Me & my: MBO Digi-Folder

Simon Eccles
Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Finishing was once regarded as the ‘Cinderella of the printing industry’, but not any more, as today’s finishing machinery can be as innovative, automated and efficient as the press lines it serves.

A good illustration of this can be seen running at Superior Creative in Wiltshire. A £400,000 investment in an advanced MBO finishing line earlier this year has not only seen more efficient printing and faster finishing for one key job, but it has also freed up press capacity enough for a related regular job to be produced on the same lines. 

Superior is based in Bowerhill, a few miles from Bath and Chippenham. It was founded in 1976 to print social stationery, but as the market changed it evolved to embrace other types of work, with today’s mix including direct marketing materials, point-of-sale, packaging and still some social stationery. It employs 180 people and occupies six units on an industrial estate, three used for production and the rest for admin and warehousing. 

Print equipment includes a Muller Martini Concepta narrow-web offset press, a sheetfed offset Heidelberg Speedmaster 106XL with LE-UV curing, two dry-toner digital presses (a Heidelberg Linoprint and recently acquired Heidelberg Versafire EP) and two Inca Onset S40i high-speed flatbed inkjets. Finishing includes folding, guillotining, saddle-stitching and enclosing systems.

Two years ago Superior was acquired by the Delta Group, which makes claim to the title of Europe’s largest point-of-sale production house. Delta was in the news last year when it installed the UK’s first EFI Nozomi digital inkjet corrugated press at its Waltham Cross site, using it for higher volumes of POS work including some of Superior’s jobs.

Stewart Powell is Superior’s longest serving employee, joining in 1986 as an apprentice. He worked his way up the production side, becoming a number one press operator along the way to today’s role as production director. 

He says the Concepta press was the last to be ordered and delivered in the UK before Muller Martini ceased making presses in 2015. It was still a good choice, he says. “Service and spares is no problem and Muller said the minimum support period is 10 years.”

This Concepta is a 4/4 configuration with Kodak Prosper inkjet heads for black-only personalisation. Its primary role is printing A4 six-page folded single-piece promotional leaflets for delivery to stores all over the country, in sets personalised for each store. 

“We produce up to 2.5 million of these leaflets per month, all for the same customer,” says Powell. “All are personalised with shop names. The minimum is 100 and the maximum is 750 usually, though the odd place has 5,000 for leaflet droppers.” Originally the job went through several finishing stages, he says. “We used to sheet it off the Concepta, then guillotine and fold it separately. Now we re-reel off the Concepta and then unwind onto the MBO line, and it’s all one operation after that.”

What’s the MBO used for?

The new MBO line combines all three finishing functions and was installed early this year. It comprises an MBO UW60 unwinding module, SVC525C sheeter, K8 RS high-speed folder and an A500 stacker (made for MBO by Palamides). They were supplied by MBO’s UK distributor Friedheim International. 

The line is situated close to the Concepta so the re-wound reels from the press are simply rolled over to the finishing area, Powell says. “The unwinder is easy, you just put the reel in the centre and you have a side lay to set manually. Then it goes into the sheeter. We edge-trim then take a chip out between the leaflets. The waste chip sticks to a suction drum and then goes up a chute to a compacter. Quite clever. Adjustments for the length is done on the touchscreen of the sheeter. The folder is automated.” 

A camera on the stacker detects marks on the last sheet in each set and ejects the sets ready for boxing and delivery to each store. 

Installing the MBO line has benefitted the printing stage as well as finishing, says Powell. “We have managed to go down slightly with the grammages. But we can also run the press faster going reel-to-reel than reel-to-sheet. It’s allowed the press to speed up by about 20% for the majority of our work. There is no guillotining needed, and the finishing speed is up by 20% too.”

This has freed up capacity on the Concepta, he says. “We’ve just started doing eight-page brochures reel-to-reel, for the same customer as the six-page job.” These amount to around 350,000 per month and used to be printed on the Heidelberg sheetfed press, which is in turn freed up for other work, he says. They are sheeted and folded on the MBO line and then saddle stitched. “So we’re running about 3 million leaflets every four weeks through the Concepta and MBO,” says Powell. 

