Being first to market with a new product has numerous benefits, but first-mover advantage can also have its downsides.
Often those businesses that take the plunge are using unproven technology that could come with a host of issues. In the cut and thrust world of commercial printing, companies can’t afford to gamble on products that might malfunction or won’t deliver on the manufacturer’s promise. Such considerations were quickly dismissed by Milton Keynes-based printer Graphics Works when it signed up to become the first European user of the Acuity LED 3200R UV inkjet printer late last year.
That’s because the wide-format digital printing company had been using the smaller Acuity LED 1600 for the past couple of years – to be exact it had been using four LED 1600s.
Graphics Works, which undertakes a cross-section of different wide-format jobs ranging from wall coverings through to point of sale for architecture and design agency clients, saw the purchase of the 3.2m wide roll-to-roll Acuity 3200R as the second phase of a new strategic shift, according to company director Peter Barham.
“We had grown up with solvent printers, but we were looking for a better option to solvents for wall coverings,” he explains. “We wanted something that was more consistent and would give us fewer problems in terms of colour shading and drying on difficult surfaces.”
So in early 2015 the company trialed the first Acuity 1600. “We were so pleased with the results we added another three that same year and we transferred a lot of print from solvent to UV,” says Barham.
The 1600 doubled the company’s production speeds and cut 20% of production costs so “when the 3200R was launched it was very much the obvious next step in terms of our move towards that type of technology,” continues Barham. “It was a larger version of what we had grown to like. It had greater width, greater speed and the ink was quite closely matched between the two machines. We loved it as soon as we saw it.”
That’s not to say that the company got out the chequebook and pen there and then. “We are quite cruel in terms of trialing new machines,” says Barham. “With wall coverings colour and dimensional accuracy are incredibly important so we trial all machines very aggressively. We trialed the print quality at virtually every print speed using our own material before we bought it so we knew exactly what we were getting. It performed extremely well.”
Barham says the company looked at alternative 3.2m-wide machines across the industry and in particular it homed in on the Mimaki UJV55-320. Thanks to Fujifilm’s distribution arrangement with Mimaki, the 3200R is basically the UJV55-320 with a different badge. Mimaki gave the latter the European launch at Fespa last year, with Fujifilm adding it to its portfolio towards the end of last year. There is very little differentiation between the two machines, according to Barham, which made making a final decision tough.
“They’ve got the same hardware, however, the Fuji machine uses Fuji ink and that was important to us because we use Fuji ink on our other machines and colour matching is particularly important,” he explains.
The other factor that made a big difference to Barham is the Acuity 3200R runs from a Caldera RIP, which the company also uses on its other machines, whereas the Mimaki comes with a RasterLink6 RIP. This coupled with the fact that the company was already familiar with the way the smaller Acuity devices work meant that the Graphics Works team were able to put the new machine to work pretty much immediately.
“The menu structure was very familiar and everything about the mechanics and the feed mechanism were also very familiar so we were up and running extremely quickly,” says Barham.
Installation ran smoothly despite inclement weather conditions. “It was chucking it down when it arrived so a lot of the crating that would have happened outside had to happen inside. It’s a big machine and it arrives pretty much in one piece so we had to make a bit of space for it, but we’d previously owned a Mimaki, which we sold, and that was effectively the same size so it fitted into that space.”
Since installation Barham says the new machine has run like a dream. He estimates the 3200R has boosted capacity by at least 50% thanks to the increased print speeds. Turnaround times have also been slashed – Barham says that even on substantial orders lead times are regularly half what the company would have expected just two to three years ago. Thanks to the combination of faster print speed, ink savings and the convenience of bulk ink supply, the company intends to move a lot of the heavy production work from the 1600s to the 3200R. This will free up the four 1600 machines for “higher-value creative work and sampling”.
Graphics Works sees production boost after installation of Fujifilm's Acuity LED 3200R
Barham loves the versatility of the 3200R. “It may be a 3.2m machine, but it is just as happy running smaller rolls or we can put smaller rolls on simultaneously which is a feature that we use a lot. It’s also versatile in terms of the materials it can run. For about 90% of the time it’s running wall coverings, but it’s just as happy on big banner vinyl,” he says.
Barham struggles to find fault with the 3200R. Although he says greater speed levels is always useful the company never runs the machine at maximum speed anyhow because quality is the more important factor. The only minor criticism he offers relates to the appearance of the ink. Because the company does a lot of wall coverings he would prefer the UV inks to be more matt than they currently are, but he quickly adds: “The sort of results we are getting are much more pleasant than a lot of UV machines and more importantly when it comes to wall coverings there is no odour.”
Steve Cookman, wide-format inkjet solutions manager at Fujifilm, says it’s possible the company can “adjust the finish of his ink by changing how we cure. It’s probably something we could take a look at”.
He adds that Fujifilm has a strong relationship with Graphics Works and that the printer is probably one of the company’s largest ink customers. As for why printers should opt for the Acuity over the Mimaki equivalent Cookman responds: “Our differentiator, in addition to our inks, is our integration with Color GATE and Caldera and our extensive knowledge of UV print. As a company we have a broad range of UV print solutions, from 30m2/hr to 900m2/hr so there isn’t a lot that we don’t understand.”
It’s this in-depth knowledge of the sector coupled with the strong service support that Fujifilm offers that prompted Graphics Works to continue to invest in the company’s product range. Barham says the service has been “absolutely excellent” and the 3200R has more than exceeded his expectation. So much so that he’s considering buying another one.
“It’s something that we are negotiating at the moment,” says Barham. “We are looking at replacing a couple of smaller machines with another 3200R because they’re so productive. It’s a superbly versatile machine at a decent price.”
What more could you ask for?
Max print width 3,200mm
Max media thickness 1.0mm
Max speed 110m2/hr
Price £70,000 including installation, RIP and starter kit
Contact Fujifilm 01234 572000 www.fujifilm.eu/uk
Milton Keynes-based Graphics Works was formed around 11 years ago following a merger of two companies that had backgrounds in litho printing and design. It specialises in producing premium wallpaper coverings for high-end brands across a number of different sectors, but it also undertakes a wide range of other work, including exhibition banners, point-of-sale material and window film.
Why it was bought
The company had been looking around for an alternative to solvent printing and after trialling a smaller Acuity 1600 in 2015 – and subsequently buying four machines – it decided to step up to the larger model in the series when it launched in 2016.
How it has performed
“The main thing it has done is it has improved our capacity and we can now turn things around much quicker,” says Barham. “Turnaround time is the biggest issue in this industry at the moment and having faster and more versatile machines allows you to do that.”