Over its 22 years in business, visual communications and printing company NEC Graph-fix has been fleet of foot in reacting to developments in the market for large-format print.
It has deftly addressed emerging applications and embraced technological innovations to make sure it can continue to meet customers’ ever-changing needs.
Based in Walsall in the West Midlands, the NEC part of the name is a legacy from when it focused on exhibition graphics and was for several years based at the eponymous exhibition venue. A lot has changed in the intervening years.
“We diversified 15 years ago to add retail, point of sale and outdoor,” says managing director Tim James. “For 10 years the business was predominantly outdoor. In the last few of years that has changed and we’re now predominantly retail.”
Earlier this year the company boosted its POS product line-up by becoming the UK partner for Stackawraps – giant scale 3D product mock-ups that can double up as display units.
To meet the needs of its diverse mix of clients, sectors and products the firm, which has sales of around £3m and employs 30 has an impressive line-up of kit with flatbed, roll-to-roll UV-cured and dye-sub printers and a range of finishing including an automated Esko Kongsberg cutting table at its 2000m² factory.
At the start of this year the firm upgraded its flatbed digital printer, opting for an HP Scitex 11000, which replaced a long-serving HP Scitex 7600 that James described himself as “very happy with”.
While he was happy with the 7600, changes in the firm’s business, the market and customer requirements meant it was time to look at a replacement.
“Clients were telling us that they needed higher print quality, in particular brighter colours, flatter greys and better skin tones,” he says. “As a business, we needed higher speed. The nature of print is that it is very ad hoc and we needed a faster machine to deal with the ever more common situation when we have to turn round three or four campaigns at the same time.”
When it came to looking for a replacement machine, HP was the only vendor in contention.
“I’m very happy; we have a good relationship and they have always looked after us. We’ve had good relationships with HP’s staff going back to Nur.”
(Nur was a wide-format inkjet pioneer, which HP acquired in 2007.)
“We did look at HP’s bigger machines [the 15500 and 17000], but while the automation of the media handling would have been good we wouldn’t have got the quality or the range of substrates we needed as they are only four colours and can only handle paper and board. Our work includes so many materials, including Correx, polyprop and Foamex as well as paper and board. We know of one firm that bought a 15500 and it can now only do about half the range of work that we can.”
The advantage of automated media handling would have been the ability to let the machine run unattended for longer-run work, but on balance the firm believed the flexibility and quality benefits of the 11000 were more compelling
The timing of the install in January – traditionally a less busy time for the firm – was crucial to minimise the impact on business, and even so it still had to turn down some work during the “three- to four-week period” of removing the old machine and installing and commissioning the 11000.
“The whole process was pretty much seamless,” he says. “HP did a damn good job. The new machine pretty much dropped in, HP haven’t changed the footprint or the power requirements, if anything it’s a little bit smaller, and that made life a lot easier.”
Like most of the high end flatbed UV inkjet printers the 11000 has a tower containing an array of printheads with a table that shuttles underneath it multiple times to build up the image, which is a development of the previous generation 7600 machine. The operator loads sheets onto an input table which the machine then transfers to the printing table/shuttle. Once printed the sheets are transferred automatically to a stacker opposite the loading table.
Features include HPs HDR printing technology, which uses different ink droplet sizes to deliver smooth gradations. It uses a six-colour inkset comprising CMYK plus light cyan and light magenta to reduce the granularity of the print and maximise the achievable colours within its total gamut.
Additionally, the machine can apply a digital varnish over the print, which HP terms Smart Coat. The HDR250 ink set used in the 11000 is designed to adhere to the wide range of materials likely to be used including paper, board and plastics.
James is a very happy customer finding that, if anything the throughput and image quality are better than claimed by the manufacturer. Productivity is easily three times what was possible with the 7600, and overall, when combined with the new Esko Kongsberg cutting table, James reckons throughput is up four fold. He has particular praise for the Smart Coat and the ability to apply gloss effects to different part of the jobs, adding that while it was possible to adjust the gloss level on the previous machine it was more of a workaround than a feature.
“The gloss has really excelled, particularly on one job which called for an area of pillar box red,” he says.
There have been no issues and nothing he’d even classify as a niggle. When pushed he admits to some issues with ICC profiles and a couple of batches of media that had ink adhesion issues, but adds those were well within what he’d expect in terms of day-to-day running. “Overall I’m very happy,” he adds.
“The machine has helped us to bring new work in,” he says. “We were known mostly for outdoor banners and bespoke indoor jobs but the capabilities of the 11000 are helping to put clients into a different mind set about what we can do.”
In particular the higher image quality is opening up more opportunities for point-of-sale work.
“Now that we’ve had the machine nine or 10 months customers are beginning to realise that we are capable of handling everything that they can throw at us. It helped to convince one client to give us their longer-run work.
“It has opened some new doors for us and opened others wider than before.”
With the increased throughput James expects the 11000 to meet the firm’s needs for several more years. He wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to others. In fact, in fact, HP can already thank him for sharing his feelings on the machine with another company that helped to convince it to invest in an 11000 of its own.
Type Wide-format flatbed printer
Printing technology UV cured inkjet
Colours CMYK, light cyan, light magenta
Sheet size 1.6x3.2m
Substrates Cardboard, paper, plastics
Throughput Up to 650m2/hr
Price £1,100,000, including 12 months warranty, uptime kit, ramp-up, training (two seats), delivery & installation
Contact HP Scitex +34 930 032888 www.hp.com
NEC Graph-fix is a visual communications company that has been running for 22 years. Over that time the firm has evolved from specialising in exhibition graphics to add retail, point-of-sale and outdoor. In the last few years the firm has focused on retail and POS.
Based in Walsall in the West Midlands the firm, which has sales of circa £3m and employs 30, has flatbed and roll-to-roll printers and a range of finishing kit at its 2,000m2 factory.
Why it was bought…
“Clients were telling us that they needed higher print quality, in particular brighter colours, flatter greys and better skin tones,” says managing director Tim James. “The nature of print is that it is very ad hoc and we needed a faster machine to deal with the ever more common situation when we have to turn round three or four campaigns at the same time.”
How it has performed
James is a very happy customer, finding that, if anything, the throughput and image quality are better than claimed by the Japanese manufacturer. Productivity is easily three times what was possible with its previous machine.
“The machine has helped us to bring new work in. The capabilities of the 11000 are helping to put clients into a different mind set about what we can do.”
“Customers are beginning to realise that we are capable of handling everything that they can throw at us.
“It has opened some new doors for us and opened others wider than before.”