At the end of another tiring day in the office, Sebastian Stanley, director at wide-format printer The Bigger Printing Company, has the benefit of indulging in a huge, man-sized bottle of red wine to ease the stresses of running a modern print business.
Unfortunately, however, actual red wine does not come as part of the bargain; this supersized bottle is actually a bit of innovative, high-quality print the company produced for a wine event. It does still bring comfort, though, as it is a prime example of how this Cheltenham-based printer likes to take on the more innovative wide-format projects in the market, such as interesting cut-out shapes rather than standard banners and square boards. And a complicated job well done can be as satisfying as a nice glass of Merlot.
It is this creative approach and willingness to take on complex jobs that Stanley attributes as the source of the company’s steady growth over the past few years. The company was established in 2004 when the HP reselling business that Stanley had founded in the 1990s turned its attention to selling print. Now the company is proud to cater for brands as prestigious as Aston Martin, Bentley, Barclays and Kraft, and has its eye on further growth.
With a client roster like that, quality is obviously top of the company’s agenda and this was why, when it came to expanding his press line-up to keep apace with his ambitious growth plan, Stanley decided to opt for an Océ Arizona 360 XT.
"The Arizona 360 XT has a fine-quality mode, which we have been very impressed by," says Stanley, explaining that the company also looked at Océ’s higher-end, flagship 550 GT press when shopping for a new printer, but decided that the outlay was too high, even considering the faster printing speeds it offered.
The main task of the press was to build and expand upon the company’s existing Océ Arizona 250, both in terms of capacity and flexibility.
"The new machine takes a 3,000x2,500mm sheet whereas the 250 does a 2,500x2,250mm sheet," says Stanley. "We have taken on new customers specifically as a result of this ability to offer a bigger size. It’s been a great marketing tool for us, because no one else is printing to this size in our area.’"
Stanley explains that he did not really consider any rival manufacturers’ offerings on the market, as his relationship with Océ meant he felt no need. The performance of the Océ 250 had been impressive since its 2007 install, he says, and so the company had every confidence that the 360 XT would be just as effective.
"Growing your brand is about making sure you’ve got the right partners and that’s one of the reasons we chose Océ; they are a big player and they do listen to us," he says. "So we made the decision ourselves. They didn’t have to work too hard to sell it to us, but they did put together a good package."
Ping pong player
The machine was installed in April and has successfully boosted both capacity and flexibility. Key to the production improvement, says Stanley, has been the uninterrupted printing, or ‘ping pong’, mode.
"The ping pong mode on the 360 is phenomenal," he says. "One of the things that can be a bit frustrating on a flatbed is that you can feel you’re wasting time while you change to a new job. It’s not a big thing, it takes three or four minutes, but if I’ve got a few thousand boards going through, that’s a lot of minutes. With this mode, you’ve got two printing areas, so you can put one board on as you’re printing the previous one, so it’s continuous."
"It’s just so satisfying to watch and it motivates the sales guys because they can see that we can really get the jobs through," he adds.
Aiding this non-stop production approach has been the 360 XT’s ease of use and reliability in unattended printing situations, adds Stanley.
"It’s easy to use, so the guys can concentrate on being creative and quality control and hitting deadlines, and not looking at the machine and saying ‘I’ve got 50 buttons to work out’," he says. "Unattended printing has also been fabulous. We used to cross our fingers with some of the machines we worked with if we were letting it run into the night. But with the Arizona they’ve obviously spent a lot of time on their roll-to-roll feed. With this machine, the roll comes out looking almost like the roll you’ve put on. It’s tracked perfectly."
And the quality, particularly when it comes to colour matching, has also been as reliable as promised. "One of the things we’re really keen on is making sure that we have a print technology that’s consistent with colour so that if people do want replacement prints, then they won’t be totally different even if we use the other Océ machine," says Stanley. "Océ has obviously just got it right when it comes to the consistency with which the Océ sticks its ink down onto the paper."
It hasn’t, however, always been plain sailing for the Océ–Bigger Printing Company relationship. Before the 360 XT proved itself on the quality and usability fronts, there was a period where, Stanley admits, it didn’t look to have been such a savvy investment after all.
"We had several initial service issues with the 360 and they took about a month to resolve," reports Stanley. "It became obvious very quickly that we were having colour issues so the way they were controlling the heads wasn’t quite right. And we were getting gantry motion errors; we would get halfway through a board and it would just fail."
Stanley reports that it took a while before Océ progressed the problems to be dealt with by highest level engineers. But once Stanley put in a call to say "we can’t live with this," the manufacturer "got the absolute big guns in," he reports, and this high-level of service support has continued over the past few months.
"If we have a little issue, like the other day the UV lamp cover was sticking a bit, we put in a call and they’ll be with us very quickly," says Stanley.
Océ confirms that support is something the manufacturer prides itself on. "Our service organisation is very well-placed to solve any problems customers may have," says Dominic Fahy, Océ UK business group director, display graphics and imaging supplies. "These can be technical, knowledge-oriented or application-driven. Océ has invested in its organisation to ensure that it can always support customers to develop a successful long-term partnership."
So, despite a shaky start, The Bigger Printing Company has come to love its new 360 XT, so much so that Stanley already has plans to install another next year.
The one thing Stanley would change about the machine though, had he a magic wand, would be adding some way of zoning unused areas out mechanically. That is, when the team are printing some of their clever cut-out shapes, they have to manually mask off those sections of the vacuum bed not covered by the substrate, in order for them to work.
This is not something that would necessarily be possible though, concedes Stanley. "We haven’t asked Océ about that because it would need a radical new design; it would be the next model of the machine," he says. "And it’s not a problem that comes up all the time because with the 360 we’re nesting all the print on to big boards and then just taking them straight off and putting them on the cutter."
Overall, then, Stanley is pleased with his Océ machines. "When they settle down, these machines do tend to just work," he says. "Océ is the type of company where, if they say a machine’s going to do something, it pretty much just does it."
Max speed (flatbed)
high-definition mode: 6.8sqm/hr; express mode: 36.4sqm/hr
Max speed (roll-fed) high-definition mode: 5.9sqm/hr; express mode: 26.4sqm/hr
Max media size (rigid media) 3,050x2,500mm
Max print area (rigid media) 3,060x2,510mm (full bleed)
Max media thickness 48mm
Max roll width 2,200mm
Max roll print width 2,190mm
Max roll diameter 240mm
Price From £125,000
Contact Océ 0870 600 5544 www.oce.co.uk
Sebastian Stanley first started out in the print business in the early 1990s as a reseller of HP machines. But after his business moved premises in 2004, the company became increasingly focused on offering wide-format print, evolving into The Bigger Printing Company, a fully fledged banner, sign, poster and display print house. The Cheltenham-based printer today caters for a range of clients from high-end automotive companies such as Bentley and Aston Martin, to food manufacturer Kraft and print management jobs, which make up 30%-40% of its workload.
Why I bought it...
Director of The Bigger Printing Company Stanley explains that the company added an Océ Arizona 360 XT to its existing Océ 250 to boost capacity. The new machine, installed this April, also allows the company to offer larger-format jobs, as the team is now able to print work of up to 3,000x2,500mm in size.
How it has performed...
Aside from technical glitches in the first month, the Océ Arizona 360 XT has done exactly what The Bigger Printing Company needed it to do, says Stanley. "When they settle down these machines do tend to
just work," he says. "Océ is the type of company where if they say a machine’s going to do something, it pretty much just does it."