Me & My Horizon Stitch Liner 5500 by PrintWeek

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Me & My… Horizon StitchLiner 5500

By Jon SeversFriday, 13 May 2011

This machine’s one-minute makeready has proved a ‘godsend’ for Ruddocks, especially when it has to handle such a broad variety of work

COMPANY PROFILE Ruddocks is a 126-year-old general commercial B2 printers based in Lincoln. Its litho and digital kit services a broad range of clients, including the hotel and leisure industry. It operates both nationally and locally. The company employs 39 staff and, this year, will turn over £2.5m. It also operates an in-house design studio.

Why it was bought… Managing director Paul Banton says: “We needed a production line that could handle smaller quantities as efficiently as the longer runs and would be equally at home with litho and digital work. It had to be able to easily complete runs of 500, 1,000 or 2,000 in A4, A5 and A6 to the high standards our customers expect and we demand.”

How has it performed? Banton says it has enabled the company to win more work, boost productivity and quote more competitively.


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Over the course of its 126-year history, the firm has picked up a number of skills across a variety of sectors, and today it produces everything from books and stationery to parish council newsletters, on both a national and a local scale – the split is roughly half-and-half – using both litho and digital technologies.

It also offers campaign management services and has its own design studio that, according to Banton, “is a proper creative studio that puts brands together, not just bits of artwork”. Even a cursory glance at the company’s website reveals just how ineffective a description ‘general commercial B2 printer’ really is.

It’s surprising, then, that just over a year ago the company’s flexible mantra did not extend to its finishing department. It was running a Duplo machine for shorter-run work and a Muller Martini line for its long-run jobs, but the majority of the work coming in was at a run length that fell between the two bits of kit. A solution appeared, unexpectedly, at last year’s Ipex.

Chance encounter “We went to Ipex with no real intention of purchasing anything at all,” explains Banton. “However, we did need a production line that could handle smaller quantities as efficiently as the longer runs and would be equally at home with litho and digital work. It had to be able to easily complete runs of 500, 1,000 or 2,000 in A4, A5 and A6 to the very high standards our customers expect and we demand. So we ended up looking at the Duplo Alpha Saddle and the Horizon StitchLiner.”

Both seemed to solve Banton’s problem but the Alpha Saddle didn’t have a release date at the time, so that left the StitchLiner. Banton had known about the machine for some time, but had not previously considered it as an option. Yet, with increasingly short litho runs and the growth of the digital side of the business, it suddenly seemed to fit. A few months of pondering later, he signed for the machine in November last year and it was installed by Intelligent Finishing Systems (IFS) in early December.

Ruddock’s system has got twin VAC-Turbo 100 10-bin PowerCollators that can be run as 20 stations or as two banks of 10 feeding one after the other. The machine gathers the work, pre-scores the sheets, saddlestiches it and three-knife trims it. It also has a gully cutter on the three-knife trim, so A5 landscape booklets can be produced 2-up.

Banton says the installation went without incident and potential issues were quickly smoothed out. Commissioning the machine and training were completed within a week and the machine has been running for six months without a hitch. “The build of the machine is really sound,” he explains. “But then Horizon are renowned for their build reliability, so we expected that.”

The benefits to the business since installation have been substantial. For example, its ease-of-use means only one operator is needed, when previously two had been required. The latter used to mean the finishing kit could not be run across the company’s double shifts all the time, as arranging for two skilled operators at all times proved too tricky.

With the StitchLiner, this isn’t a problem and the machine is running whenever it is needed and there’s also an extra body to be put somewhere else in the print process. However, the ease-of-use didn’t go down so well with everyone, according to Banton.

“One of my guys has been in finishing all his life and he had a lot of reservations about it – one of which was that it was part of a deskilling process because it’s all touchscreen operated,” he reveals. “He was used to spanners and screwdrivers and all the rest, but now he loves it. It creates a lot more flexibility in the factory, which is what a modern print company needs.”

Chop and change This flexibility extends beyond staffing. Due to a one-minute makeready time for the machine, interrupting long-run jobs to push through a short-run or digital job is manageable, whereas on the old Muller line, Banton says the makeready of around an hour to break off and change format would make it impossible.

“The ability to chop and change is such a massive benefit,” he explains. “It has been a massive godsend as we need to switch jobs about all the time. We are accepting lead times we wouldn’t have been able to accept before. We really struggled to get this productivity out of the Muller.”

As for speed and quality, Banton says the machine is comparable to his old machines. Horizon says the machine is capable of producing 5,500 booklets per hour, but Banton has found this slightly ambitious, averaging around 4,500 booklets per hour. However, this was what he was getting on his old kit so he says he hasn’t lost out. As for quality, he says the only work the Muller line did better was thick books with heavy covers.

In response, IFS joint managing director Bryan Godwyn says the advertised speed is achievable, but that “in every-day conditions the speed will vary from job to job, operator to operator and run length to run length”. As for the thicker book issues, he argues that “the majority of printers running a Muller Martini will buy a compensating stacker that will press the book on delivery and this option is also available from IFS.”

From Banton’s point of view, these concerns are minor quibbles about a machine that he struggles to pinpoint a fault with. He has been especially pleased with its impact on digital work.

“With digital, it has helped massively,” he reveals. “We would finish a lot of digital work by hand, but as it only takes a minute to set the machine up we can now do this mechanically, which obviously gives a significant speed advantage.”

The combination of speed and flexibility has enabled Banton to quote more competitively. He cites a recent contract to print six monthly parish newsletters, each with a 5,000 run length. With the Muller, the price bracket would have been out of reach, but with the Horizon system he was able to price competitively and win the work.

“We also have an annual job coming up that is 160,000 small, thin voucher books for a hotel chain,” he adds. “We can print them 2-up with a gully and run them on the StitchLiner. Before we would have used the Muller Martini to put in two stitches and then added two more by hand, either that or sent the job out. So the StitchLiner is saving us a lot of time on that job alone.”

For Ruddocks, then, the StitchLiner has not only solved what is no doubt a common bindery problem for many printers, that of sub-optimal run lengths for existing kit, but it has also had a significant impact on the company’s ability to quote for work. Banton has no qualms in recommending the machine to other printers, other than that he may lose his competitive advantage.

“There are an awful lot of printers like us,” he says. “The only people it won’t suit is those doing the true long-run work as that is more about speed of production, not speed of makeready. But for everyone else, I would completely recommend it.”

By Jon SeversFriday, 13 May 2011

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Mid-State Litho, Inc. is your valued Standard Horizon Dealer. If you would like to receive additional information about Standard Horizon’s Stitch Liner 5500, you can contact us at 1-800-343-4231.

CLICK HERE to request an information packet.

Mid-State Litho, Inc. 5459 Fenton, Rd. Flint, MI 48507

Toll Free: 1-800-343-4231

PH: 810-238-7370

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