Me & my... Agfa Anapurna M2050
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Adding flatbed firepower has enabled Manor Printing to reduce its turnaround times and outsourcing requirements, and secure new business
Andy Hallas, owner of Leicester POS specialist Manor Printing, used to be a one-man band operating out of a shed with a single Multilith 1250. That was back in 1989. Fast forward 23 years and he now heads up a 10-staff team operating the latest digital, litho and wide-format kit. Yet the world of one-man operations he left behind is coming back to haunt him.
"Fifteen years ago, POS was a lot more lucrative than general print," he explains. "But the digital market has changed things. The margins have gone down because you are always going to get guys with a single machine in their garage knocking out work very cheaply because they don’t have the overheads that we do. I guess that was me 20 years ago, so maybe I’m getting a bit of my own medicine!"
Hallas manages to separate himself from the competition, though, with the flexibility of a range of print technologies and the highest quality standards, with all machines calibrated to Fogra standards.
"Being mainly a POS printer, we need to have the highest quality of colour, matching skin tones and brand colours exactly," he says.
Up until a year ago, the company was running a five-colour Komori Lithrone 540, a Xerox 700i and a Roland print-and-cut machine. Comprehensive though this raft of kit was, Hallas felt he was missing something.
"We had litho with the Komori and roll-fed with the Roland, but we needed flatbed capability to print direct to substrate," he reveals. "We were printing and mounting a lot of work and it seemed like the sensible thing to do to bring in a flatbed machine."
For Hallas, the choice came down to HP or Agfa. The HP machines, he says, "were not overly impressive" in his opinion, so he went to Agfa’s showroom and tried out some test jobs on the Anapurna M2050.
"We took one of our proofs up and the litho print we produced to colour match it," he explains. "We put the file through the Anapurna without any calibration whatsoever and it got very close indeed. It really sold the machine to me."
The Anapurna M2050 is a UV-curable inkjet machine, with both flatbed and roll capability, suitable for 2,050mm-wide prints and with a top speed of 53m/hr.
It has eight 12 picolitre printheads that Agfa says give "good solids and fine text reproduction down to 6pt". It also uses Anapurna UV inks, which Agfa says give "faster drying, material versatility and a wider colour gamut". The printer is capable of 720x1,440dpi on uncoated rigid media.
Agfa says the machine is highly automated, with the automatic vacuum system delivering an equal vacuum throughout the whole printing process, whether printing on roll or rigid materials, ensuring accurate media transport. It also has automatic media registration, bar and head height adjustment and it incorporates a set of shuttle safety sensors to prevent printheads from touching the substrate.
The machine arrived at Manor Printing in March last year. Fortunately for Hallas, he had bought the warehouse behind the Manor Printing premises eight years ago and had since been using it as a "massive shed". So as of March, it made a very nice home for his new machine.
"We had to prep it a little bit – putting in an air conditioning system for starters to keep the room a constant temperature – and also tidy it up a bit!" he explains. "Installation went very smoothly, it is a lot simpler than installing a litho press and being on the ground floor it was a pretty simple job."
Two staff members were put through the training course and Hallas says they came out of it really well. That said, he admits that he sets more store by acquiring hands-on experience.
"The manufacturer can only show you so much," he explains. "You have to get on the machine and play with it. So for the first six months I did not really go out and sell it, because we wanted to get used to it. The work seemed to come in for it anyway, though; it has been very busy!"
He says he moved a lot of work that was done on the roll-fed machine onto the Anapurna, and he also brought the work he was sending out to large-format litho
printers in-house onto the Agfa machine. The machine has also enabled the company to attract new rigid substrate work.
The vast majority of this work is short-run, says Hallas, and the speed of the machine met the company’s requirements. "If we were a screen printer into longer runs, we may have looked elsewhere, but for short-run work, it is perfect."
In terms of turning around the work, printing direct to substrate has predictably given turnaround times a boost and saved the company money too.
