The Precision Group has invested £2.75m over the past month as it revamps its operations in London and Sunderland.
A new £1m HP Indigo 10000, the firm's second, will be going in to its Barking, east London headquarters next month, while it has spent as much again on an in-house bindery.
The bindery features a Mitacase automated casemaking system and automated casing-in Mitabook from Swiss manufacturer Photobook Technologies, three Imaging Solutions fastBook 10CFs, a Horizon BQ-470 PUR binder and a Horizon HT-30C three-knife trimmer, which will help service a new trade customer and a new product line from an existing client to print photo and children’s books and other print-on-demand products. Automation enables the same print standards to be used on anything from one to 1,000 copies.
"We work as a trade outsource hub, connecting API via one-flow software. It’s a highly automated high level of quality with the run length of one," said chief executive Gary Peeling.
The new system enables Precision to bring lay-flat operations in-house and also features automated reconciliation, using RFID technology on both book covers and blocks, so they can be matched up quickly and accurately without human checkers.
This is a key feature in Precision’s business model, which seeks to make the most of sudden surges in demand at peak periods. The machinery will enable the company to boost its output using existing staff.
“It means we can guarantee for our trade customers that we are not sending out products that are faulty,” Peeling said. “We can provide a full reconciliation trail.”
Currently the company has 35 integrated print-on-demand customers – a section of its business which is growing rapidly. It expects orders over its next holiday season to be 25% up on last year, continuing a run of growth that has continued for the last four or five years, compared to a growth of around 5%-10% for the rest of its business.
“We can have 50,000 individual orders in peak season. It’s very important that we are able to ramp up to this level without any interruption to output and to surprising and delighting customers,” Peeling added.
The on-demand bindery will also support Precision’s legacy business, in marketing communications, commercial print and direct mail. Its Narrator system makes book printing simpler and quicker – something that can be sold to these clients.
“A short-run book can be very powerful. We’re finding brands like the lay-flat technique because a product can go across the spine," Peeling said. Narrator offers a series of costed choices which better suit the typical customer, who is mid 20s, female and unlikely to be knowledgeable about paper and print techniques, according to Precision.
The new kit followed a further £750,000 investment in Precision North, Sunderland at the end of June. The company doubled its footprint by 650sqm and installed a new HP Indigo 750, a HP Latex 3000 and a Durst P10.
Precision North is where the group is focusing its wide-format business, including the Yourwalls.com customer wallpaper site launched four months ago and the Wherethetradebuys.co.uk trade site, which won a Big Chip Award for best B2B e-commerce site on 2 July.
Peeling said the Precision Group was on track for a £20m turnover by year end in December. It has 130 staff in London and 25 in Sunderland.