The first ‘W’ Speed KODAK MAGNUS Q800 Platesetter in the UK has been commissioned at leading B1 printer Geoff Neal Group, completing the first phase of what the company describes as the implementation of “best-in-class automation” at its Feltham site over the next 12 months.
The MAGNUS Q800 Platesetter features KODAK SQUARESPOT Imaging Technology and another UK ‘first’ – Kodak’s Multi-Pallet Loader (MPL). The new equipment operates in tandem with a Nela automated plate bending and transport system, forming a fully-automated plate production line delivering up to 70 plates per hour — more than twice the speed of the previous platesetter. The Nela system was installed by Trevor Darlington and the team at Direct-to-Plate Ltd (DtP) . The MPL holds 1,200 KODAK ELECTRA XD Thermal Plates which, after imaging, are conveyed automatically to the Nela system for punching, bending and sorting by job before being delivered to trolleys that press operators take to the presses.
A second-generation family business founded in 1976, Geoff Neal Group has won a reputation for premium-quality promotional print for global names such as Aston Martin, Bentley, BP and HSBC. The company’s trophy cabinet is close to capacity, due in part to winning six Direct Mail Printer of the Year Awards from UK magazine PrintWeek, plus Customer Service Team of the Year in 2018. For Mark Croucher, Group Manufacturing Director, however, “the term ‘direct mail’ doesn’t do full justice to what we produce. We’re operating at the very top end of the market, designing and printing beautiful bespoke work to meet very demanding client briefs. Yes, much of it is intended for mailing, but we also handle fine art and auction catalogues.”
Annual turnover for the extended Group including S&S Ltd is £30 million, boosted recently by the acquisition of specialist finishing businesses. The result is that clients now have a single source of supply for everything from creative design through printing — offset and digital — to mailing.
Two factors lie behind the plate room investment. The first is sheer physical necessity: unable to expand any further on the Feltham site, the company has to squeeze more productivity out of the existing space. The second, however, is a strategic decision: the need to act on the recognition that the future of the industry is automation.
Explains Croucher: “Look at how the industry’s changed in the last decade — we’re printing more jobs but in shorter runs, and deadlines are getting tighter and tighter. Then look ahead, and it’s more of the same. So, you have to automate production. We’re aiming for a sweet spot of max impression counts, more makereadies, and maximised productivity. Keep the presses producing constantly with minimal transition points.”
The company started along the automation path with the adoption of a JDF workflow in 2019, along with new high-speed finishing equipment. The next stage began with a hard look — touchpoint-by-touchpoint — at how plates were produced and delivered to the pressroom. The task fell to Head of Repro & Integration Steve Anderson who, looking back and contrasting now with then, describes the process as “crazy — there were just so many touchpoints!”
The comparatively straightforward step of moving the plate room had a significant impact. Its previous location — on the floor above the press hall — meant significant manual handling both before and after imaging, which was not only strenuous work but also occasionally caused plate scratching.
The new plate room is located adjacent to the Heidelberg XL-106’s, in a space vacated by the departure of a Heidelberg Anicolor press. Compared to what went before, says Anderson, the environment is “vibrant — a showpiece, and a statement to customers about where we are, and want to be.” After plate imaging is launched, the process is totally automated and virtually unmanned. Jobs can also be monitored and managed remotely on a mobile phone using the KODAK Mobile CTP Control App.
Deciding to automate was one thing, but choosing the right supplier was just as vital. “This is a big step for us. We’re investing in more than new equipment — we’re committing to fundamental change in how we do almost everything. By going with Kodak, we know we’re forging a long-term partnership that will give us access to continuous innovation, great products and cutting-edge technology — plus superb build quality and longevity. In particular, the SQUARESPOT Technology is a critical component of the solution, and because I’ve worked with it before I trust it to deliver the optimum quality we need, reliably and repeatably. It’s best-in-class, in my view.”