Me & My: Bobst Visionfoil 104

Simon Eccles
Monday, December 20, 2021

Herbert Walkers’ fourth Bobst hot foiling machine has doubled productivity of embellishment for packaging, its fastest growing sector.

Christie: “In our opinion, Bobst is the gold standard for foiling machines”
Christie: “In our opinion, Bobst is the gold standard for foiling machines”

Its main business remains greetings cards, but packaging was a logical progression a few years ago, as both product lines handle card and use foil embellishment. 

Actually Herbert Walkers’ roots go back a long way, with early success built up in the years following the Second World War. In 1946 William Walker returned home to Yorkshire after fighting in the Burma Campaign. Together with his father Herbert, the pair set up a printing company in Shipley. Yorkshire was still one of the major wool producers in the world and the Walkers manufactured shade cards for knitting wool, selling directly to retailers. By the 1960s Herbert Walkers was supplying all the major knitting wool manufacturers in the UK and the US and domestic knitters were now able to access shade cards directly via mail order. The company bought its first four-colour press in 1969 and started producing knitting patterns and other commercial print work. Following moves to accommodate the expanding business the company finally settled in its current location at Dockfields Road in Shipley. Keith Chapman, the current owner, joined the business in a sales role, progressing to sales director and then managing director while business boomed. 

In the following decades society and the economy changed and DIY knitting declined – today the company no longer produces anything for this market. Fortunately Herbert Walkers had found an alternative revenue stream: greetings cards. In the early 1970s it won the Co-op Christmas card contract, which put it on the road to success in that sector. Current contracts include cards for “one of the UK’s major publishers” plus cards, gift card carriers and gift wrapping for major high-street retailers. 

The expertise needed to print and finish cards led to a new venture in folding carton packaging in 2014. It’s been a big success, according to Andy Christie, sales director. “It is now packaging that forms the largest and fastest growing side of our business and we are currently in the process of revamping our website to reflect the focus and activities of Herbert Walkers as we are now, because the company has changed so much over the past 10 years.”

Packaging work handled includes food and confectionery, drinks and cosmetics. The company has BRC food accreditation. 

B1 printing is handled by two Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 106 presses (one with five colours plus coater, one with six plus coater) and a Speedmaster CD 102 six-colour with two coaters (to allow different embellishments on the same run). 

“We have two Bobst cutting and creasing machines,” says Christie. “We have two gluing lines, one Bobst and one Heidelberg, and one window patcher, so all added-value packaging work can be done in-house, which not only means fewer delays and better quality assurance for the client, but a lower carbon footprint for each job too.”

Foiling work

Foil embellishment is important for both greetings cards and packaging, so as well as having all the equipment in-house, Herbert Walkers also makes its own dies. “Most of our work is foiled and clients come to us specifically for our expertise in finishing,” says Christie. “Print over foil is very specialist but it is something we do from time to time on very premium projects; using techniques like that is for projects where the client has specific design goals they want to achieve and the budget to invest in something special. Holographic patterns are also something we can do, in fact any kind of textured pattern is within our capabilities.”

The Bobst Visionfoil 104 that went live in July joins three other Bobst foilers, a BMA and two BMA Foilmasters, one of which is dedicated to debossing work. “Our investment in Bobst machines has been all about enabling us to produce high-end packaging work in-house,” says Christie. “Lots of printers outsource the premium finishing work, but doing it ourselves at Herbert Walkers gives us greater control over costs, quality and production schedules. It enables us to offer complete, single-point accountability to clients.

“We produce our own dies in-house, using the latest Hurco CNC engraving machines. We’ve been making our own dies for about six years now and we went down that route to give us better control over quality and lead times and enable us to handle the volume of throughput we’re dealing with across both greetings cards and packaging. We use CNC engraving to create the dies so we can programme the CNC machine in the evening and it’s ready for use by start of business the following day.” 

What’s a Visionfoil 104?

It’s a sheetfed hot-foil stamping machine with features intended for folding cartons, though it can also handle thin paper down to 80gsm and corrugated up to 4mm thick. Speed for B1-plus is up to 7,500sph. It’s a platen configuration with two or, optionally, four foil web advance shafts and 12 heated zones to allow a choice of die positions across the sheet widths. The foil unwinding cabinet is placed on the outside for easy access. 

