Me & my: Horizon BQ160

A three-floor, 200-year-old ex-bakery sat in the middle of a conservation area is probably not the first place you'd look for a print business. Yet 10 miles south of Cambridge in the village of Linton, this is exactly where you find Plumridge Print, a commercial printer that has been operating for more than 50 years printing everything from magazines to reports and accounts and catalogues.

Established by current co-owner Oliver Plumridge’s grandparents, the firm used to be a litho-only operation until, three years ago, when the decline of litho work nearly closed the doors of the family business.

"We were thinking of closing the business down because litho work just wasn’t paying," explains Plumridge. "We looked long and hard at whether to continue, but in the end we decided to give it one last try and go down the digital route."

The decision was spurred by a cold call from an Océ sales rep that resulted in the purchase of an Océ VarioStream 2110, which saw the work balance at the company shift to 90% digital.

"In a way, we haven’t looked back since," says Plumridge. "We arrested the decline, and turned things around off the back of the digital direction. It was one of these things where we were treading water with litho and we couldn’t compete on the turnaround times. It was pure chance that an Océ rep came in cold calling that we took this route."

Outsourcing woes
Having got the presses sorted, however, the finishing side of things inevitably needed changing as well. The company was outsourcing its finishing as a litho house, but when it switched to digital work where the runs were shorter, this became less cost-effective. This was exacerbated when its finishing supplier went bust and the nearest alternative was a 45-minute drive away.

"For 100 copies of something it just didn’t make economic sense and also it was a lot of time out of the printroom. We also got let down a few times with work not being completed when we needed it," explains Plumridge. "All this was happening when we were getting more and more requests for perfect binding work. So it was a bottleneck that was losing us jobs and money so we had to look at getting our own capability."

The search began at Ipex 2010 in Birmingham where Plumridge assessed the options. He left the NEC with two front runners in mind: Morgana and Horizon.

He concedes that in the end the deciding factor was price – Horizon’s BQ160 single-clamp hotmelt binder worked out cheaper because Plumridge bought a package of machines from supplier Intelligent Finishing Systems (IFS), including a creasing machine and a guillotine. What Plumridge did not know at the time was that his print company would be the first UK install of the system.

"We didn’t actually know we would be the first UK installation until it was installed," he laughs. "When the installer said we were the first machine going in, I thought ‘oh dear!’"

Installation went much smoother than Plumridge had expected – the three floors and small rooms of the old bakery had made installations of previous machines very complicated, but the Horizon went in with no issues.

Not having had finishing capability before, Plumridge and his three full-time staff were starting from scratch in the training stakes, so the trainer stayed for three days to talk them through the three new machines. A few binding jobs had been saved for the occasion and Plumridge says he and the other staff were quickly up to speed, so much so that they began producing jobs alone straight away after the trainer had left.

Customers noticed the difference immediately, commending the increased quality, and Plumridge puts this down to having more control over the process than when it was outsourced. It has saved the company money in the form of outsourcing costs and given Plumridge more confidence in his ability to accept jobs that include binding.

Calculated gamble
As for reliability, Plumridge, in some people’s eyes, took the gamble of not taking out a service package – but it is a gamble that seems to have paid off.

"I took advice from people who already had Horizon machines and combined with the fact that we don’t tend to take service packages, we were confident enough to take the risk. The fact we have had no issues for 12 months has proved us right."

Indeed, the only issues have been Plumridge working out which applications are best suited to the hotmelt glue.

"Digital colour work on art paper for example proved troublesome," he explains. "For some of the reports and accounts work that we do on art paper, we have had to be a bit careful about the strength of the binding. We have pre-stapled stuff in the past, which is a way around it."

"It’s certainly true that certain stocks are more suited to PUR and some are more suited to hotmelt," says Bryan Godwyn, managing director at IFS. "For photobook work, for example, PUR would always be the better option. We work with customers to find the best solution for the majority of their work, and for Plumridge Print this was a hotmelt solution."

Plumridge agrees, explaining that he opted for a hotmelt rather than PUR because there is less cleaning required, so you are able to use it whenever you need it with no hassle, meaning it’s perfect for short-run digital jobs. He says that if his work roster included more silk or gloss paper jobs, however, he’d have gone for a PUR machine, but as Godwyn says, the majority of the company’s work was on substrates more suited to hotmelt.

Since installation of the machine, Plumridge says he is getting more requests from customers requesting binding work. He’s also doing the odd job for fellow printers and, while he is willing to do more if he has the slots available, he stresses that he is not interested in becoming a finishing business only.

The popularity of the new service is testament to the quality of the products coming off and the confidence Plumridge has in it. He says he cannot fault it and that even when he pushes the machine beyond the guidance run lengths, it still performs perfectly.

"When we went into it we were told it was great on anything up to runs of 500, but we recently did 1,200 books on it with no problems," he explains. "Being able to get up these run lengths means we have real flexibility and though you can get quicker machines, we are more than happy with speed and we do put runs of 1,000 runs on it regularly."

It’s been quite a turnaround for a company that three years ago was on the brink of closing. Business is brisk and, though Plumridge says things have obviously been "tough", there is a real sense of turning a corner and having a platform from which to push forwards. Obviously the Horizon binder cannot take full credit for that, but Plumridge says it has definitely played a crucial part in the company’s new, and more profitable, direction.

Max book size 300x350mm
Min book size 70x128mm
Max book thickness 40mm
Cycle speed 180cph
Price from around £14,000
Contact Intelligent Finishing Systems 020 8997 8053

Plumridge Print is a commercial printer set up more than 50 years ago by current owner Oliver Plumridge’s grandparents. Based in Linton, a village south of Cambridge, it produces magazine, journal, catalogue and general print work for a range of clients. Formerly a litho-only house, three years ago it entered the digital market and that work now constitutes 90% of its business. The company employs three full-time staff and is based in a 200-year-old building that used to be a bakery.

Why it was bought...
Co-owner Plumridge explains that the company was outsourcing its binding work, but that a mixture of finishing houses closing down and a shift to short-run digital work made outsourcing less than economical and there was a requirement to bring binding in-house. After assessing the options they decided to buy a Horizon BQ160, becoming the first in the UK to install the machine.

How it has performed…
Plumridge says: "Several customers have commented on the fact that the binding quality has gone up since we brought the work in-house. I think this is really down to the fact that we are able to keep an eye on the work and have more control over it. It is very easy to use and we have been really happy with it."


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