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Agency Printing powers up to 5/5 perfecting

Monday, 12 February 2007
By Print21

Sydney’s Agency Printing has invested in a new ten-colour Heidelberg press and postpress technology, and moved to cutting edge integration in its print production. That has changed the way the company does business forever – now it’s wired to take advantage of full CIP4 and JDF operation.
Steve Crowe, editor of ProPrint talked to Agency Printing’s three directors.

Agency Printing, in Sydney’s western suburbs, has invested in a major revamp of its capital equipment, and in the process has adopted cutting edge integration technology to oversee its print and management operations. It is now one of the most modern print plants in Australia.
Yet the company has a history like so many other printing companies in Australia. From humble beginnings a little over 20 years ago, Agency Printing has grown and prospered despite tough times and tougher competition.
But it’s not history that the three directors – Don and Geoff Elliott and Noel Boltwood – are interested in. After some serious soul searching a few years ago, Agency Printing has metamorphosed from a typical suburban print shop into a showcase of new print technology.
While life was pretty good for the company, about three years ago Noel, Geoff and Don agreed that things had to change. The industry had changed direction and they had to too.

Way back when
The company was started in 1980 in the unlikely (for printing) suburb of North Sydney, and was happy to do “anything we could get our hands on” with a single-colour Heidelberg SORM, a single-colour Fuji 58 and a two-colour Roland Rekord. The bindery consisted of a small folder and a guillotine, and the most obvious nod to high-tech equipment was a phototypesetter in the “prepress” department.
Some modest success (and regular complaints from neighbours in the small streets of North Sydney) saw the company move to the outer suburb of Seven Hills, the installation of two second-hand Roland Rekord four-colour presses, and the expansion of the bindery area into a second factory down the road, “which turned out to be a logistical nightmare”, according to Don Elliott (pictured).
The turning point of Agency Printing can be pinned to about the time of PacPrint 2001, at which the three directors decided on the acquisition of major new capital equipment to refurbish the company. At the same time, a move to much larger premises to hold the new equipment was implemented – – a move which now looks even more propitious.

The very best of equipment
A new, fully optioned eight-colour Heidelberg SM 102 press was complemented by a Muller Martini Prima saddle-stitcher with AMRYS (Automatic MakeReadY System), and a completely revamped prepress section with a full Screen CtP system, including a PlateRite 8600 and TrueFlow workflow.
As Noel Boltwood (pictured) pointed out, “We had to make some decisions about the company and where it was going. We got to a point where we owned everything, we didn’t owe anybody anything, and we were cruising. The company was doing alright working one shift five days a week. We were gentlemen printers!
“But we could see the way the industry was heading, and realised that if we didn’t do something we were slowly going to self-destruct.”
Don Elliott added, “We could see that our competitors with high-tech machines were stealing the work. We looked at five-colour machines, then six-colours, but Noel suggested eight colours, and we looked at some machines in plants – – not in fancy plants in Germany but in China, Hong Kong and Singapore, so we could inspect the equipment under severe conditions.
“We were chasing publication work and the eight-colour Heidelberg is ideal for four-over-four, 16-page sections. Back then, five- and six-colour presses were the norm, and we considered that, but we would have been just another fish in the pond. So we got rid of two 40-inch presses and the new eight-colour Heidelberg handled that work and more in about 30 hours a week.”
Over the next 12 months that changed to working 24 hours a day, six days a week through attracting new work from new clients. “That kind of press tends to generate its own work,” said Noel Boltwood modestly.

The pressure’s on
The additional capacity of the eight-colour press was soon filled, and they faced a new dilemma in how to fulfill all the extra work that they had won.
Don Elliott said, “When we got to 120 hours a week we knew we’d have to look seriously at getting another press. We were working 24 hours, six days a week with maintenance and overload on Sundays, so we were close to full capacity.
“When we were looking for a new press we recognised that a lot of clients, particularly larger clients, were looking for spot colours or varnishes, and we weren’t certain, but it seemed that a ten-colour press would give us some advantages in the marketplace. Why have two similar presses when for a small extra investment we could have the ten-colour press and have the opportunity to go after the next market up the line as well?”
“When it arrived we pressured the Heidelberg techs to get the press running to meet a job demand, and in the first two weeks the press printed just short of two million sheets, and we changed 1,010 plates. And the eight-colour press was printing to full capacity at the same time.”

