Me & my... Datacard MX2000

Jenny Roper
Friday, November 9, 2012

Card manufacturer PCS has found that this modular issuance system "oozes" quality and reliably delivers top-notch personalised cards

To send business the way of a company that has made you redundant might seem an odd move, but Rob Nicholls, co-director at Plastic Card Services (PCS) in Macclesfield, together with his fellow director Tim Holt ended up doing just that.

In the 1990s, Nicholls and Holt were made redundant from card issuance technology vendor Datacard and, rather than feeling sorry for themselves, they set up PCS, a plastic card manufacturing business. Today, the business proudly boasts 70 employees working from a 1,850sqm plant,  a turnover target of £8m for 2013, and clients as well-known as Holland & Barrett and Slimming World. The company has also been commended in the SME of the Year category of the PrintWeek Awards for the past two years. It manufactures cards, personalises them, mails them and offers secure storage too. And core to the success of the business, alongside KBA and screen printing kit as well as Oasis finishing kit, has been technology from the directors’ former employer, Datacard.

The most recent addition from Datacard came six months ago in the form of a Datacard MX2000 card issuance system, which replaced the ageing Datacard 9000 machines that previously embossed and added chips and magnetic strips to the loyalty, membership and high-security card work the firm produces.

The Datacard MX2000 is a modular system that, at its full potential, can offer card embossing and indent printing, graphics printing, versatile smart card personalisation and inline card protective topcoat application. It is configurable with up to seven personalisation modules and uses a Microsoft Windows operating system to enable authentication of products by the operator and to restrict access to data, applications and jobs. Internal software automatically cross checks data as it is personalises to ensure data integrity.

Such a machine is the lifeblood of the company, explains Nicholls, with the printed cards being pretty much worthless until the all-important personalisation code, name and chip or strip has been added. Readers might be interested to know, he says, that the embossing on bank and membership cards actually doesn’t serve a practical function anymore, but is purely an aesthetic feature.

"When you went to pay in the 1970s and 1980s, there used to be an imprinter which was a machine that took the impression of the card and transferred it onto a sales voucher slip for security purposes," explains Nicholls. "Now we’ve got magnetic strip and chip technology. That is very much the way things are going; we’re doing much more chip work now and it’s a very effective way of personalising cards."

And in fact not all clients want embossing even for aesthetic reasons, as it can perform its old, now redundant, function too well, and emboss and so mar surrounding packaging.

"Flatter personalisation suits some cards better," explains Nicholls. "One such type are gift cards that go inside a carrier. You don’t want to have the embossing coming through and affecting the look of the carrier itself."

Differing needs
So to cater for a workload that involves cards personalised in a whole range of different ways, what was needed was not just a highly versatile machine, but one that was much more up-to-date technologically than the ageing 9000s too.

"The driver for buying the new system was that there was an end-of-life issued on the Datacard 9000s, so there was very limited life span left on those," confirms Nicholls. "We needed to upgrade to get the right level of support from Datacard for parts and for service."

Although pleased with the 9000s’ performance and the service support given by Datacard over the years, PCS did shop around to double check that it definitely wanted to go with the manufacturer again.

"We went to the annual card show, Cartes in Paris, to have a look around," reports Nicholls. "By that stage we’d already narrowed down what equipment we were looking at and it was just a case of going there to finalise our decisions. It was between the Datacard offering and NBS equipment."

The decision ultimately came down to the quality on offer, reports Nicholls. "It was just a better built piece of equipment; it just oozes quality," he says.

The installation of the machine, in April, went without a hitch, says Nicholls, who attributes this to the professional approach of the Datacard team.

"The installation was so straightforward, you wouldn’t believe," he says. "There was a lot of pre-installation support both from sales and the engineers. When the kit was delivered, it just went in so smoothly that we hardly noticed any disruption at all."

Then, after four days of initial training, PCS was straight into production. And the four-strong team working shifts on the machine haven’t looked back since.

"We operate a two-shift system, 6am to 10pm, and we are very busy all of the time," says Nicholls. "After the switchover to the new system, from the moment it was switched on and after all of the training and installation, it has not stopped. And we’ve never had to get an engineer out for it."

And Nicholls could not be more pleased with how the MX2000 has performed, reporting that the quality has been just as good as expected.

"Even though we don’t do bank cards, the machine is designed for producing bank-grade work so it has got to be the very highest quality," he explains. "This means that you hardly ever have to remake a card because it’s not been embossed and tipped properly. Whereas with the 9000s we had occasional misalignments of the characters where the colour hadn’t been applied exactly inline with the embossed numbers, that doesn’t happen with the MX2000."

Automation boost
Never having to remake any cards has dramatically sped up the whole personalisation stage of card production. As has the fact that this new kit offers much more automated processing than the machines the company had before. 

"The 9000 was a very good machine, but it required a lot of operator intervention, which required the operator to tweak things," explains Nicholls. "With the new machine, there’s hardly any operator intervention needed at all, which means the operator has more time to look after other pieces of equipment. That gives us more flexibility as it releases staff to do other things, so we’re making better use of labour."

Most impressive for Nicholls, however, has been the complete absence of downtime with the new kit.

"Every single day it has just run and run and run," he adds.

So the relationship between PCS and Datacard certainly looks set to stay strong well into the future, with Nicholls looking at investing in an extra graphics printing module for the MX2000: "We still have some Datacard 9000s which can print barcodes, logos and other monochrome images, but we might look at replacing them with a standalone system or module to run inline with the existing MX2000."

"The benefit of the MX2000 is that it is very modular so at any stage we can add modules into the line," adds Nicholls.

With PCS thrilled with the quality, ease-of-use, reliability and modular nature of the MX2000, then, there seems little chance of Nicholls and Holt ever behaving like disgruntled jilted employees.

"You might ask, ‘why are they not more bitter and twisted?’" says Nicholls. "But Datacard is just such a good company to work with."

"And having worked for Datacard," he adds, "I know the MX2000 is by far and above the best product on the market, which is what we need."



Rated speed Up to 1,200cph
Operating system Microsoft Windows XP Professional
Max con?guration
Nine personalisation modules (not including card input, card output, system controller, card cleaning, multi-card buffer and card ?ipper)
Card types supported
ISO/IEC 7810 ID-1 size
Dependent on configuration
Card materials supported
All card materials can be processed, including PVC, composite, polycarbonate, ABS, PET and PETG (limitations may exist for each personalisation technology)
Datacard 01489 555 600


Company profile
Plastic Card Services (PCS) was established in 1993 after directors Rob Nicholls and Tim Holt were made redundant from card specialist Datacard as a result of the recession in the early 1990s. The company now has 70 employees working from a plant in Macclesfield, Cheshire, and has a turnover target of £8m for 2013. The firm processes membership, loyalty and high-security cards for a range of organisations, its most prestigious customers being Holland & Barrett and Slimming World.

Why it was bought...
The Datacard MX2000 card issuance system was bought to replace an ageing Datacard 9000 system. The new kit allows the company to emboss and add chips and magnetic strips to cards much more quickly and to a much higher quality than the older machine, reports Nicholls.

How it has performed...
Nicholls has been completely blown away by how reliably the MX2000 has performed. "We say that this is the best piece of equipment that we’ve ever bought," he says. "Generally when you buy a piece of kit, there always seems to be a bedding-in period, it doesn’t matter what it is. This is the only piece of equipment that we’ve bought with which there have been no problems whatsoever."



© MA Business Limited 2021. Published by MA Business Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, London, SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 06779864. MA Business is part of the Mark Allen Group .