Me & my: Horizon SPF/FC-200A bookletmaker

Jo Francis
Friday, August 16, 2013

Swindon. Home to the infamous 'magic roundabout', a baffling experience for the casual visitor to the town.

More pertinently for the purposes of this article, it is also the location of MPD Offset, a far less baffling proposition altogether.

The 28-year-old company started life as a litho printing business, and still has the single-colour GTO that formed part of the original set-up, alongside its modern five- and four-colour B2 offset presses.

Managing director Graham Seeley is a former print buyer at WH Smith, who made the move from buyer to print provider when the opportunity came up to run MPD on behalf of its co-founders, FS Moore and Print Direction.

Four years later, he bought the company and became managing director. Nowadays, says Seeley, MPD is "very heavily into digital printing", producing a raft of personalised and short-run products including posters, mugs and promotional banners, alongside marketing material such as brochures and leaflets.

The company’s clients include corporates, agencies, motor manufacturers, colleges and charities.

And MPD even takes its print kit on the road, producing on-demand posters and gift items on its Canon wide-format printer at the annual Air Tattoo for client the RAF Charitable Trust.

Having been one of the early users of the Indigo press back in the mid 1990s, last year involved a big change for MPD when it switched supplier with the installation of an iGen4 from Xerox. "It was a huge decision. We loved the Indigos, but the iGen4’s larger-format sold it," explains Seeley.

Last year also marked another switch for the company, which had been using a Duplo bookletmaking system.

When the time came to replace the old bookletmaker, Seeley considered the options from both Duplo and Horizon.

"Our digital side is growing and we wanted something to cope with a bigger workload. We knew people who have the Horizon and it seemed a better option for the price and overall package, and it was a more robust build," he explains.

"Duplo also has a heavier-duty machine, although it was quite a step-up in price," adds Seeley.

Decision made, MPD ordered a Horizon SPF/FC-200A bookletmaking system, configured with a single, 10-bin collator tower running inline to a stitching, folding and fore-edge trimming unit, and operated via a colour touchscreen. The company spent around £30,000 on the new set-up.

"The reason we only went for one tower is because two-tower set-ups are typically used for much longer runs. For example, you could be setting up one tower while the other is running a job. But we’re not into that sort of run length," says Seeley.

The device was installed in April 2012. With installation and training "not taking very long at all", the bookletmaker was up and running in just a couple of days.

"Installation went very well, as did learning to operate it as we’re used to running similar machines."

Optional extras

The modular Horizon device is highly configurable and can have up to six towers. A host of add-ons are available, including barcode verification and hole punching.

However, for MPD’s needs a single-tower configuration was ideal, says Seeley: "We trim the jobs down head to foot as four-page sections and put those in the bins. The machine collates them and puts in the stitches and trims the fore-edge. We don’t have the three-knife-trimmer option.

"We’re using it for digital and short-run work. If we were doing huge runs, we’d have looked at the other options on the bookletmaker.

"If we have any big litho fold/stitch/trim jobs we use an outside company, whereas we do all our digital work in-house, including laminating," he adds.

The company’s other facilities include cutting and creasing, and wire binding, and it was this desire to handle as many day-to-day processes as possible in-house that resulted in the original decision to add a bookletmaking system.

"We were doing lots of small-run booklets of 250-500 and paying a minimum set-up charge every time. So we brought it in-house to save money and make us more competitive," recalls Seeley. "We try to do everything we can ourselves."

A typical run length at MPD is between 1,000 and 2,000, with 5,000 at the top end of MPD’s mix of jobs going through the system.

The Horizon is being used every day at the 21-employee company, which operates five days a week on double-day shifts. Seeley praises its simple set-up and ease of use.

"We produce a lot of manuals for corporate clients, which are all A5 format. The job set-up is stored in the machine and it sets itself in just a few seconds. Even if we need to set new sizes, it’s very simple."

The system is also used for a particular on-demand finishing job using pre-printed litho sections, which MPD prints and then holds in stock on behalf of one of its clients, producing booklets only in the quantity needed, when needed.

Seeley’s only minor quibble is that his system can’t handle A4 landscape products. But he also freely admits that this was really a timing issue, rather than a product flaw. "We ordered the Horizon before the iGen, so it wasn’t really an issue at the time.

"Even with hindsight I’m not sure we would have gone for that option. We’ve got a little hand-stitcher and we can do landscape jobs on that."

Bryan Godwyn, joint managing director at Intelligent Finishing Systems, the UK distributor for Horizon products, says it’s possible to reconfigure the system if necessary. In fact, that’s one of the most popular features about its modular design. "Users can add things, such as barcode verification, afterwards as their work changes. It really is very versatile and the options are incredible. People have some really clever configurations."

When it comes to reliability, the Horizon seems to be the sort of steadfast workhorse that is a welcome addition to any print shop.

It’s certainly a popular device. MPD’s model is the latest generation of a range that has close to 1,000 UK installations, according to Godwyn. There are around 200 users of the latest model.

Seeley can’t remember the last time an engineer was called out, and it subsequently transpires that’s because there hasn’t been any need to call on the expertise of the service department at IFS.

So far, so good, then. As Seeley observes: "All machines are great when they’re new, it’s what they’re like after a few years that really matters. After more than a year, the Horizon still is great."

This reliable operation is, says Seeley, one of the best things about the system. But his number one favourite aspect is that it’s so straightforward.

"The ease of use is a great thing. It’s really easy to be trained up on the touchscreen operation."

Would MPD buy another? Unlike that infamous roundabout, there’s no going around in circles about this decision: "Yes. Overall, we are very happy with it."


Max sheet size 356x508mm

Min sheet size 120x180mm

Max product thickness Up to 48 sheets of 64gsm paper can be stitched and up to 24 sheets can be stitched and folded

Number of collator towers Up to six towers, each with 10 bins

Speed 4,500 A5 booklets per hour

Options Upstream: high-speed sheet/set feeding system, inline bypass/offset stacker; In-system: up to four stitching heads, loop-stitching, hole punch and pressing unit, extended delivery, batch kicker; Downstream: sheet inserter, endorsed folding unit

Price Circa £44,500 for twin-tower version

Contact Intelligent Finishing Systems 020 8997 8053


Company profile


MPD Offset was established in 1985. The Swindon-based company employs 21 staff and has sales of £1.8m. It produces litho and digital print work, including promotional print products, for a wide range of clients.

Why it was bought…

MPD needed to update its bookletmaking facilities and invested in the Horizon system in spring 2012. The digital printing and short-run side of the company’s business was growing, and the company wanted to revamp its finishing facilities to cope with a bigger workload.

How it has performed...

The Horizon SPF/FC-200A has proved to be both reliable and easy to use, says MPD managing director Graham Seeley, and it has helped the firm provide a responsive service while at the same time keeping as much work as possible in-house.


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