Me and My... KBA Rapida 75

Jenny Roper
Friday, March 1, 2013

Many things have changed at Mastercolour over the past three decades, but the firm's love of KBA presses is not one of them

Many things have changed since Tunbridge Wells-based printer Mastercolour first set up shop in 1982. Shellsuits have been and gone, Walkmen have achieved retro status, and the names Leonardo and Michelangelo are once more most commonly associated with Renaissance artists, rather than martial-arts-performing reptiles. But throughout all of this, as staff haircuts have gone from skinheads, to mullets, to curtains and back to skin (or rather bald) heads again, one thing has remained reassuringly constant in the Mastercolour pressroom: the presence of KBA presses.

In fact, Mastercolour also still processes much the same sort of work it did back in the days when leg warmers and coq au vin were still the height of sophistication. "We still do the same kind of work now as we were doing then," reports managing director Philip Exall. "We do a lot of work for insurance companies, building societies and banks, a lot of corporate literature, and work for the retail and charity sector. That’s their brochures, leaflets, posters, all that sort of thing."

Of course Mastercolour, now a £6.4m company, couldn’t have survived and prospered as well as it has without also moving with the times. The KBA line-up, now joined by a whole plethora of other pre- and post-press kit, such as a Horizon VAC-60Ha collator and a Vacumatic Viscount counting machine purchased last year, looks rather different to how it did back in 1982. Starting with two four-colour B2 KBA SROs, the company has gradually upgraded its presses and today boasts one six-colour Rapida 74, one six-colour Rapida 74 perfector, a five-colour Rapida 105 coater and, the jewel in the crown, a six-colour Rapida 75 installed last July.

Client pressure

The reasons for bringing in this latest model were simple. At the time, the company had two five-colour Rapida 72s that had provided faithful service for 14 years, but were starting to slow down and become more temperamental.

"We’ve got clients who are demanding things in two or three days when it used to be five or six, and to be honest it was becoming a struggle," explains Exall. "The 72s were taking 40-odd minutes to make-ready on a colour sheet and were unable to run quickly enough. There was increased overtime and weekend working. On occasions, we had to literally beg people to work overnight."

It was time, then, for another upgrade. Though self-confessed KBA nuts, the Mastercolour team do apparently occasionally consider other manufacturers. But KBA apparently offered such a good deal on the purchase of the two aging 72s and the sale of the 75, that Exall didn’t feel the need to look elsewhere.

"When we’ve looked at replacing presses in the past, we have looked at other machines, but always end up buying a KBA," reports Exall. "I’m sure Heidelbergs are very good machines, but we’ve just got such a good relationship with KBA."

Keeping Mastercolour a KBA-only house also makes maintenance and operation easier, adds Exall. "If one guy’s off, another can move on to that machine," he says. "The nuts and bolts of these presses are very similar so it doesn’t take that long for our guys to train and work on the new machines."

Another KBA it was then. Mastercolour’s fourteenth, in fact. So has the manufacturer once again lived up to Exall’s expectations? In a word, yes. But Exall inevitably has more than one word of praise for the company and its products.

"Now we’re able to makeready on the new machine for some jobs in less than five minutes, so you can imagine the difference there," he says. "The quick makereadies and faster running speed have more than made up for the fact that we replaced two machines with one. We’re actually running the 75 for 24 hours a day along with our B1 presses, and we’re getting more out of 24 hours than we were getting out of 38 hours previously."

This boost in productivity has enabled the company to take on new business, and to be generally more confident in agreeing to very tight turnarounds.

"The machine’s not allowing us to actually offer any tighter turnarounds –we’ve always been able to offer those because we had five presses and so could be pretty flexible – but it’s helping us to achieve those turnarounds," says Exall.

"We are continually being asked for last-minute jobs," he continues. "We do some work for a bank where we get the artwork for 250,000 leaflets on Wednesday and are told this work needs to be in branches by Friday morning, and we have to produce, trim, fold and deliver them to the distribution network in 36 hours. It’s enabled us to do that without any fear whatsoever, whereas previously we were terrified, because with bank rate changes, these things can’t be late; it’s legislation, so if they miss the bank networks, then we’ve had it."