Was anything else considered?

“We knew of Friedheim as a major supplier,” says Powell. “Hunkeler was the other system we thought about, which Friedheim also sells. We got them in and they suggested MBO for the longevity of the equipment and our higher speed needs. We wanted something robust enough to last 10 or 15 years. I’d seen the MBO at the last Drupa, and in fact we have that folder, which had gone back to the MBO showroom.

How did the installation go?

Smoothly, says Powell. “I think it took a week, which is okay for a quite complex machine. Then it took a few days training. Like most things you need some time on your own to really learn how to operate it. 

“We had one guy who’d run the Muller with a sheeter, and that worked much the same with a suction drum. But none of the other guys had operated anything like that. It took three or four months for them to get their heads around it – dealing with webs is a bit different to a standard sheetfed folder. But it runs really well now and we’re training up a second lot of operators internally.

Reliability has been good so far, Powell says. “We’ve had two or three things, bearings and shafts go, but Friedheim has been as good as gold, very supportive. They have their own engineers, but MBO also has remote access and can go into it from Germany.”

How is the line in practice?

What’s the best thing about the MBO line? “It’s the consistency and the fact that it’s enabled us to run the job in fewer hours,” says Powell. “That’s let us put more work on the lines. It’s just made the whole process far more manageable. It’s reduced staff costs, which is a big thing. We used to run this job across two folders, with two operators. Now we run 24/5 with one operator per shift.

Is there anything he’d like it to do differently? “Not really. We do quite a lot of research when we’re buying. It’s about getting it right before you sign the order. We go out as a group, three of us normally, and look at it from different angles so everybody is happy. MBO was very good when we went, and Friedheim has stuck to everything we asked them to do.”

So, would Superior be tempted to buy it again, or recommend it? “Yes, 100%, it was the right thing for us to do.” 


Founded in 1976, Superior Creative services offers a mix of direct marketing and point-of-sale production services for an impressive list of blue chip customers. It offers design services too, with 25 artworkers plus seven 3D cardboard engineers for packaging and FSDUs (free standing display units). It uses a mix of sheetfed and narrow-web offset presses, a pair of dry toner sheetfed digital presses and a pair of large-format high-speed flatbed inkjets. The company occupies six units on its Bowerhill site, where it employs 180 people and turns over about £22m. In 2017 it was acquired by Delta Group. 

Why it was bought...

Superior was looking to integrate and accelerate the multiple finishing processes for leaflet production, particularly to handle up to 2.5 million leaflets for a major retail customer. The MBO K8RS Digi-Folder is a configuration of the K8RS high speed folder adapted for inline web feeding and sheeting. In Superior’s installation it comprises the MBO UW60 unwinding module, SVC525C sheeter, K8RS high-speed folder and a Palamides-built A500 automatic stacker and delivery system with pressing and jogging units, plus a camera inspection system and intelligent output module to keep addressed sets together before ejection to a delivery tray.

How it has performed...

The MBO finishing line has boosted efficiencies for the production of a large regular leaflet job that runs every month. Using the MBO line lets the press reel-to-reel which is about 20% faster than with the previous sheeter. Finishing is also about 20% faster, saving time and labour on separate guillotining and folding stages. “The main thing is that it has enabled us to cement our relationship with a long-term client,” says production director Stewart Powell. “It’s what it was bought for, and they seem quite happy with us!”


UW60 unwinder Max speed 250m/min

Max web width 570mm

Paper weights 40–250gsm

Max roll diameter 1,525mm

SVC525C sheeter Max speed 250m/min

Web width 150–520mm

Paper weights 40–250gsm 

Format length stepless without chip-out 85–2,032mm

Format Length stepless with chip-out 150–2,032mm

Chip-out size stepless 4–80mm

K8RS folderMax speed 250m/min

Infeed width max 780mm

Infeed width for three-fold 100mm to 530mm

Infeed length for three fold 100mm to 390mm

A500 stacker-delivery Max speed 205m/min

Max stack height 160mm

Min stack height 3mm

Price £400,000 as installed at Superior

Contact Friedheim International 01442 206100


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