Quality-wise, he is equally pleased. The retail market is a demanding one and Hallas says the machine is more than up to the challenge, with quality comparable to both the litho and digital machines in the company’s arsenal.
Hallas says he is perhaps pushing the machine beyond what many printers use it for. Typically, he says, the machines go to sign shops that generally do not have to run quite as strictly to colour standards as Manor does, but working with major brands and retailers means Hallas does have to push the machine to the very limit.
"We have spent a lot of money calibrating the machine so it matches litho quality. With us, it has to be spot on," he says. "The engineers say they don’t generally see printers with these machines striving to meet cosmetic skin tones and things like that – they just aren’t in that market so much – and so the money we have spent and the results we are getting have surprised them.
"We had a few teething issues as a result, but it has been a learning curve for both us and them – with adjustments made to the machine so it can do what we need it to."
Agfa UK wide-format inkjet product and channel manager Steve Collins responds that the Anapurna comes as standard with colour profiles designed to support printing standards such as ISO 12467 and Fogra and that Agfa engineers work with the printer to ensure the press hits those standards. He adds: "In addition to the capability of printing onto uncoated flexible and rigid substrates for indoor and outdoor POS and signage, commercial printers want the ability to replicate the quality and colour they achieve on their litho presses, and because of Agfa’s knowledge and expertise in colour management, we can enable customers to offer that litho quality in new markets."
The white stuff
One of the major plusses of the machine in terms of those new markets, according to Hallas, is the white ink capability. The M2050 has a fully separated white ink management system and a separate circulation system, a separate under-pressure-regulation and a separate cleaning circuit. The white ink tank is also equipped with a stirring mechanism to keep the ink properly mixed at all times.
Agfa says the white ink capability opens up possibilities for printing on transparent material for backlit or backlit/frontlit applications or printing white as a spot colour. Hallas has found it invaluable.
"We can print a post-white and a pre-white, which means we can do jobs that are not the norm," says Hallas. "If we have a prototype to do on clear plastics, for example, we can put the white down, lay the four colour and then put the white down on top – all in one pass. It has been a real bonus."
Looking ahead to the rest of 2013, Hallas hopes to utilise this and the machine’s many other functions more widely. He says the machine has been incredibly cost-effective and is repaying its price rapidly. This year, he says, is looking positive.
"The machine is definitely paying for itself and there are some good vibes out there for 2013 and I think we are in a great position to capitalise with this machine," he says. "We are looking to expand sales to be produced on it. It is all positive and the investment has played a big part in that optimism."
Max speed 53sqm/hr
Max print width Up to 1,560x3,200mm on rigid media; up to 1.56m on wide roll substrates
Max substrate thickness 45mm
Max substrate weight 10kg/sqm
Image quality 720x1,440dpi (uncoated rigid media)
Inks CMYK, LC, LM and white
Contact Agfa 020 8231 4983 www.agfagraphics.com
Leicester POS specialist Manor Printing was set up by owner Andy Hallas in 1989 as a part-time business operating from a shed. Since then, the business has become a limited company and grown to employ 10 staff. Clients are mostly from the retail sector and the business runs digital, litho and wide-format kit to meet customer demands. A five-colour Komori Lithrone 540, a Xerox 700i and a Roland print and cut machine were last year joined by the Agfa Anapurna M2050.
Why it was bought…
Hallas wanted to add a flatbed machine to his roster of kit in order to bring more work in-house, produce more rigid work and to cut costs and turnaround times. After comparing the Agfa and HP offerings and running test jobs, he decided the Agfa was the machine more suited to his needs and installation took place in March 2012.
How it has performed…
Hallas has been delighted with both the speed and quality the machine is capable of. Together with Agfa, he has calibrated the machine to meet Fogra standards to match client demands for colour quality. He has also been impressed with the white capability of the machine, which has opened up new jobs for the company.