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UK Print Businesses Look to Add-on Services to Survive in Digital Age

The digital era ushered in tough times for print businesses, with volume shrinking and a wide range of functions taken in-house. Now, the sector's survivors are hoping that extending their range of services will ensure their longevity.

Photo: Press freedom: With demarcation a thing of the past, printers now offer a range of add-on services.
Press freedom: With demarcation a thing of the past, printers now offer a range of add-on services.
Photo: Press freedom: With demarcation a thing of the past, printers now offer a range of add-on services.
Press freedom: With demarcation a thing of the past, printers now offer a range of add-on services.

IPEX – or, to give it its more formal title, the International Printing Machinery and Allied Trades Exhibition – claims, with some justification, to be the world's longest-running trade event, with its first iteration dating back to the 1850s. At its height, it filled 11 halls of Birmingham's NEC – one of the UK's largest exhibition spaces – but all that changed with the dawning of the Digital Age. As a consequence, the event barely fills one hall, a comedown that, fortunately, hasn't diminished its status as one of the world's most prestigious print-industry expos.

Over time, though, the focus of the event has shifted somewhat. Today the emphasis is very much on pre- and post-press equipment, as well as finishing and converting systems. While this is partly down to technological change, it's also down to the fact that the huge printing presses that filled the halls in expos past are now deemed to cost too much to temporarily relocate.

One company that has weathered the many changes the printing industry has undergone is Friedheim International. Set just 24 miles to the north of London, the business has been around almost as long as IPEX itself. In its latest incarnation, it is positioned as one of the UK and Ireland's leading suppliers of converting and packaging equipment.

Outlining the company's change in strategy, Head of Marketing Zunaid Rahman said: "With the print industry having shrunk by 65% over the past 10 years, we have shifted our focus to finishing equipment. We now represent more than 26 manufacturers, including Hunkeler, the Swiss paper-processing giant, and two German firms – Wohlenberg, the binding specialist, and MBO, a leader in digital web-finishing technology."

At the event, the company was particularly keen to promote the MBO K80, a new combination folder. Optimised for the 70 x 100cm size range and with a maximum output of 230m/min, it is priced at about £150,000-170,000 (US$209,000-237,000).

While those looking for finishing equipment were spoilt for choice, those in search of a commercial press that actually puts print on paper had far fewer options. In fact, only Apex Digital Graphics, a North London-based distributor of printing and pre-press equipment, actually fitted the bill.

This year, the company had made the trip to Birmingham to launch a new high-tech press, one it had helped specify from the very outset. Explaining his contribution, Bob Usher, the company's Managing Director, said: "Back in 2008, Japan's Ryobi launched an eight-colour B2 LED/UV press. At the time, I told them that, if they wanted to be successful in the volume sheet-fed market, they would need to develop an RSA1 version.

"Subsequently, Ryobi merged with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and the RMGT Ryobi 928P was developed. It is that system that we are here to launch."

With crowds gathering every 90 minutes to watch the RMGT Ryobi 928P being put through its paces, it was clear that there was considerable interest in the new system. Throughout the presentations, the company was keen to emphasise the efficiencies and cost-savings offered by this new LED-UV smart-printing system.

In terms of added benefits, the 928P's one-pass instant curing process creates ready-for-finishing double-sided printing with no need for any lengthy and costly drying process. This is also said to massively reduce the required print-room floorspace as a dedicated area for drying stacks of print is no longer necessary.

For Apex, at least, the challenge of installing such a large machine in an exhibition environment was clearly worthwhile, with Usher saying: "While it costs a lot of money to bring a big press to a show, we have already sold four at £900,000 each and are expecting to sell many more."

Photo: Duplo: Intricate print finishing.
Duplo: Intricate print finishing.
Photo: Duplo: Intricate print finishing.
Duplo: Intricate print finishing.
Photo: The MBO K80: The future of folding.
The MBO K80: The future of folding.
Photo: The MBO K80: The future of folding.
The MBO K80: The future of folding.

Another seasoned veteran of the event was Sweden's Lamina System AB, with the company notching up its 15th appearance as an exhibitor. Launched back in the 1980s, the company initially focused on manufacturing laminating equipment for the print industry. More recently, it has expanded its portfolio and now offers a range of corrugated sheeting, gluing and taping systems.

Its latest innovation is the manually fed Lamina Gluer, a system capable of handling a wide range of sizes and materials. Clearly pleased with the initial reception the system has received, Design Manager Jesper Hjalmarson said: "There has been a lot of interest from jobbing printers, which is only natural given that the system is optimised for short runs. Overall, this looks to be a very successful show for us, with the increased demand for well-designed mail-order packaging helping to drive sales."

With even the basic Lamina Gluer priced at about £170,000, this clearly represents a substantial investment for the general printer, but it may be one they cannot afford not to make. Addressing the need to provide add-on services, Robin Wiltshire, a Sales Consultant with Sign & Digital UK, a rival print event, said: "The general printing market is now so price-competitive that printers need to provide more of a finished printed product. They can no longer make good money just by putting ink on paper, they have to expand their offering."

For those taking Wiltshire at his word and duly looking to expand, dropping by the Duplo International stand might have proved a logical next step. The UK subsidiary of Japan's Duplo Corporation, the company had a wide range of print-finishing machines on offer and was particularly keen to push its new Duplo DuSense DDC-810 spot UV press.

A compact embellishment ink-jet system, it is said to deliver a variety of embossing-like varnish finishes. According to the company, its intricate print finishing capabilities will also provide new opportunities for designers to engage with customers.

Similarly looking to engage with customers was Chris Mulcock, Sales Manager of SF Services, an Ipswich-based specialist in the sale and aftersales support of new and used hot-stamping machines. With the company now a European agent for Shanghai-based Yawa Printing Machinery, a company with 30 years' experience in making presses for the packaging industry, including hot-stamping and folder-gluer equipment, Mulcock was particularly keen to showcase its latest offering – the 560mm x 790mm YAWA TDS 790 automatic hot-foil stamping and die-cutting press.

Explaining why his company had been tempted to take on this particular bit of kit, he said: "We started selling the TDS 790 because it represents outstanding value. It gives printers a real opportunity to develop their businesses and retain more of their billings."

In terms of domestically-produced equipment, Leicestershire-based Vivid Laminating Technologies launched its Omni-Flow modular deep-pile feeder at the show. Confident that the system offered something genuinely different, Sales Director Richard Marlow said: "It can laminate and foil up to 1,000 SRA3 sheets unattended, saving both time and money. It's a genuinely revolutionary product and can be set-up at least five times faster than any traditional feeder."

Another UK launch came courtesy of Col-Tec, with the Hampshire-based manufacturer unveiling its latest smart collating 'signature machine', which comes with the company's proprietary Intelligent Data Collating (IDC) software fitted as standard. Confident that the system had a genuine USP, Managing Director Paul Bailey said: "Unlike typical collating applications, IDC delivers versatility at a touch of a button, allowing many different patterns and combinations of sets to follow each other."

Photo: IPEX: Reduced in size, but vastly expanded in scope.
IPEX: Reduced in size, but vastly expanded in scope.
Photo: IPEX: Reduced in size, but vastly expanded in scope.
IPEX: Reduced in size, but vastly expanded in scope.

IPEX took place at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre (NEC). The show featured more than 400 exhibitors and attracted some 20,000 visitors.

David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, Birmingham

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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