By Jez Abbott, Monday 11 September 2017
When it arrived on Valentine’s Day it could almost have been love at first sight. Like all love interests, however, Swallowmax’s new Komori Lithrone G29 H-UV came with expectations and pressures, moments of torrid drama and the occasional foible to try even the most attentive of press minders.
The G29 delivery on that auspicious day for lovers, 14 February 2017, was met by director Rob Beaton’s team seeing it over the threshold. Most of the work the Enfield-based business completes is for agencies or print managers, for which Beaton’s staff of around 20 produce folders and short-run booklets. The market, however, is fast, with the twinning of speed and quality evermore crucial.
“In terms of growth, we had hit a wall,” recalls Beaton. “We had significantly more work on offer from clients but were not entirely confident we would always meet delivery expectations. We were therefore reluctant to accept some of that work. We needed something to take away those fears in the form of a machine with excellent reliability, super-fast production and strong colour control.”
Both expectations and pressures on the new arrival were even more pronounced: Beaton’s was the first company to commission the B2 Komori Lithrone G29 H-UV and he admits to being a little nervous on how his press operators would find the sophisticated UV technology, heavier inks and high printing speeds. The new press replaced an older model, a Komori Lithrone 528, nearing 20 years old.
“We had always been a Komori house and the other machine was still good. But it was old and getting tired. Meanwhile the H-UV technology on the new equipment is what really interested me, especially as everything now has to be turned around very quickly with absolutely no compromise on quality. We also like to do as much in-house as possible and saw the potential to add print on to plastics and vinyl to our service capabilities.”
Swallowmax may have always been a Komori house, but Beaton was taking no chances and cast his critical eye further and wider. Ryobi tried to sell its LED technology as a competitive alternative to Komori’s H-UV, “but they were well off the mark”. And Beaton felt that Heidelberg didn’t have the “proven track record on H-UV technology of Komori, which has been doing this for a number of years”.
The Lithrone G29 on the other hand thumps out print jobs at 16,500sph while the fast-drying H-UV system is perfect for the increasing number of buyers specifying uncoated stock that requires heavy ink coverage. All of this, combined with the kit’s pin-sharp, highly intuitive colour-control system, throws open the opportunity of 24/7 work.
And after the Komori reps had spelled this out, Beaton was sold enough to pay a deposit in July 2016 before going out to the demo centre in Holland two months later. With him was his senior production manager and ex-Komori minder Peter Husband to check out tests on uncoated and then lightweight stocks in front of several potential buyers. Then came the test on board.
“They ran a demo job on 350gsm board with full ink coverage at 16,500sph. We just stood there and looked at each other: it didn’t appear to be straining at all; it looked like it could go even faster. I was very impressed with its performance and looks – it’s very very modern in appearance. We knew then and there it was the right technology and right move for our business.”
And after a confirmation demo at a print company in the UK, Beaton paid the balance on the deposit. The total cost of the four-colour B2 Komori Lithrone G29 H-UV was just shy of £500,000. Fortunately, no expensive work was needed to accommodate the press. Swallowmax is based in an old steelworks, so the floors are “rock solid” and needed no beefing up to take the new machine.
It was also the same size and the Lithrone 528 it replaced. So when the G92 was trucked over in several parts to Brimsdown Business Area, craned off and brought into the factory, there was minimal extra costs or disruption. The only change was an upgrade of electrical fuses. Installation – from delivery to print testing – took three-and-a-half weeks, exactly as promised by Komori.
“As a businessman, was I frustrated at the time it took? Yes. But they kept to the given timescale and I cannot fault them for that.” And the new kit is now thrumming alongside another B2 machine, a five-colour Mitsubishi Diamond, a large-format Epson Surecolor S70600 printer and Xerox 770 and Versant digital presses.
Swallowmax has no design studio, so all the creative work comes from agencies, designers and print brokers via Dropbox. Files are run through the company’s Trueflow pre-press system before ripped PDF proofs are sent back to clients for approval with a delivery date. After printing, jobs are finished on kit including MB folding machines, Heidelberg cylinder and platen, Horizon bookletmaker and StitchLiner and an Autobond laminator.
“I was nervous how our minders would adapt; it was a steep learning curve and a complete change. Some picked it up straight away while others struggled to get to grips with the concept as much as the technology. But the Komori demonstrators worked with them and they are coming along well. From installation in February, we were in production by mid March.”
Another challenge was in preparation, or what Beaton calls “housekeeping”. There is a much smaller “window of tolerance” on the G29 than conventional litho. Water-ink balances for example must be spot on, Meanwhile cost of the inks themselves is three times that of standard ink, but with more people using the technology and competition hotting up, Beaton is hopeful that prices will come down.
And there have been one or two minor issues, such as dot gain on the processless plates being used. This happened recently and is still being smoothed out. Swallowmax, which had already upgraded its six-plate-an-hour machine to one that produces 22 to match the faster speeds of the G29, may go back to conventional processed plates. Beaton’s team is also trialling other plates.
“H-UV inks are quite hard on the plates and we are working with our plate supplier to try and solve the issue. The one thing in our favour is we don’t tend to do long run lengths, which can put more wear on the plates. Small and medium run lengths are not so damaging. Another plus is backup, spare parts and service: Komori is excellent and quick to respond.”
Speed of makereadies has more than doubled, while the number of ‘overs’ has also improved dramatically. On the old kit Swallowmax had to allow for up to 500 overs on a job, but with the G29 it has dropped to 50 to 100.
Overall, Beaton recommends the machine and would buy another, but with one small change.
“My only regret with the machine is it’s a four-colour model and next time I’d go for a five-colour Lithrone. We don’t get an awful lot of five-colour work, and already have the five-colour Mitsubishi Diamond. But now we have the new Komori Lithrone G29 H-UV, I’d like to put as much work through it as possible.”
Max sheet size 530x750mm
Max print area 520x740mm
Max media thickness Up to 600 micron folding boxboard; 470 micron on plastic
Max speed 16,500sph
Number of units Four (press is available with up to eight)
Price Just under £500,000
Contact Komori 0113 823 9200 firstname.lastname@example.org
Swallowmax offers lithographic, digital and large-format print and boasts custom-ink and finishing applications. Most print from the company in Enfield, Middlesex, is for agencies and print managers, for which it produces large volumes of folders and short-run booklet work. The business makes around £1.5m a year in sales and other kit includes a B2 five-colour Mitsubishi Diamond, a large-format Epson Surecolor S70600 printer and Xerox digital presses. A merchandising arm, SMX, produces branding and promotional print.
Why it was bought
“We needed to upgrade our old machine and wanted a faster, all singing and dancing machine,” says director Rob Beaton, who was also keen to branch into new areas such as print on plastic and vinyl and to bring more work in house.
How it has performed
“The new Lithrone G29 has performed very well and met my expectations. It has done exactly what we were told it would do and Komori’s well-established back up was a big reassurance – the very few small issues we’ve had have been easily resolved and I would buy another machine.”