Me & my: Heidelberg Speedmaster SX 74

Jo Francis
Monday, November 11, 2013

"I love it when a plan comes together" is a phrase made famous by Hannibal Smith of 1980s TV series The A-Team.

Goodson (left): “Jobs are ready to finish, as you’re printing them”
Goodson (left): “Jobs are ready to finish, as you’re printing them”

Gary Goodson, managing director at Premier Print Group went into a Hannibal-esque level of planning before deciding on the firm’s latest press purchase, and with good reason.

Goodson plotted all the possible parameters into a detailed spreadsheet as part of the firm’s analysis. It was a critical purchasing decision because Premier was planning to replace two of its older presses with one new one, and the new press would be run by one operator rather than two.

"We’d been told about the SX 74 and we saw it for the first time at Drupa," recalls Goodson. "We decided that we were going to replace two presses with one, and when I did the figures it looked like the SX 74 could do it. I was a bit worried though, as you can never be totally sure," he admits.

The firm was an existing user of Heidelberg and Komori presses, and focused its search for a new press on those two manufacturers. "The Komori is a good machine with lots of bells and whistles, and some nice features. But at the end of the day we felt more comfortable with the back-up available from Heidelberg, and it’s a bit easier to use for the press minders. It was a hard call though," says Goodson.

Suitably convinced, the firm placed an order for a four-colour 74 SX with coater. Premier’s SX 74 was the first in the UK with the AutoPlate Pro automatic plate loading system, and is fitted with Auto Register, which also helps speed up makeready times. The coating aspect has also proved a critical factor.

Premier produces a wide range of run lengths – anything from 250 up to 50,000 – but key to its service is short-run, fast-turnaround section work, including corporate magazines, brochures and programmes for clients all around the UK.

With stitching, perfect binding, and mailing facilities in-house, the 23-staff firm is able to provide a one-stop shop service for its clients.

Premier is based in Bow, in east London, and has the City and Canary Wharf nearby, so its local catchment area also includes clients who typically need their printed products fast. Speedy makereadies were a major aspect of the decision.

The SX 74 arrived at Premier’s factory in November 2012, and replaced the firm’s old Speedmaster 74 and an SRA2 Komori press. It runs alongside another four-colour Komori perfector.

"It was delivered in November and was up and running at the end of December. It took about three weeks," says Goodson. "There was a lot of training with InkStar, Auto Register and various bits of software. It was a lot to learn compared with our older press, which was a bit more basic."

Big change

So how has the SX 74 performed for Premier with getting on for a year of operation under its belt? Goodson says it has been nothing less than transformational. "The quality is excellent and the flexibility is brilliant. It has transformed our business and we are winning a lot of work because of it," he reports.

"We are winning last-minute jobs that used to be a problem. We can now welcome that kind of work with open arms and eat it up."

The coating facility on the press has proved just as much of a breakthrough for the company as the Speedmaster’s fast makereadies.

"Jobs are ready to finish, as you’re printing them. We couldn’t do that before. We can now finish jobs 10 or 15 minutes after printing and there are fewer issues with marking because we are coating most work," explains Goodson. "And we are running everything at 15,000sph; we were never able to do that before."

With so much section work being produced, an obvious question is: why didn’t Premier opt for a perfecting press? Yet again, it was all down to Goodson’s pre-planning and analysis.

"We did look at perfectors and at the advantages and disadvantages of that route. There was more potential for marking [with a perfector], it’s further for the minder to walk and at the end of the day there are more units to clean up. We are actually more productive and flexible with the way we’ve specced it.

This was definitely the right decision, a perfector would be better for longer runs, but that’s not our market."

While Goodson enthuses about the overall performance of the press, there have been a couple of minor niggles with it, including a glitch on the AutoPlate system, which can be quite sensitive in terms of the way plates are presented to it.

Paul Chamberlain, press product executive at Heidelberg UK, responds: "You do have to be careful with the front edge of plates, and the rollers that drive the plate in have to be kept clean. It has three attempts to load the plate and if it fails you have to put it in manually."

And with Premier pushing its press to the max, Goodson’s other wish-list items involve functionality that would require a step up to the more expensive XL model. "One area that could be improved is the blanket wash, if that could be quicker or could be done while the plates are changing," he says. "And it would be nice if it ran faster, but for that I’d need to buy an XL."

It is also worth noting that the Auto Register feature that Premier is such a fan of is no longer available on the SX model. "Germany decided to drop this feature because not enough customers were ordering it or asking for it. Not enough people believed in it, although of course Premier did and they are using it to the best of the machine’s ability," says Chamberlain.

For this reason Heidelberg will need to find a spare Auto Register kit or persuade Goodson to step up to an XL if it wants a repeat order in future. "I would buy another SX 74 if it had Auto Register. If it didn’t, I’d buy something else," he states.

It’s easy to see why Goodson is such a fan of his SX set-up. With its own A-Team of operators in place, Premier is averaging 35 makereadies a day on the press, which has produced 5m impressions over the past two months.

A typical run length is around 2,500 and the firm is able to tackle high-pagination, short-run work with ease. "We just produced a 368pp job with a print run of 1,000 and we were putting a set of plates on every eight minutes.

"I feel like it’s the press equivalent of a Swiss Army knife – you can throw anything at it," enthuses Goodson.

"We can make ready in three minutes rather than the 10 minutes it used to take, and you don’t have to stop the press to get the job in register. We’ve moved some work from our digital press because it’s faster and cheaper to do it on the SX, and we have more flexibility on paper."

Easing the flow

One unintended consequence that wasn’t evident at the planning stage is the effect the new press has had on workflow at the company. "Its flexibility has actually made the job of our account and production managers easier, because the flow of work is so smooth, even when we’re busy," he notes. "What was a six-hour job is now a three-hour job, so we can juggle work around when required."

All in all, says Goodson, it was a good investment and the right choice for the firm. "It’s all gone to plan, and I love it when a plan comes together."


Max speed 15,000sph  

Colours 2-10

 Perfecting Available

Min sheet size 210x280mm (280x280mm with pile support plate, 300x280mm when perfecting)

Max sheet size 530x740mm

Max print format 510x740mm

Stock thickness 0.03-0.6mm

Pile height 1,060mm (feeder), 597mm (delivery), 1,160mm (high-pile delivery)

Price Around £600,000 for a four-colour machine with coater (depending on specification)

Contact Heidelberg UK 020 8490 3500


Premier Print Group was established 20 years ago and started off printing newsletters. The £2.5m-turnover, 23-employee firm subsequently moved into four-colour direct mail and multi-page products and set up its own mailing facility. It now produces hundreds of titles for a wide range of corporate customers.

The firm runs double-day shifts with the flexibility to move to 24-hour working when required.

Why it was bought...
Premier wanted to upgrade its press hall and become more efficient at quick turnaround work. The productivity of the Speedmaster SX 74 configuration chosen by the firm meant it could replace two older presses, and it also allowed the firm to reduce overheads because it only requires one operator.

How it has performed...
Premier managing director Gary Goodson says the new press has transformed the way the company operates, due to its combination of fast makeready times and ability to run consistently at 15,000sph on a wide variety of stocks. The coating aspect has also proved a crucial benefit, allowing the firm to finish jobs almost immediately. "It has actually exceeded our expectations," he says.


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