Why choose the latest model?

The original Bobst finishing machines have been used for both greetings cards and packaging and that will continue, Christie says. “Before those, we had 14 Heidelberg platens for foiling and embossing greetings cards, but that involved foiling them one at a time. We invested in our first Bobst machines to increase capacity in greetings card finishing but they are integral to our work in both cards and packaging now.”

Bobst was again top of the list when it came to expansion, he says. “In our opinion, Bobst is the gold standard for foiling machines and, having operated three of their machines for several years, we can see the quality and consistency that can be achieved with a Bobst machine, so it was the natural choice when we wanted to increase capacity. We also know that these machines retain their quality and accuracy over a long period so the whole life cost is likely to be less than buying a lower quality, less expensive alternative.

“The new Visionfoil is different from our previous three, however. We acquired it specifically for packaging projects. It runs much faster than the other machines, enabling us to print more sheets per hour; in fact, this one machine has almost doubled our capacity because it is both faster and able to accommodate larger sheets. As a result, we can use it for longer runs and larger items. We can also increase throughput by producing more units on a single sheet.”

How did the adoption go?

There was a bit of a delay due to global shipping shortages but once the Visionfoil 104 arrived there were no more hitches. “The machine was up and running in about four weeks, which was really fast and efficient,” says Christie. “Bobst sent engineers to commission the machine for us and also came to site to train our team, which only took a couple of weeks. 

“The service we receive from Bobst, in terms of training, commissioning the machine and technical support, is always fantastic, so we’ve been able to scale up production significantly with very little disruption to our operations or schedules.”

It fit in smoothly, he says. “It’s an upgrade on anything we’ve had before so, obviously, there are differences, but it is also familiar to our team because they’ve used Bobst machines before, so introducing the new machine was a smooth process.”

“The machine does everything it says on the tin. We’re extremely pleased with how smoothly it’s operating and the quality and consistency we’re getting from it. It has helped us reduce overheads thanks to its running speeds and response times and it’s enabling us to handle bigger volumes, reducing costs for customers by allowing us to fit more units on a sheet, and giving us the capacity to take on more packaging work.

“We are definitely happy with the choice of machine we made in purchasing the Bobst Visionfoil and would certainly recommend it. We’re now running 7,000 sheets an hour instead of the 2,000-3,000 we had before. It will play a key role in our growth plans because we’re now able to do bigger jobs faster, as well as gaining the capacity we need to drive our growth in the packaging sector.” 


SPECIFICATIONS

Media Paper from 80gsm, carton or solid board, up to 2,000gsm, corrugated board, up to 4mm thick

Max sheet size 1,040x740mm

Min sheet size 400x350mm

Feeder Up to 1,400mm (normal mode), 1,100mm (non-stop, manual)

Delivery Up to 1,100mm

Max stamping and embossing size 1,010x702mm

Stamping force Up to 2.6MN, 3MN on request

Foil web width 25-1,020mm

Web advance shafts Two or four

Price About £650,000

Contact Bobst 01527 519700 www.bobst.com


COMPANY PROFILE

Based in Shipley, Yorkshire, Herbert Walkers was founded in 1946. In the year to March 2020 it turned over £13.5m. Originally set up to print wool colour cards, it switched to greetings cards in the 1970s and this took over as the main business. Since 2014 it has seen increasing success with folding cartons. Most products are foil stamped and the company has four Bobst foiling machines, including the latest Visionfoil 104. 

Why it was bought...

The company wanted to increase capacity for packaging embellishment and turned to Bobst as a trusted supplier. 

How has it performed... 

“The new Bobst Visionfoil 104 has increased capacity at Herbert Walkers, enabling us to do longer print runs,” says sales director Andy Christie. “Because it handles larger sheets, it also allows us to do bigger projects or fit more units on a single run. This means we can achieve cost efficiencies that we can pass on to the client and we can take on a greater variety of work, particularly for large volume projects.”

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