Kenneth E Plowman (hence KEP) was originally a sign writer. His wife Irene, son Mark and Mark’s wife Anita decided they could capitalise on his talent by purchasing a printing press so he wouldn’t need to hand write duplicates for multiple sign orders. To help pay for the press Mark and Anita visited local businesses, canvasing for small jobs. The work took off and KEP Visuals was able to move into more spacious premises and continue to grow.
Now named KEP Print Group, today’s company employs 115 people and turns over more than £14m. It handles a wide range of commercial as well as point-of-sale printing. This year it more than doubled its available floor area with the purchase of an additional two units on the Two Gates Trading Estate. This is just a few metres from Watling Street, the ancient Roman Road that passes through Tamworth.
KEP is still owned by the Plowman family, with Mark as managing director and Anita as director and company secretary. Nicole Plowman, daughter-in-law of Mark and Anita, is marketing and strategy director. “Because of the wide range of our equipment and service offerings, we are able to accommodate a variety of customers,” she says. “We specialise in retail campaigns, XL large format print, and have litho, digital, and screen presses in house. We also have graphic designers, a cardboard engineering department, collation house, and warehousing on-site.”
The end of last year saw a £115,000 investment in a Genesis-V digital cutting table made by UK manufacturer Blackman & White. This joined a wide range of kit including a five-colour Manroland 900 XXL, a 10-colour perfecting Manroland 710, an HP Indigo 7900, an HP Scitex 11000 industrial flatbed and a Lamina Blackline 1620 laminator. Other finishing capabilities include semi-automatic taping, cutting and die-cutting, gluing, guillotining, stitching, folding, drilling and collating. Esko Artios CAD software is used for cardboard engineering and packaging design.
What’s a Genesis-V?
Blackman & White was the subject of one of Printweek’s Best of British profiles of UK manufacturers in May. It’s a 55-year-old company based in Maldon, Essex, that has been making computer-driven cutters since 1974.
Most of its products are heavy-duty CNC industrial cutters, but the Genesis-V was specifically developed with the graphics sector in mind. It’s available in width options of 1.6m, 2.2m and 3.2m, with a choice of 1.5m or 3m lengths. KEP has a 3.2m-wide model.
All models use a conveyor belt for media transport but can operate as fixed flatbeds. They can take materials up to 50mm thick, including paper, card, foamboard, acrylics, aluminium composites, as well as woven textiles and composites. There are twin drop-in tool stations that take knife, crease, router and laser cutting tools as well as plotting pens.
The dual-gantry twin tool stations allow cutting and creasing to be handled on the same run. Camera registration is optional, but was important to KEP’s choice. The maximum cutting speed is 1,200mm/second, with a maximum move speed of 1,250mm/second (and up to 1G head acceleration).
At Fespa in May the Genesis range was expanded with the Genesis-Z model, featuring faster 2m/second operation and new features including a ‘virtual fence’ dual-zone safety system, which will automatically slow down and then pause the machine if people or other obstructions get too close.
Why choose it
KEP already had a 1.68x3.2m bed Esko Kongsberg digital finishing table and a couple of platens used for full-scale cutting and creasing work.
“The Genesis is replacing an older sampling table,” says Nicole Plowman. “We still use the Kongsberg for production. For us, this decision was less about what it could do that the Kongsberg couldn’t. It was important to us that this was a lower cost machine, had print recognition unlike our older sampling table, and it was made in the UK with all parts manufactured in the UK, so repairs take a shorter amount of time.”
The company did look at other tables, she says. “Obviously Kongsberg, since we were familiar with them. We were introduced to Blackman & White through a connection with their PR team who heard we were looking for a sampling table. They were looking to break into the print market and a discussion was struck from that.”
How is it performing?
“The installation was carried out by Blackman & White and it was very quick – only a couple of days,” says Plowman. “Ours is an ex-demo model, as they wanted to upgrade the one they had on site.
How did the operators find it? Tony Kilgallen, design and development manager , explains that “because they were used to the Kongsberg, there was a bit of retraining”.
Kilgallen was instrumental in the selection and purchase of this piece of equipment and is the primary user of the table. “It operates very similarly to the Kongsberg,” he finds. “It would be very easy to migrate from one to the other with a small amount of training.”
The Genesis fits in well, he says. “We find the software to be very intuitive. We have found it very easy to use. Tool changeovers are quicker than the Kongsberg. The software is very intuitive, it feels very obvious to set up and work. Setup times are comparable to the Kongsberg.
“In our experience, it is a bit slower than the Kongsberg, but we didn’t buy it for that reason. It’s a better machine than what we anticipated – with the camera software and print recognition software, it’s become a much more versatile machine than we were expecting. Rather than just a sampling table, we could, in fact, use it for production runs.”
However, being the first buyer for a print application, KEP found that the Genesis-V needed some tweaking. “Because the machine hasn’t been developed initially for the print industry, we’ve worked in conjunction with B&W to give feedback for setups and tools,” Kilgallen says. “Their response has been very good and they are keen to get our feedback. When we’ve had issues, we’ve had very quick response. If any problems, we’ve had an engineer on site within 24 hours every time without fail, which is important to keep the machine running.”
Overall, adopting the Genesis-V has been a success, Plowman says. “We’re very happy with the finished quality of the product that comes from this machine. Having a second machine has been instrumental for our success. By keeping our Kongsberg available for longer runs, we have increased its capacity. And this cutting table is now readily available for the samples we produce for our clients.”
Good and bad points?
“Ease of use is the best part,” says Kilgallen. “I think in print, we always want a machine to be faster! But it does everything we expected it to do and more. For other buyers, it’s important to know that this is a standalone cutting system and ours is not integrated with the standard design and cutting software suites.”
So, would they choose the Genesis-V again, given a year’s experience? “Yes, absolutely,” says Plowman. “This machine also really opens up the opportunity for smaller businesses who are unable to afford a more expensive machine to purchase a cutting table and enter a new market.”
KEP Print Group is a 40-year-old family-run company on the outskirts of Tamworth in the Midlands, offering general commercial print as well as large-format signage and POS display services. It employs 115 people and turns over more than £14m. Production equipment is a mix of litho, large- and small-format digital and screen process with a range of finishing kit. Large-format cutting is primarily handled by a Kongsberg digital table. The most recent Blackman & White Genesis-V table is largely employed as a sample cutter.
Why it was bought...
KEP wanted to update its sampling capabilities and was approached by Blackman & White while assessing its options. The Genesis-V is a CNC table aimed at graphics applications, with dual tool capability for cutting, creasing and other functions. The vacuum zoned table has a belt transport system. A camera registration head is optional and used by KEP.
How it has performed...
“Because of this machine, we’re able to create production samples closer to initial concept from the beginning,” says Nicole Plowman. “The old cutting table didn’t have print recognition, so now we’re able to make an impact with samples that are very close to actual production spec. Adding this machine has made our production run smoother because we can free up our Kongsberg for production runs, creating realistic samples quicker than before. This has definitely made our lives easier and we have won sales on the back of it.”
Table cut width options 1.6m, 2.2m and 3.2m
Table cut length options 1.5m and 3m
Max cutting speed 1,200mm/second
Maximum move speed 1,250mm/second
Cut accuracy 0.1mm
Maximum cutting thickness 50mm
Price £115,000 for KEP’s configuration
Contact Blackman & White 01621 843 404 www.blackmanandwhite.com