Multitasking is good, but doing two things at once has its drawbacks. Take Foremost Magnets. The company bills itself the UK’s only specialist manufacturer of promotional fridge magnets, but also runs a print service and it was the latter that was skewing the work balance.
Managing director Lee Woodcock’s team specialises in short-run medical booklets in multiple languages. Typically these are in runs as small as 5,000 digitally printed on two Ricoh presses. The problem was not the printing technology, but the booklet-making process. More specifically, the problem was Woodcock’s machinery.
The bookletmaker the company had been running folded and stapled simultaneously, and Foremost found that this was creating problems with the neatness of the finished product. And if the team wanted to adjust one setting, the machine automatically tweaked another, making it time-consuming to set up and fiddly to adjust on the fly.
And when you’re frequently having to switch from one paper size to another for all those short runs, it can create confusion and downtime. This is the last thing you need when printing in 50 different languages – although none of them as fruity as the team’s language when tinkering around with minor adjustments.
Foremost Magnets has been running for about 12 years and moved into print and finishing when its existing supplier went out of business around 2013. The company employs 14 staff at its base in Banbury, Oxfordshire, and turns over around £1.5m from fridge magnets and medical books.
“While we are better known to the trade for our promotional magnets, about five years ago we diversified into print, which now represents about 40% of our business. We have developed a niche market in the medical profession for high-quality, complex print-support material. Our existing bookletmaking machine was finding it challenging.”
Foremost Magnets handles not only a wide range of stocks in matt and gloss and from light paper to heavyweight covers, but it also wanted to finish A4 landscape booklets, for which the existing machine was not suitable. Although currently this is not a large percentage of Woodcock’s business, he regards it as a big target area for growth – with the right equipment.
Woodcock says he was vaguely aware that Ashgate Automation, together with manufacturer KAS Paper Systems, had begun marketing a large-format, manually operated bookletmaker designed to meet this demand for short-run A4 landscape books. Woodcock knew the company because he had bought finishing equipment in the past to run with the other print kit: two Ricohs, three Crosland platen presses, cutters, gluers and flow wrapper.
“We had started looking at other bookletmakers and trimmers, but the 640 is so much better in build quality, cost, flexibility and performance than any competitor of its type on the market so it was worth waiting for this to come on to market. Timing was good, we needed a new bookletmaker because our Ricoh 7100 allows us to print long sheets enabling us to do the A4 landscape work, whereas our existing machine could only produce A4 portrait booklets.
“I had heard this new machine from Ashgate Automation took the stapling process away from the folding, and decided I wanted a closer look.”
So Woodcock took several hundred booklets to run through the 640 bookletmaker and trimmer at the turn of the year – everything from 80gsm uncoated multi-page booklets with variable data, up to glossy brochures and 350gsm laminated covers. The machine, says Woodcock, had to be able to go “from one extreme to the other”, and did so over five hours of testing on all the different stocks.
“For its price, which was around £16,000 for the bookletmaker and trimmer, it is the only one with the flexibility to produce a maximum booklet size of 320x320mm and A4 landscape and 12x12in. Separating the folding knife and stapling heads is ideal for shorter runs because it is simple to set up, adjust and change from one size to another. It is compact, reliable and can be wheeled away when not in use.”
It was first wheeled into the Banbury base about six months ago. Woodcock calls the equipment “an out-of-the-box solution”. All he needed was a socket for two 13-amp plugs. All the Ashgate Automation installers needed was space to put in the 640, just under 1.5m long and a metre or so wide. Having wheeled it in, they unpacked and plugged in the machine. Training took half a day.
“Using this type of equipment does not require lots of training; it’s like a car, there’s not a big difference between driving a Ford Mondeo and a Fiesta. The 640 involves three stages: stitching, creasing, folding. But it is simple to use and I would be disappointed if any one of my team were unable to pick up the basics and run with them within half an hour.”
Any one of those operators feeds pre-collated sheets into the machine, which then jogs them along to the stitching equipment. From here they move along to the creasing technology where sheets are folded in half ready for passing through to the trimmer. As the bookletmaker can handle a maximum sheet size of 640x320mm, the SRA2 sheets do not need pre-trimming of the short-edge on a guillotine prior to producing A4 booklets.
“Not only can we do the work quickly, it is accurate and the finish is high quality and professional. Ashgate gave us a half-day training course to get us into production and I can’t fault their service. Their response has been immediate on the couple of occasions we have contacted them. Teething problems included a join in the chain, which failed, but the engineers came the next day to mend it.”
Another glitch involved the trimming blade, which locked in its lowered position, he says. But this was more of an operator issue than mechanical and involved resetting. The only other negative is a minor quibble Woodcock has with the smoked perspex cover. When sheets are moving through the mechanical stages, he would like to see them more clearly.
“It looks smart, which is presumably why they gave the cover a smoked finish, but I want to see what’s going on inside the workings. If a booklet is coming out slightly skewed I want to know whereabouts in the mechanical process it is happening so I can focus on that part. If it were my car I’d want a fancy smoked screen, but this is industrial kit in an industrial environment and I don’t care about aesthetics. I want as much functionality as possible.”
But the productivity, accuracy and quick makereadies for such a compact machine are “real benefits” he says. And because it has such a small footprint Woodcock is keeping the old bookletmaker for back-up in busy periods or if anything should go wrong with the 640. Besides, “no one ever got rich selling secondhand bookletmakers”, he says.
“I would happily buy another one, and the 640 bookletmaker is making a big difference with the A4 landscape work. However, if volumes really took off it would make more sense to buy a £100,000 finishing line than fork out for another 640 and have to take on another operator. But the machine does all I wanted and makes our overall job easier.
“When you work with such small volumes in several languages, it can get confusing very quickly. Keeping key processes separate makes workflows much more methodical and easy to understand. We can go straight from printing to a finished booklet that’s shrink wrapped and ready to go, ensuring it can’t get mixed up with other jobs.”
Max sheet size 640x320mm
Min sheet size 210x148.5mm
Min stock weight Uncoated: 64gsm Coated: 105gsm
Max cover stock weight 300gsm
Max staple/fold thickness 25 sheets (80gsm)
Max speed 1,500bph
Detection function Paper jam, staple out
Trimming waste width 23mm
Footprint With conveyor: 2.2mx630mm; Without conveyor: 1.5mx630mm
Net weight 220kgs
Foremost Magnets in Banbury, Oxfordshire was formed 12 years ago and has 14 staff and a turnover of £1.5m. Five years ago the specialist in promotional fridge magnets diversified into print and print finishing, which now represents about 40% of business - short-run multi-language medical booklets printed on two Ricoh presses, a 7200 and a 9001.
Why it was bought…
Foremost Magnets’ niche market of complex, short-run booklets in multiple languages was causing problems for its existing bookletmaker, struggling to handle such a wide range of stock in matt and gloss and from light paper to heavyweight covers. In addition, it was not able to finish A4 landscape booklets. The new kit had to do all of this.
How it has performed…
Woodcock says: “Where everything was a compromise on the old machine, it’s a much better experience with the 640 bookletmaker, which is making a big difference. Not only can we work more quickly, it is accurate and the finish is high quality and professional, meaning we can offer more services to our customers.”