The new KBA has helped Exall achieve peace of mind on the environmental front as well. The Rapida 75 features environmentally friendly washing systems for its rollers, blankets and impression cylinders and an Ergotronic control console, which enables users to preset ink metering for specific jobs. The inbuilt Techkon Spectrodrive colour measurement scanner also uses 50% less energy than comparable presses, says KBA.

Greener performance

Exall adds that the quick makeready time of the press also has the added bonus of reducing the firm’s environmental footprint.

"We were making ready on 300 sheets of four-colour section previously, and now we’re looking at fewer than 100," he reports.

He continues that, not only do the Rapida 75’s environmental credentials help the company achieve its targets as one of only a few UK printers with an EMAS environmental certification, but that these are also improving Mastercolour’s bottom line. "We’re looking forward to comparing last year’s energy against this year’s," he says. "We’ll probably save in the region of £8,000 or £9,000 on energy use. With the alcohol and water reduction factored in, you’re probably looking at savings of £15,000 to £20,000."

The training and service support lent by KBA has also been characteristically strong, reports Exall. "Though the machine’s been running really well, there were a few teething problems," he says. "There was a problem with the grippers, a very minor thing where the machine just needed to settle down a bit. It wasn’t picking up the sheets properly. But the service with that was excellent. We had the problem at 9pm and, because we have remote service support, by 8am the next day the KBA engineer was here sorting it out."

Exall does though have just one minor gripe with his new machine. Due to this model’s compact size, the ink storage ducts are a little smaller than he would like. "That means when we have a very long run we’re up there all the time putting the ink in," he says. "That’s not too much of a problem. We haven’t thought about an ink pumping system yet, but we might in time. At the moment we’re coping okay though."

"The Rapida 75 and 76 do have slightly smaller ink fountains compared with the 74, but the issue of size of ink ducts on longer runs tends to be addressed with automatic ink pumping systems which are widely available," confirms KBA UK technical support manager Craig Bretherton.

Cost savings

And Exall is nonetheless justifiably very pleased with his purchase. The new press hasn’t necessarily boosted the company’s turnover as such, but has rather helped insulate Mastercolour from falling print prices. With the bottom line boosted by the cost savings made on energy and consumables, the press, says Exall, puts Mastercolour in a very comfortable place going forwards.

With the printer soon to host an open day for other prospective KBA customers, it looks very much, then, like the long-established Mastercolour-KBA relationship will blossom well into the future. While the pressroom technology and haircuts may well go through many iterations over the coming decades, it seems the KBA badge, for Mastercolour, is here to stay.


Max sheet size 530x750mm (standard), 605x750mm (optional)

Min sheet size 330x330mm

Number of colours two to eight, plus coating unit

Substrate weight range 0.04-0.6mm (standard), 0.04-0.8mm (optional)

Max speed 15,000sph (standard), 16,000sph (optional), 13,000sph (with seven units or more)

Price six-colour: from £650,000, depending on configuration

Contact KBA UK 01923 819922



Mastercolour was established in 1982 and is still processing much the same sorts of commercial work – brochures, leaflets, posters and flyers for customers in the banking, publishing, retail and charity sectors – today as it did then. Although the kit line-up has evolved as the company has grown, the company has stayed a very loyal KBA house throughout its 30-year existence. This 60-staff, £6.4m-turnover company’s plant list today includes four KBA machines, Screen platesetters, Wohlenberg guillotines, a Heidelberg Cylinder creaser, cutter and perforator, and a Heidelberg Prosetter 562 saddle stitcher.

Why it was bought...

The latest addition to the KBA line-up, a B2 six-colour Rapida 75 press, replaced two 14-year-old, five-colour Rapida 72s. The idea was to bring in a machine with print and makeready speeds that would not only match the output of its two predecessors, but outstrip it.

How it has performed...

Managing director Philip Exall reports that the machine has delivered just the boost to production the firm anticipated it would. Its reliability has also made the company feel more secure in offering quick turnarounds. "The machine’s been running really well, it’s been performing just as we wanted it to," he says. "We’re very, very pleased with the machine, and very, very pleased with KBA.


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