When A3 Design & Print installed its second Heidelberg Versafire CP digital press earlier this year, managing director Tony Pooles named them Victoria and Albert following a poll on social media.
He stuck suitably Victorian brass name plates on them and used them to get publicity in the local press as well as trade titles. Why the names? “There’s the German connection, when you think about it,” he jokes.
Pooles has been at the same printing company all his working life, starting as an apprentice aged 16 in 1977, becoming a director by 1982 and, after a management buyout in 1992, becoming managing director. Back in 1977 the company was called Sprint Print and was based in Guildford. It employed six people and had two litho presses, with a turnover of £250,000.
By 1982 Pooles had gone through apprenticeships in finishing and repro, moved up through the design and sales department in management and had become a director. He proposed the name change to A3 Litho, he says, “partly because Guildford is on the A3 road, but also because we were just changing over from the old imperial paper sizes to metric, so A3 tied in with that too.”
Today the company is based in a 930m² factory unit in Farnham, Surrey, where it turns over £2m and employs 23. The name change to A3 Design & Print came in 2002 after A3 took over another company and expanded its scope.
Today it has a wide-ranging client list, including big-name fashion houses (Burberry, Stella McCartney, Dunhill) and retailers, luxury property developers, print for all the Greene King pub chain, all the print for the nearby Farnborough Airshow, a software company, an insurance company and a gentlemen’s club, as well as hospitals, schools and local government work. The work ranges from books, brochures and general print to mailing and large-format point-of-sale.
Mailing has been growing in importance and the company installed an AMS inkjet addressing system. The latest digital Versafires can process variable data fast enough that they can handle full-colour mailings, Pooles says, where before it was necessary to pre-print colour by litho then add black-only data digitally. The revised GDPR regulations earlier this year provided opportunities to work with clients on how they were implemented, says Pooles.
Over the years the company has always had Heidelberg presses in some shape or form, including KORD and GTO litho presses and most recently a five-colour Speedmaster SX 74, which it still runs.
This partly explains why its current pair of digital toner presses are both Heidelberg Versafire CP models, with the first one, a 110 model installed in 2017, followed by a 130 model with Plockmatic bookletmaker in January this year. Actually the 130 model was a slightly used model, according to Chris Matthews at Heidelberg, which helped with the price.
However, they weren’t the first digital presses A3 had used, says Pooles. The firm started with a mono Canon printer and then a Minolta colour machine (pre-Konica), moving into later Konica Minoltas and then a colour Xerox J75 bought in 2014 to replace a mono Xerox Nuvera.
What is a Versafiire CP?
Heidelberg introduced the Versafire CP models in January 2015, though they were called Linoprint CP until 2016. They were the top models in its SRA3-plus dry toner press range until Heidelberg replaced them with the EP model in April this year. The CPs were offered with a choice of 110 or 130 pages per minute. They can handle long sheets up to 700mm. Various inline finishing options are offered, and A3 took a Plockmatic bookletmaker on its second machine, the 130.
Ricoh made the print engines for both itself and Heidelberg. It called its own machines the Pro C9110. The main difference is the front-end – Heidelberg can supply its own Prinect DFEs, although A3 has EFI Fiery units.
Why did A3 opt for the Versafires? “Without doubt it was the quality,” Pooles says. However, he adds that his liking for Heidelbergs was only part of the reason. Buying the then new Xerox J75 straight off the stand at Ipex 2014 proved unfortunate, as it didn’t do what A3 needed, he says.
“We weren’t going to repeat that mistake so I looked at all the competing systems and sent them test jobs before going to see them. They were real jobs, but difficult – not all of the suppliers could handle them.”
Heidelberg and Ricoh came out as leaders. Even then the results weren’t perfect at first and Pooles said that adjustments had to be made when the A3 team went to the Heidelberg showroom.
Another factor was running costs. “We negotiated on the click charge” Pooles says. “Even point-something of a penny adds up over a year and can make a huge difference. I buy, not lease – the Versafires are lease-purchase but after the end of the period they’re mine.”
Why not Ricoh, which actually makes the Versafires? “It was our ethos to buy Heidelbergs when possible, even though Ricoh could match the costs and servicing.”