Double figures add marketability
“There is a market out there where customers ask for wet on wet varnish, and we just couldn’t look at that before,” said Geoff Elliott (pictured). “Historically, five-colour and six-colour presses are the most popular in Australia. People got used to be able to throw a varnish or a spot colour on a job, so it was logical for us to go for the ten-colour format, offering perfecting.”
“There are 12-colour presses out there but that’s a different market, and we don’t want to go to that market – yet!” added Noel Boltwood with a wink.
The huge boost to press throughput has obviously put much greater pressure on both the prepress and bindery departments at Agency Printing. As a result, the prepress department now works 24 hours a day, and the bindery is being upgraded again with two new (drupa 2004 model) Heidelberg Topline folders, and a new Polar 137 guillotine with a full Transomat system.
“It will be almost a completely new bindery,” said Don Elliott. “The oldest piece of equipment in the factory will be the eight-colour Heidelberg, which is two-and-a-half years old. Everything else will be brand new.”

All plugged in
The new ten-colour press, with drupa 2004 technology, boasts a full range of new features, including the new Preset Plus feeder, the new delivery system, the Autoplate Plus fully automatic plate loading system, and Inkline for even better management of the inking system, now accessible directly from CP2000 through CAN open technology.
The full complement of new technology brings with it additional facilities that will bring Agency Printing to the forefront in Australia/New Zealand for automation and integration in the plant.
The whole shop floor is CIP4 compliant, and also includes the full range of software modules like Compucut, Compufold and CP2000, and Printstream MIS.

The figures tell the story
According to Geoff Elliott, the deliberate move to high automation has paid off in several distinct ways.
“We target publication work because we like it and we’re good at it. We’re now also very well geared for it. Our factory is as productive a plant as you can get at the moment.
“And it works. That’s the thing. It saves us a lot of time. Makereadies are less than 30 minutes, and with the automation on the presses the printers can unload and reload the feeder and delivery areas while the press loads the new plates and prepares the ink settings.
“We have AutoPlate Plus, which makes a real difference in makeready times. CleanStar adds to the general cleanliness of the factory. So does InkLine with the cartridge system.
“We also have ImageControl, which sets all the ink profiles for the ducts, which comes straight from the prepress files. It’s hard wired direct to prepress.”
Noel Boltwood added, “The automation and CIP4 connectivity will give us higher throughput in the factory, and we will get fewer production problems on jobs as well.
“Production output has doubled but we’ve only had to add another 20 per cent in staff numbers. Work seems to be finding its way here for the ten-colour press, like it did for the eight-colour press.
“We are set up to go to a full JDF workflow by the end of the year, and we calculate that that should improve our productivity, and profitablity, even more.
We will be in a position for management to be able to oversee all production in live screen by remote, to check on any job and what’s happening from anywhere.”
“Our turnover doubled in 18 months after we installed the eight-colour press, and we expect that to happen again with the addition of the ten-colour press. We’re already over budget projections.
“Our profit levels have increased at the same time – – they’re better than the industry standard, and we’re looking forward to more of that as well!”
“We have no trouble getting the right staff,” said Don Elliott, “because the shopfloor is now so high-tech – – that’s attractive to experienced staff in all departments – – but also because it’s very clean and fully air-conditioned.”

And the future is…
With so much recently invested in new technology, the three directors are happy to spend the next six months consolidating the company’s operation and bedding in the new press and associated purchases. Along with that will come the shift to a fully operational JDF workflow.
“We want to achieve 95 per cent productivity from the plant, or better,” said Don Elliott. “That will take some concentration, but when that is achieved we’ll ascertain what’s next. We now have one of the most modern print shops, certainly in Australia and possibly in the southern hemisphere.
“That’s very satisfying, because of its quality, it’s so high-tech and it’s efficient. It’s that simple.”

This article was brought to you by Agency Printing powers up to 5/5 perfecting

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