks. Internally it has meant we reduce peaks and troughs and don’t have to bring in extra shifts.”
Although initially concerned that it lacked expertise in the finishing processes, the firm has found that it has gained control and improved quality by bringing them in-house.
“We thought it wasn’t something that we could do as printers; however, we’ve realised that we can, and can do it better,” reveals Oldfield.
It has also opened up new markets.
“The sort of work we do now is really interesting,” he says. “Having these capabilities encourages the designers we work with to try new things, they love it and the ability to play.
“It’s been very good for business. Getting control was key. Once we had our own machine and developed our in-house expertise we knew we could deliver improved quality to our existing clients and knew we could target higher-end work.”
That has included packaging, which is developing as a new string to its bow. “We’ve won some very high quality work for prestigious brands,” he adds.
“I can only see our volumes of foiling and other specialist foiling growing. But for now we’ve got enough capacity on the machines and can add shifts before we need any more.”
When Alpha Colour Printers got on-board the in-house finishing bus it proved to be the route to reduced costs, improved quality and new market opportunities.
Bed size 14x22in (356x559mm)
Max sheet size 431x628mm
Min sheet size 101x127mm
Stock thickness 0.07–5mm
Max speed 2,850iph
Contact Brandtjen & Kluge 01453 836522 kluge.biz
Alpha Colour Printers is a Gloucester-based general commercial printer that also specialises in greetings cards. The 36-staff and 36-year-old operation runs litho, digital and wide-format kit including a pair of Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 75s and a LinoPrint digital press.
Why it was bought...
A desire to cut costs, reduce turnaround times and improve control over its prod-uction processes led the firm to bring its foiling work in-house.
How it has performed...
Early success with its first Kluge – a second-hand EHD – led the firm to quickly buy a second machine, this time a brand new version of the bigger and more sophisticated EHF. With the success of Kluge machines it has since added additional in-house finishing capabilities and opened up a new market opportunity in packaging.