Me & my: Fuji Brillia plates, PlateRite platesetter and processor
Monday, September 15, 2014
For many printers, beta testing a prospective bit of kit is something akin to a Top Gear challenge. The kit is put through its paces on all sorts of different jobs, the data’s crunched and pored over, with the company’s top techy whizzes scrutinising its every move.
This was certainly the case at Howard Hunt Group when testing Fujifilm’s Brillia HD LH-PXE and Brillia HD Pro-T3 plates against their rivals this time last year. The plates were tested not just for one month, nor for two or even six, but for 10 months.
And with good reason. As one of the UK’s leading marketing services providers, Howard Hunt runs 45m-50m cut-offs – including 30m packs of enclosed work and 25m personalised items – a month. The company prints work for prestigious clients such as Sainsbury’s, Tesco, BT, Santander, NSPCC, RSPCA and the WWF. So print quality and the efficiency with which the firm produces these jobs has to be spot on.
The company had decided to switch from the Kodak plates and platesetting line it had used for 15 years, after becoming aware that there was a real opportunity to streamline its processes, thanks to non-baked and processless technology.
“When Fuji suggested that an unbaked plate could produce up to 500,000 cut-offs, that was obviously a signal to us that plates had moved on and we had to look at this,” says director of technology at Howard Hunt Stuart King.
“In the two or three years leading to when we began the tests around January last year, we analysed run lengths and cut-offs per job. As is being well documented run lengths have come down. So we worked out that if we got 70%-80% of the projected plate life for the Brillia HD LH-PXE of 500,000 we would be able to cover the 30% reduction in average run-lengths.”
So Howard Hunt set about a rigorous 10-month testing period. This involved sending artwork it was printing with its existing Kodak Trendsetter kit and plates to Fuji, so that duplicate plates could be produced to test on the firm’s four Mitsubishi web presses and Mitsubishi TP3000 10-colour sheetfed press.
The results blew the team away. “We got some really good results. Depending on the paper, some jobs we had in excess of 700-800,000 cut-offs with the Brillia HD LH-PXE plates. Other jobs weren’t quite so good but based on our average cut-off lengths we made a business decision which allowed us to carry on with this project.”
The plates far out-performed rival plates that Howard Hunt also trialed at the same time. “The other competitor plate on the same job started to show signs of wear at 12,000 cut-offs,” reports King.
Installing kit to enable Howard Hunt to use Brillia HD LH-PXE plates (for long-run web printing, while the processless Brillia HD Pro-T3 could be used for shorter sheetfed jobs), in October last year was, then, a no-brainer.
The line was installed as part of an overhaul of Howard Hunt’s whole pre-press department. The firm decided to create a brand new ‘business technology solutions area’ by merging its reprographics and document composition/data processing departments.
“We realised the crossover of the repro and data processing skill sets had become very close. So we rebuilt the whole of the downstairs with a new fit-out, a new environment, and have embarked on cross training the two divisions,” says King, adding: “Now a single operator can take a job from start to finish in terms of pre-press, where previously someone else would do another part of it.”
Key to boosting overall efficiency has been replacing a Kodak plate line, and its pre heat and oven stages, with a Screen PlateRite HD 8900 MAL platesetter and Fujifilm FLH-Z ‘ZAC’ processor.
“The benefit for us was an automated plate line,” says King. “We replaced two manual Trendsetters with one Screen engine with three multi-cassette in-feeds for our three different plate sizes. We now have a cassette capacity of over 300.”
King adds: “The plate line runs 30% quicker and we’ve made a £20,000 a year saving just on electricity.”
Meanwhile the FLH-Z processor has reduced the company’s chemistry usage. The ZAC processor incorporates Fujifilm software to control the amount of replenisher used in the plate-making process, typically reducing chemistry usage by 75%, according to Fujifilm.
“We are now able to expose an additional 12 plates per hour, and we’ve reduced our chemistry and water consumption by approximately 70%. Not only has this investment enhanced our efficiency, but it has also improved our environmental credentials,” confirms King.
Particularly impressing Howard Hunt, is the Fujifilm XR-1200F developer, waste reduction and water re-use system, designed to further reduce pre-press developer waste and water use.
“We want to take our saving and environmentally friendly strategy to the next level,” says King. “The XR-1200F system reduces waste volume, the cost of waste treatment, water consumption and CO2 emissions, and will enable us to decrease water and chemistry usage even further.”