Having Heidelbergs as the main litho and digital presses also simplifies service calls, he finds. Ricoh has 300 UK engineers so it installs and services the Heidelberg presses as well as its own. Heidelberg organises the online support and service calls for its own machines.
“When it was Konica and Xerox that was two sets of engineers, two sets of spares to keep. With the Versafires there’s also commonality, so we can transfer jobs between the two and get repeatability,” Pooles says.
Both Versafires were supplied with a pallet load of spares. The operators are trained to replace common components, so when an engineer arrives, the old parts are either refurbished on the spot or replaced with new. “It does mean we had to find space for the pallets and we don’t have a lot to spare,” says Pooles. “With the old presses sometimes we’d be quoted weeks to wait for parts. We can’t afford to be down for that long.”
How did the installation go?
The only real issue at A3 was space, says Pooles. “We don’t have a large factory and we couldn’t expand it without going into the car park. We managed to find space for both machines but both are up close to walls along one side and one end. There’s not as much access room as the engineers would have liked, but we had to use what space we have.”
How have they been in practise?
Very good, says Pooles, with no particular problems worth mentioning. He particularly praises the colour control and quality: “A lot of our customers are very fussy about colours so we often have to adjust them on the press. The Heidelbergs take a lot less time to get to colour.”
He says the quality is as good as litho for most work, although litho still has the edge for high-gloss media, Pooles says: “Fortunately the fashion houses like matt and earthy papers! More and more of our customers now don’t specify litho or digital, they trust us to choose the most appropriate for the job.”
Reliability has been good too. “With Canon, Konica Minolta and Xerox we were getting about 70% uptime with 30% down for various reasons of cleaning, servicing, adjustments. With the Heidelbergs as a pair we get 85% uptime, partly because we can switch jobs between them. They do need servicing too, of course.”
Would he buy them again, knowing what he now knows? “Definitely, I did buy the second one after all! The first one was doing the job very well so it was natural to have another, both to have the same service engineers but also because the printed colours are the same.”
What have they brought to the company?
“Have they boosted turnover? Yes. Have they boosted capacity? Yes,” reports Pooles. “Have they cut costs? Yes, mainly in the click charges compared to the old Xerox J75, although all digital suppliers are having to reduce their rates now.”
He also points out the high speed VDP processing, allowing full-colour mailing work to be feasibly printed on the Versafires rather than pre-printing on the Speedmaster.
Speeds CP 130 3,900 A3 sheets/hour or 130 A4 pages/minute engine (simplex) CP 110 3300 A3 sheets/hour or 110 A4 pages/ minute engine (simplex)
Rated volumes 25,000–500,000 A3 sheets/month (simplex)
Sheet size range 100x140mm to 330x700mm
Paper weights 52 to 400gsm
Digital front-end options Heidelberg Prinect or EFI Fiery E-43A/83A
Prices 110 started at £110,000, 130 started at £125,000 (excluding Plockmatic)
Contact Heidelberg UK 020 8490 3500 www.heidelberg.com
A3 Design & Print is a versatile all-services printer based in Farnham, Surrey. It employs 23 people and turns over £2m. It offers a mix of litho and digital sheetfed print, and large-format inkjet signage and POS materials. Customers range from high-end fashion and retail houses, schools, local government, direct mailings, and local businesses.
Kit includes a five-colour Heidelberg Speedmaster SX74, two Heidelberg Versafire CP digital presses, two Epson wide-format water-based inkjets, an AMS inkjet mailing system, Muller Martini stitcher/three-knife trimmer, two Stahl T52 folders, two Polar guillotines (76 and 96), a Bourg BST 10-bin collator and two Wire-o binders.
Why they were bought…
A3 wanted to update its digital colour line-up but was determined to get the decision right after a previous mistake. It sent test jobs to a range of suppliers and Heidelberg and Ricoh came out on top. Heidelberg is a preferred supplier for A3 and sticking with one brand also cut down servicing and spares costs.
How they have performed…
Managing director Tony Pooles is very happy with the 85% uptime the presses are delivering. “Have they boosted turnover? Yes. Have they boosted capacity? Yes. Have they cut costs? Yes.”