It started with finishing. Commercial printer PCL Digital was looking to win customers by offering more services. Print was well balanced on supply and demand, so managing director Nick Westley-Smith took a post-press tilt.

But this was to be no minor tinkering on the fringes of finishing. Westley-Smith embarked on a comprehensive refresh involving tens of thousands of pounds covering several new pieces of kit.

The challenge

The company, established as an HP Indigo printer 12 years ago, is based five minutes from the centre of Birmingham and specialises in short-run colour work for trade printers, design agencies and marketing departments. Work ranges from business cards and flyers to POS material, book covers and PUR-bound and saddle-stitched booklets.
“We regularly produce items such as menus, but the runs are getting shorter and shorter, as are the turnaround times,” he says.  “A few years ago, for example, we would print one day, laminate the next day, trim the following day and then dispatch the print. This was time-consuming, inflexible, involved outsourcing foiling and was not responsive to our clients’ need for fast turnaround times.”
So he took a £40,000 plunge on new equipment including a laminator, a multi-functional inprinting unit and a casebinder.
He says, “We were sending out all our foiling, which was costing us between £10,000 and £15,000 a year. This new machinery would allow us to keep it in-house to save time and additional costs. Relying on other people is never ideal, as you lose some control and it adds fuss: you have to make the blocks, take the print halfway across Birmingham and then collect it again. “If you’re keen to grow your business, it’s really important to offer trade customers as many services as you can. It saves them having to shop around. If they can’t get casebinding done here, they will go elsewhere. And if they do that, what else might they go elsewhere for?”
Westley-Smith was resolved to give his existing and new clients as few reasons as possible for looking elsewhere. Fortunately, he has a good relationship with the supplier Intelligent Finishing Systems (IFS), so “we knew we would get the right equipment because they know our set up, our needs and what we wanted to achieve by bolstering our finishing department”.
Just before Christmas, he took delivery of a Foliant Vega 400A laminator and a Foliant Multi-functional Inprinting Unit. Both were supplied by IFS. A few weeks later, Ashgate Automation delivered a Fastbind Pureva XT casebinder.
The method

The first new machine in Freeth Street was PCL Digital’s third Foliant laminator in ten years. The print company signed the deal for the system at Ipex in early November.
By the end of November, the machine was installed, a trouble-free installation process that was echoed for all the new kits in a 370m² premises with space to take new machines.
Westley-Smith used a leasing arrangement through Close Brothers because “few printers these days, I suspect, have wads of cash lying about, and leasing spreads the costs”.
The investment will be worth it if the Foliant Vega meets increased demand for lamination and adds value with inhouse foiling, he says.
“The latest spend is part of our five-year plan to double our current capacity, adding new jobs as a result of the increased work. It will enable us to have more creative conversations with customers.”
“We like to work collaboratively, and one of the great things of buying new equipment is it offers a perfect opportunity to open a new dialogue with clients.”
“Some of these you may not have had significant contact with for some time, so investing in new kit is perhaps the best way of reestablishing ties and rebuilding partnerships by letting them know what you can now offer them. We also find we work much better and more creatively this way than dealing with people over the phone who call up wanting a job for the best price.”
The Vega 400A replaced an older, slower Foliant model. The new model can automatically laminate at speeds of 2,100 B3 sheets per hour and with many grades of laminate available from standard gloss and matt to soft touch and textured films.
The Fastbind Pureva XT entry-level casebinder is up and running and the seven-staff firm is undergoing training. Westley-Smith believes casebinding will work well with digital foiling, enabling him to offer casebound books with personalised foiling. This is just the kind of detail, he reckons, that design and marketing specialists are looking for when they ask – as they always do – for ‘something a bit special’.

The result

It is certainly special. In the first week of installation, PCL Digital rolled off a soft-touch, foiled menu for an awards event in 24 hours – previously impossible.
A week later it completed a packaging job that could and should be typical of what’s to come if the company is to fulfil its ambitions. The 180 glittery orange boxes combined gold and silver foiling with personalised print. Westley-Smith’s team used the Foliant Multi-functional Inprinting Unit, Vega laminator and its HP Indigo 5500 running orange as a fifth colour.
“We wanted to take advantage of the foil and show how it can work with variable data print,” he explains of a process that blended soft-touch lamination, black toner, silver and gold foiling and intricate designs.
“Currently packaging is under 10% of our business and I would like that to grow to 20% to 30%. Projects like this really show what is possible.
“Ramping up our finishing capabilities gives our clients more options to offer their customers and enables us to help our trade business offer something a bit different.”
“We can also offer prototyping to help end-users see what is possible. It’s early days but we have already had a lot of positive feedback for the foiling process and envisage using it much more.”
Westley-Smith’s small team will need more than interest if it is to successfully round off its five-year plan, the first year of which is 2018. Firm orders are a must: by 2023, Westley-Smith wants turnover to be around the £1m mark – double its current figure – and expects he will need ten to 12 members of staff to cross that seven-figure threshold. So far, all is going to plan, he enthuses.
“Those menus we used to print, laminate, trim and then dispatch over several days can now be printed, finished and sent out if not on the same day then the next day. With this faster system we can be more responsive. The kit can also flexibly handle longer runs when the need arises.”
He envisages buying more equipment this year and is currently in talks with a Chinese manufacturer.
“A further investment in 2018 will be for short-run die-cutting and kiss-cutting for labels.”
“This would tie in with our desire to strengthen the packaging and prototyping side of our business and justify reaching out to Birmingham and beyond to let people know we’re here,” he added.
PCL Digital was established 2006. Its products are short-run booklets such as colour swatches and wire-bound recipe books as well as packaging for trade customers, design agencies, print buyers and end-users.

Top Tips

Identify key allies who can help smooth your finishing revamp – trusted kit suppliers, financial experts and business advisers

Chose the right kit by weighing up your needs, budget, staffing skills and any costly work to your premises that might be required to accommodate it

Train staff, not just how to use the new kit and create new finishes, but on the culture of turning around work in much quicker timeframes

Create a new customer dialogue, using the new kit to nurture stronger client relationships by telling them how you and your machinery can help their businesses even more