The one improvement the company insisted Fuji make to the XR unit before they ordered it –and one King would suggest Fuji make standard on the kit – was making it more automatic.
“I said I don’t want it if it’s going to be a manual process because everything else is set up to be automated, so adding in a process that wasn’t automated was a backwards step,” says King. “So we got our engineering team aligned with Fuji’s senior engineer Steve Freeman.”
The only other issue Howard Hunt encountered was needing the conductivity levels of the processor tweaked slightly by Fuji’s service support team.
“We’ve had no issues with plates, but we’ve had a couple of challenges with the processor. That was understandable because we’re running the PXE plate and Fuji needed to make sure that the configuration meant the conductivity levels were correct.”
“The platesetter’s just been rock solid,” adds King.
Fuji’s support throughout the 10-month testing phase and since the kit’s installation has been second to none, says King. “With the processor, Fuji were on hand out of hours. They basically came in, reconfigured it and, touchwood, the problem hasn’t reappeared. It had zero impact on production because Fuji’s response was very very good,” he reports.
The platesetter, processor and plates have more than met the challenge of Howard Hunt’s demanding and prestigious workload.
King would, as a result, recommend the kit to anyone looking to speed up plate processing. “I’d recommend this to anyone who has a plate line that is not automated or who is still in the process of baking and pre-heating,” he says. “Anyone that produces a lot of plates and has operators carrying out non-value added tasks – it’s the perfect opportunity to get those operators doing something else more useful within the company.”
King would advise though that anyone considering a switch to any new kind of plate and plate processing system keep one eye on the future and the direction run lengths are headed.
“It was the project management side of the testing stage that was fairly onerous. Because we needed to make sure we’d got long enough runs to justify the Fuji plates. We needed to make sure that the clients’ requirements didn’t change so much that we were plating something that we couldn’t use,” says King.
It was decided though, that direct mail work coming Howard Hunt’s way was still long-run enough to justify the Brillia HD LH-PXE and Brillia HD Pro-T3 plates.
The team are over the moon with their switch – the speed and resource efficiencies brought made the long and involved testing period more than worthwhile.
“The system has removed non value-added tasks and allows us to concentrate on adding value to customers’ jobs by having two teams merged as one. That means we can do more work for existing and new clients,” says King. “It opens up a whole raft of avenues.”
Fuji FLH-Z ‘ZAC’ 165 processor
Developer capacity 104 litres
Max plate width 1,650mm
Price From £12,600
Screen PlateRite HD 8900Z platesetter
Max throughput 67 B1 pph (2,400dpi)
Imaging size 1,165x938mm
Plate sizes Max: 1,165x950mm; Min: 304x305mm
Price From £100,000
Brillia HD LH-PXE
Resolution 200lpi (1%– 99%) and 20μm FM screening
Gauges 0.15, 0.2, 0.3 and 0.4mm
Max run length 500,000 (unbaked)
Price From £23/m2
Brillia HD Pro-T3
Resolution As above
Gauges 0.15, 0.20, 0.30mm
Max run length 100,000 (unbaked)
Price From £30/m2
Contact Fujifilm UK 01234 245245 www.fujifilm.co.uk
Screen Europe +31 (0)20 456 7800 www.screeneurope.com
Howard Hunt Group is comprised of five independent companies specialising in different disciplines: data strategist Celerity; digital marketing specialist Celerity Comm; direct mail, door drop and insert printer Howard Hunt; Howard Hunt Mail; and Howard Hunt Managed Services. The company is fresh from a 12-month £3.5m investment programme, which has included the purchase of a second Xerox iGen4 and a CMC Machinery CMC9000 envelope inserting line. The company also boasts two Xeikon 8000s, four Mitsubishi web presses and a Mitsubishi TP3000 10-colour sheetfed press.
Why it was bought...
After deciding it could benefit from non-baked and processless plate technology, Howard Hunt put the Fujifilm Brillia HD LH-PXE and Brillia HD Pro-T3 plates through their paces over a 10-month testing period. The promised unbaked run length for the Brillia HD LH-PXE was 500,000, while the processless Pro-T3 promised cut-offs of 100,000, with both dispensing with the pre-heating and oven processes required by Howard Hunt’s previous set-up.
How it has performed...
Howard Hunt was blown away by the test results, with the plates often out performing their specs. Replacing the pre-heating and oven stages with a Screen PlateRite HD 8900 MAL platesetter and Fujifilm FLH-Z ‘ZAC’ processor has enabled the company to significantly speed up pre-press operations, while cutting down on waste and energy use.