Me & My... Canon Océ VarioPrint i300

Following a review, it became clear to Latcham Direct that inkjet was a game-changer, providing high quality and productivity at reduced costs.

Hughes: “The i300 hits the sweet spot for us”
Hughes: “The i300 hits the sweet spot for us”

Normally PrintWeek rounds off its Me & My Machine case studies with the question “would you buy it again?” Latcham Direct pre-empted us by installing a second Canon Océ VarioPrint i300 inkjet press in January this year, about six months after its first. The sheer productivity of these inkjet presses has allowed Latcham to handle colour work in-house that had previously been outsourced to litho printers for fixed content, then personalised on digital toner presses.

Set up in 2010 by Mike Hughes, who is MD, Latcham Direct provides marketing and document fulfilment services to the financial services, membership, local authority, health and utilities sectors. It has grown steadily both through sales efforts and the acquisitions of two other companies – CompuStat in 2018, then on-demand digital print and creative specialist Accent in November 2019. Its turn­over is currently about £15m.

In these unusual and difficult recent weeks, it’s been kept very busy supplying vital communications for the NHS, local authorities and other essential services. It’s particularly promoting the hybrid mail service it launched last year, combining several documents from separate sources (or even customers) in the same envelope/enclosure. “It’s early days yet, but as remote working becomes more common, we envision more organisations outsourcing their printing to our centre, where we manage it for them and they don’t have to touch it,” says Hughes.

Latcham’s 8,360sqm production site in Bristol operates a range of digital print solutions including high-speed continuous inkjet web, as well as high-quality sheetfed inkjet and toner-based devices. Last September, it installed a Duplo iSaddle Pro saddle stitcher, bringing total investment in 2019 to £1m including equipment and the Accent takeover. Latcham also has offices in Crawley.

Hughes says: “Our customers demand a high level of service quality and compliance. Having replaced one Xerox iGen printer with our first i300 last year, we decided to replace all of our cut-sheet colour digital printers with Canon equipment, including a second i300 and two toner C850/910 machines. These now sit alongside our Ricoh InfoPrint 5000 continuous inkjet and four Xerox mono printers.”

Why choose the Canon i300?
The existing Xerox iGen and DocuColor sheet-fed toner presses were coming to the end of their contract periods. “Colin Mattinson, Latcham’s operations director, carried out a detailed review of all equipment available and it became clear that inkjet was a game-changer, providing high quality and productivity with reduced cost per page,” says Hughes.

As well as transferring work from the old machines, the greater quality and efficiency of the inkjet press allowed Latcham to transfer litho pre-print work back in-house. Hughes says: “The i300 has been a game-changer, enabling us to provide highly-quality, just-in-time digital colour. Our customers just can’t tell the difference between high-quality inkjet and litho.

“Much of the mono work has also been moved onto the i300, which would not have been cost-effective under the previous model where we had both colour and mono toner devices.

Latcham decided to purchase its second i300 to boost capacity and provide back-up contingency as its customers require strict service levels.

Was anything else considered?
“Latcham had already invested in the Ricoh IP5000 colour inkjet web press in 2017 to replace our continuous toner devices and to deliver colour letters and forms,” says Hughes. “We did look at other web presses and there are some impressive machines in the market, but they were either too expensive, too big or didn’t provide the flexibility we need to service shorter run transactional and direct marketing work.”

What’s a VarioPrint i300?
When Canon introduced the B3 format VarioPrint i300 in 2015, it was one of the first relatively low-cost but high-performance sheetfed inkjet presses – previously sheetfed inkjets had been mostly B2 format, which were relatively slow and much more expensive. It was introduced under the Océ brand name, recently renamed Canon Production Print. It was followed by the slower, lower cost i200 to make what Canon calls the i-Series.

At Drupa 2016, Canon added ColorGrip, which prints priming liquid underneath every colour drop, to print on uncoated offset papers, or with higher quality on inkjet coated grades.

Direct mail and transactional printers moving from SRA3 dry toner presses were the main target from the start, with Canon claiming that the i300 was the most productive digital press in its class. Today it says that the 250 machines installed worldwide have an average uptime of 94%.

