When the time came to replace A1 Security Print’s two ageing Nipson 7000 web-fed digital printers, managing director Jim Richardson didn’t expect to be investing in another Nipson machine. However, when push came to shove, sticking with a technology he knew proved to be the best fit for his firm’s needs.
Based in Handsworth, Birmingham, the company is a trade security printer serving an international customer base that includes national and regional governments via print management companies and overseas printers.
The company offers a range of security features for its products encompassing bespoke watermarks, including its own proprietary system, Iris; foil and holograms; and special ink applications, including invisible and thermochromic options.
Its product range includes cheques, certificates, tickets, parking permits and exam certificates. While it sells via partners one of its strengths is a thorough-going technical knowledge and, in particular, a very skilled customer service team who often go out to support the ultimate customer to ensure their requirements are fulfilled.
The business is part of the MCAARP Group of Companies, which also includes Integrity Print. Of the group’s £50m sales and 400 staff, A1 accounts for £7m sales and employs 70 people.
Both of the company’s Nipson 7000s had been pushed hard during their long lives, with one being 14 years old.
Richardson says: “The 7000s were great, and had given us good service and we’ve put a lot of business through those machines.”
The case for replacement, however, was clear. Both machines had seen so much use they were, as Richardson adds, “like Trigger’s broom”, with no original parts left bar the chassis.
Thus began the search for a replacement, and Richardson had every intention of driving the new machine (or machines) just as hard. “We wanted to invest in something that would be able to handle the work we produce for the next 10 years,” he stresses.
At the outset of this investment project, Richardson and A1 were assuming the replacement system for the 7000s would not be another toner-based device. Richardson says that, with all the developments in technology in period since the company bought the 7000s, that “the only option would be inkjet”.
However, as the company began to look at its options in more detail, it became clear that another Nipson machine might be the best bet and the DigiFlex, in particular stood out as the strongest contender, not just the inkjet options, but also other toner machines too. Richardson explains: “Inkjet wasn’t right for us at this time, and the Nipson was the only machine that ticked all the boxes for the big range of substrates we need to print onto,” he says.
“Because we’re a security printer there are peculiarities on the things we do with specialist inks that have meant to date we haven’t found the right inkjet solution. “
One of the key requirements was to be able to use MICR toner for cheque printing, which, although declining, is still an important business for the company.
A1 also needed to be able to print onto tabbed NCR sets and integrated materials, produced on its Tamarack machine, and that include plastic products. When Richardson looked at the press options on the market there was no single machine that could do everything that the 7000s were producing apart from another Nipson.
Richardson did consider separating out some of the applications and buying two or three machines to take on all the different aspects of the work. He even went so far as to test a range of continuous-feed laser printers and sheetfed Troy MICR printers, but in the end he couldn’t make the figures stack up.
Another reason for sticking with Nipson was the ease of dropping the new machine into its existing workflow without the need for extensive rejigging of how the printer was fed with work.
“We did a lot of testing of the alternatives before deciding on the Nipson,” he says. “There was nothing I wanted it to do that it doesn’t do. We knew the technology and what it could do, and that it would meet our expectations, and the DigiFlex is faster.
“The best thing about the machine is really its substrate flexibility.”
The DigiFlex is a continuous feed-monochrome digital printer that uses Nipson’s magnetographic printing technology. It was installed in January 2017 and replaced both of the company’s Nipson 7000s. One 7000 was removed altogether, to make way for the DigiFlex, while the other was retained for a few months while the new machine settled in, before it too was removed in the summer.
The magnetographic dry toner process, as the name suggests, uses magnets to create the image, rather than the lasers used in other toner-based systems.
It’s a non-impact technology and Nipson says that fewer moving parts make it “extremely rugged” and ideal for high-volume production. The image is printed using magnetic toner, electromagnetic write heads and magnetic fields on a metal imaging drum.
Another distinct, although not unique element of the DigiFlex is the way the image is fused onto the paper. This is achieved using high-powered lamps to melt the toner. This reduces the temperature that the substrate is exposed too while providing enough heat to apply the toner at the high printing speeds required, meaning the press can cope with a wider range of substrates.
That increased speed and throughput was an important consideration as it meant that a single machine would be able to handle the workload previously dealt with by two presses.
Richardson explains: “One of the challenges I have is floor space. Replacing two machines with one has freed up space and that has enabled us to add in some new machines to offer new services and therefore to win new business.”
Those new machines were a pair of Xerox cut-sheet toner machines – a Nuvera 144 monochrome unit and Versant 180 colour device – installed this autumn.
“The opportunities brought about by the new machines have been very successful.”
Up and running
Installation and commissioning of the DigiFlex was quick and smooth.
“It went as well as any installation I’ve known in over 20 years in the business, and it was up and running within a week,” he says. “Like any new machine it took a bit of getting used to by the operators.
“In the early days the imaging heads were prone to going down a bit too quickly, but Nipson sent its engineers over from France and quickly fixed the problem.”
Richardson says that, overall, the support from Nipson, both locally in the UK and from its factory and headquarters in France, has been excellent. That wasn’t a given, in fact it was initially a concern.
“When we first started looking to replace the 7000s two years ago one of the reasons not to move ahead with a new Nipson was that we weren’t totally confident about their business. Now we are, as it is much stronger, both in the UK and in France.”
As a result Richardson has no hesitation in advocating others to consider it: “The DigiFlex does a good job and I’d recommend it to anyone who does what I do.”
As to whether he’d buy another Nipson, there are no immediate plans. As the DigiFlex is expected to meet the company’s requirements for the next decade or so – and technology is developing so quickly he – couldn’t say. However, as he was wrong about expecting inkjet technology to have eclipsed the Nipson this time around, who knows what the situation will look like in 10 years’ time.
Imaging technology Magnetography
Speed 82m/min; 550 A4 pages per minute
Paper width 520mm
Print width 468mm
Paper weight 64-120gsm
Contact Nipson Technology UK 01233 500122 www.nipson.com
A1 Security printing is a trade security printer based in Handsworth, Birmingham. Its product range includes cheques, professional certificates, tickets, parking permits and exam certificates. The business is part of the MCAARP Group of Companies, and of the group’s £50m sales and 400 staff, A1 accounts for £7m sales and employs 70. As well as holding the ISO 9001 quality management standard, the company is also accredited to ISO 27001 (Standard 55), the enhanced version of the information security standard. It is also a C&CCC (formerly the APACS scheme) accredited cheque printer. It says that quality, security, environmental impact, peace of mind and customer service are the cornerstones of its business.
Why it was bought...
A1 Security needed to update its monochrome digital printers, a pair of ageing Nipson 7000s, and needed a solution that could handle a range of specialist stocks and MICR toner that didn’t take up too much space.
How it has performed...
The DigiFlex replaced two existing machines handling all the previous work and freed up floor space for the firm to install additional equipment to take on new business. The new press is expected to fulfill the company’s requirements for the next decade or so. Managing director Jim Richardson says: “The best thing about the machine is really its substrate flexibility.”