One of the largest point-of-sale printers in the UK, SMP Group operates from a factory in south-east London, between Greenwich and Woolwich.
Products range from posters, for which SMP has won 11 PrintWeek Awards, POS (the company says it is the UK’s fourth largest producer), hoardings and other outdoor media, retail interiors and marketing suites, exhibition and event stands and materials.
The group has its own design agency, Breed Creative, and can also advise on campaign planning and compliance via its Co.Lateral software solution. Customers include many brands that are “household names,” the company says.
Readers who have been around the industry for a while will remember the company as St Michael’s Press. This was founded in 1928, so it is 90 years old in 2018. It changed locations a few times in the London area before settling into its current 7,430m² factory in 1997, where 220 people are employed.
Today the company runs a mix of printing processes, with several large-format roll- and sheet-fed digital inkjet presses, three multi-colour sheetfed litho presses and a screen press.
A lot of the company’s products need to be boxed up for delivery. SMP used to buy in corrugated outer boxes, but for the past 18 months or so it has been using a British-made Boxer short-run box making machine from British Converting Solutions (BCS). This device enables SMP to make its own boxes in exactly the size, shape and quantity it needs.
Stephen Jepp, operations manager, explains the thinking behind it: “With such a diverse portfolio of customers scattered up and down the UK requiring a range of different products, sizes, quantities and campaign mixtures, the ability to produce bespoke-sized cartons on a just-in-time basis ensures our valued product leaves the door, not only without delay, but in a package that fits and protects it.”
The Boxer was installed at the end of 2016 and was one of the first of its type from BCS. “The boxes we produce are two different FEFCO styles, 0401 and a 0410, produced in an unlimited number of sizes and varying internal dimensions,” says Jepp. “We package anything – from a large-format free-standing display unit produced on one of our digital printers and converted by one of our large format diecutters, down to a selection of B1-sized point-of-purchase labels, and everything in between.”
Why choose the BCS Boxer?
While speaking to BCS sales manager Simon Needham about the Boxer it became clear that BCS had a product that SMP could profit from.
“We knew straight away it would suit us,” says Jepp. “We ran a quick justification, comparing the cost to buy-in boxes versus the cost to buy in raw sheet and convert the boxes ourselves.
“We have saved 200 square meters of space where we don’t need to store stock cartons anymore – we had seven different sizes previously! We have also saved costs in transit and shipping where boxes are made bespoke to fit to the capacity required and are not oversized, so we can now get more on a pallet and on a lorry.”
How does it work?
The Boxer’s manufacturer BCS is based in Houghton Regis near Dunstable. Its earlier AutoBox system uses similar technology but is slightly larger and more modular (with for instance flexo unit options), intended for short-runs of boxes that are the commercial product. Boxer was introduced two years ago as a slightly smaller all-in-one design. It’s intended for applications like SMP’s where the box is the transport container for the actual goods.
BCS claims the Boxer is the first such machine in the world with an integrated inkjet. One- or two-colour units are offered with a choice of head dimensions.
The cutting is performed by slot knives plus cutting and scoring wheels, all of which are positioned and applied by computer-controlled servo motors to make a wide variety of box sizes and patterns. The guide fence is also servo positioned.
BCS offers Boxer with several options for feeding, auto-stacking and inkjet printing. SMP chose the semi-automatic Smart Feeder option (sheet-by-sheet manual feeding is the other option), plus a two-colour inkjet print module.
“The Boxer’s servo control means you can achieve a set time of less than 60 seconds by entering your bespoke internal dimensions,” says Jepp. “We were using a lot of 0401 Maltese Cross style boxes, which we were sometimes converting on hand-fed platens. When we had a new product varying in size we would need to buy a new tool, which might only be for 200 boxes. The Boxer can produce this design without tooling, to the exact dimensions needed.
“The software comes with around 50-60 pre-programmed job styles to make setting a job very easy. If you have a repeat job, you can save this information and have an instant set within 30 seconds once re-selected. “We are only running B flute, in two sizes – 2,200x1,700mm and 3,500x1,250mm.”
The twin-head inkjet printer module can put red and black text and images up to 140mm wide onto the boxes, which are always brown lined corrugated, Jepp says.
Images are loaded from a USB stick onto the control unit and selected on the touch screen. However, there’s provision for network control so box and print jobs can be remotely loaded. All BCS machines are networked online for remote monitoring and diagnostics by the manufacturer.
SMP uses the boxes as wraps, ie they are folded up around the stacks they are to enclose, and then taped. BCS can supply optional taping or gluing units. “If we wanted to in the future, we could add an inline tape unit but I don’t think it’s quite relevant at the moment,” says Jepp.
How did the adoption go?
“There was one day’s install followed by three days of training. We started producing cartons on day two,” says Jepp.
“The machine is very easy to use, however we wanted to ensure our machine operators could be champions in how the machine works. We have a supervising operator who sets up the machine and then an operator running it.”
When it comes to productivity, Jepp says: “The Boxer has been up and running 24/7 since day one. It has enabled us to reduce lead times and offer customers a more personalised product, sometimes, with their logo on or distribution area code. It really depends on the client requirements. We have so far put 350,000 sheets though and produced 700,000 cartons. We can produce anything from one box to 1,500.”
“We have a service every three months on the machine due to it running 24 hours a day. Most of the parts are in stock and delivered the next day. Most of them are easy to replace.
“Another great thing is we now do not have to purchase vinyl tapes and print the logo on the boxes,” Jepp says. “To be honest it does do everything we need, except maybe an automatic feeder.
There are no real cons, he says. “The only issue we encountered was with the printer location. Originally, this was installed at the front of the machine but the output would often appear smeared, as the board could not be driven out. We reinstalled the printer at the rear of the machine and it now works great!”
So, would he recommend it to others? “Yes, definitely. The machine has made a real difference to our production cycle and our clients love the possibility of creating bespoke cartons. The operators are happy and the machine has paid for itself within the year.”
Max board size 2x6m
Max board thickness 8mm
Features Fully automatic, 60 second, toolless setup; touchscreen interface with networking for remote diagnostics and updates; automated cutting to width and length; automated glue flap removal (profiles can be achieved using die-cut tooling)
Max size 100x100mm (2 off) when not being employed for glue-flap removal or 0400 style boxes)
Price From about £80,000 depending on specification. A print module adds about £20,000 for a small single-colour, or more for twin colours and larger heads.
Contact British Converting Solutions 01525 379359 www.bcscorrugated.com
SMP Group is a long-established large-format visual communications company based just south of the Thames in south-east London. It specialises in retail point-of-sale, out-of-home advertising and event and exhibition display. It employs 220 people. Production equipment includes large-format roll- and sheetfed digital inkjet presses (from Agfa, Durst, HP and HP Scitex and Inca Digital), three multi-colour sheetfed litho presses (one Manroland and two KBAs) and a Svecia screen press. Finishing kit includes a laminator, guillotines, die-cutters, folders, a collator, a folder, various shrink wrappers and the BCS Boxer box maker.
Why it was bought...
SMP manufactures a wide range of large-format print products in different formats and sizes, all of which need to be boxed up for delivery. This meant buying in and storing a huge quantity of ready-made boxes in standard sizes. The BCS Boxer means the company can create the boxes it needs, in the exact sizes and formats it needs, when it needs them, saving costs and storage space.
How it has performed...
SMP got to grips with the machine very quickly and was producing cartons the day after installation. Operations manager Stephen Jepp says: “It’s very easy to use... It has made a real difference to our production cycle and our clients love the possibility of creating bespoke cartons. The operators are happy and the machine has paid for itself within the year.”