Although an i300 costs more than high-end toner Kodak NexPresses and Xerox iGens, it is twice as fast with speeds up to 300 A4 ppm, while ink costs are lower than toner click rates.

With experience under the Latcham operators’ belts, Hughes says that the costings are now apparent. He says: “The cost per page varies depending on the ink coverage, so you have to be careful that this is taken into account when estimating. The capital cost of the equipment is higher, but the cost per page is lower on average. What really stands out though is the sheer efficiency of these machines – with very little downtime and constant output, they are real workhorses.”

In April this year, Canon announced two new sheetfed inkjet presses, originally due for launch at Drupa: the iX-3200, with an increased speed of 320 A4 ppm; and iX-2100, for 210 A4 ppm. Both use new 1,200dpi print heads (double that of the i300) and new pigment inks that are said to give image quality that exceeds dry or liquid toners (the latter being HP Indigo). Canon says that the original i-series will still be sold alongside the iX-series.

How has it been in practise?
“We are very pleased with the i300s,” says Hughes. “They have surpassed our high expectations and allowed us to consolidate most of our digital printing from both colour and mono devices and from litho, which was being outsourced before. Key is the ability to produce litho quality personalised documents at speed.”

Installation went smoothly, he says. “Canon was very efficient with the installation and on-boarding of the new machine, which took around three weeks to install and commission. We really were pleased with the whole process as well as ongoing maintenance. The engineers are great and resolve issues quickly.”

There haven’t been any real problems , he says. “As with any new device, there are always one or two glitches. Canon was able to speedily resolve them within hours. Overall, the service and maintenance has been impressive. Latcham operators love the machine as it has great uptime and is very efficient compared with the previous iGen colour toner printers.”

Any niggles? “The paper weight of the i300 is limited to 300gsm and B3, so we have to produce some heavier weighted products or extended sheet sizes on the C850/910s, at a premium,” says Hughes. “The only other issue is maybe its size: it is big compared with other cut-sheet devices, but similar in size to a B2 four-colour litho press.

“On the plus side, inkjet printing and the i300 is much better for the environment than toner, with lower energy consumption per page, removal of microplastics (toner) and more recyclable inks. We hope to be supplying most of the power with solar in the future as well.”

Latcham’s second i300 answers the “would you buy it again” question, but would Hughes recommend that others do the same? “We would definitely recommend this machine and we are happy with our purchase. The next generation of Canons promise to have higher resolution and can handle increased paper weights, but are more expensive. The i300 hits the sweet spot for us.”

Specifications
Process Drop-on-demand sheetfed piezo inkjet
Inks Water-based pigment
Paper sizes From 203x203mm to 488x320mm. With optional guide: 178x254mm. With PIM-XL: 353x500mm
Stock weight range 60–300gsm
Speed Up to 300 A4 images/minute, or 106 duplex A3 images
Front end Prismasync Controller
Price About £750,000 depending on configuration
Contact Canon UK 0870 600500 www.canon.co.uk

Company profile
Latcham Direct is an established print, data, digital, marketing and fulfilment provider based in Bristol. It was set up in 2010 by Mike Hughes and now has a turnover of about £15m. Its production site in Bristol provides direct mail, marketing and fulfilment services to local authorities, health, financial services, utilities and member organisations.

Latcham’s first Canon VarioPrint i300 B3 sheetfed inkjet press allowed it to increase capacity for high-quality print with more speed and efficiency, at a lower environmental cost. A second i300 was added six months later. It also installed Canon ImagePress C850 and 910 colour toner printers to replace Xerox colour toner machines. It uses Ricoh IP5000 colour inkjet presses for its high-speed high-volume needs. Xerox digital presses are still used for monochrome work, although Latcham finds the i300 is also cost-effective for mono.

What has it brought to the company?
“The i300 allows us to print faster and more efficiently, allowing us to take on extra work,” says MD Mike Hughes. “In addition to boosted efficiency, not having to deal with recycling cartridges – simply refilling the machine with ink instead – is something both our staff and the environment appreciate.”

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