18 September 2017 Print Companies

Factory deal puts spring in Springfield

Springfield Solutions has always pushed the ways it works and has evolved from a traditional proofing business into the largest all digital label producer in the UK.

There is a mosaic on the floor of the Springfield Solutions factory in Hull that dates the building to 1870. Early plans of the development are marked Print Works, the name that has been revived for the project to reshape the business over the last year.

Today all the presses are laid out logically on the production floor and the company has introduced software to ensure that what is printed is tracked in the most up to date way. The outside of the factory retains a solid Victorian air, even if the new logo on the glass doors hints at what lies inside.

The mosaic remains in place along with wooden panels and impressive staircase to the upstairs offices. It might appear to be a very traditional Yorkshire business.

Springfield Solutions is, however, far from traditional. The company dates back 40 years to when Albert Dass saw an opportunity for a proofing business to supply accurate representations of pages that would be printed before the printer or publisher went to the expense of a press make ready and press pass.

These wet proofs were made on flatbed proofing presses, Springfield’s first encounter with Screen as a supplier of this technology. While this was an expensive step, it was as nothing compared to an aborted make ready on a heatset web offset press.

Colour lithography was taking off and there was a big demand for these proofs from all types of business, magazine publishers especially, including latterly packaging. Dass had seen the way the industry was moving and seized the opportunity.

He was equally quick to spot the transition away from manual page make up and plate making into digital prepress with electronic page composition systems. Then the Apple Mac arrived along with PostScript to change everything again and quickly led to full page output of film.

Then platemaking was transformed with the first Purup platesetter, later a Creo Trendsetter. “Springfield was the first company in the world to produce artwork for packaging digitally,” says Matt Dass, Albert’s son and joint managing director. That artwork he says was a promotional pack for Asda with a tie in with the Teenaged Mutant Hero Turtles characters.

As well as the first platesetter, it was the first to transmit artwork using ISDN. Kingston Communications is the privately owned telecoms supplier that has served the local area while BT operated in the rest of the country.

That first file took eight hours to transmit to the customer; the same journey with output films in an envelope and by courier would have taken four hours. That was not the point. Springfield knew that the future lay in being an all digital business. Today file transmission is routine and key to the artwork management arm that started with the Asda pack.

The brand management division today works for 40 brands ensuring that packaging across the different Skus is consistent around the world, that it meets regulatory requirements and that files are optimised for whatever printing process is chosen. All artwork is now transmitted digitally in a matter of minutes rather than hours.

Digital artwork has extended into a media service which handles augmented reality apps for customers. For Yorkshire Tea it produced an app which when used to scan the pack opened up a webpage for the customer to enter the promotional code number to prove the tea had been purchased. When the consumers had entered ten codes, they received a free tea pot, an up to date version of collecting coupons and with better data capture.

The software development team has created a hologram display stand where a product can be viewed from all angles. For a German pharmaceutical company this meant showing its nebulising spray unit for delivering a painkiller, rotating and then exploded into its component parts. It was created for a product launch. There is huge potential in this service which is closely tied to the MockIt digital concept and sample pack operation.

In the mid 1990s this was inconceivable. At this time there was a litho press producing wet labels for among others, paint businesses where accuracy of colours must be absolute both for labels and swatch books.

Later it acquired the Print Works building needing extensive work to make it fit for purpose. The building was not in the best condition. It had been used to train young offenders in construction skills to keep them out of prison by teaching them to build walls, leaving all sorts of detritus for the new owners.

Springfield then became the first company to install the Indigo Omnius 50, the first webfed digital label press. “At this point it was not a production tool, but was used as a machine to produce mock ups and proofs,” saysEbeltoft.

Springfield’s knowledge of digital repro and printing attracted interest across the Atlantic leading to a sale to US packaging group Fort Dearbon and the arrival of Ebeltoft to manage the new asset. This brought the space to invest in the business with new Indigos (down the years Springfield has brought seven in all) and a Nilpeter MO3300 combination label press.

A strategic rethink at the top of the US owner led to a retreat from Europe in 2005 and the opportunity for Albert Dass to buy back the business. Ebeltoft somehow found Hull more enticing than Michigan. Seven years later, the analogue Nilpeter was sold, a third Indigo installed and Springfield had become an all digital print business which today is on course for 20 million metres of self adhesive labels in this year. Digital production is not simply a short run business.

But Springfield is very much an efficiency focused business. The company combines a Cerm MIS with home developed tools. One of these is a Filemaker database that is used to manage maintenance tasks which could previously be forgotten or the paperwork mislaid. As the tasks are carried out, the data is logged in the database to show what was done, when and by whom.

Springfield chose to buy the Cerm rather than continue to develop its own technology or choose the alternative US Labeltraxx software. That Cerm is a European developer was an important factor. The MIS integrates with the EskoArtwork prepress workflow system which in turn links to the presses and finishing lines. and upstream to design.

Barcodes are used to track jobs and material used on each job, whether start up waste or material used for the job. Records are held for six months, longer for pharmaceutical customers. “The big direction is for us to go paperless on the job ticket,” says Ebeltoft.

This will save a lot of paper, but the company has not quite got there, however a four-page sheet which detailed each job is now a single-page sheet with links to the MIS. It means that every metre of material is accounted for, that material is put back on the shelf with a ticket describing how much is left on each reel and a barcode identifier. The guesswork has been taken away. Previously reels might be left on the shelf because nobody could be sure if there would be enough to run the job.

The objective is to hold just two reels of any substrate, reducing the amount of cash tied up in stock. It has not quite reached this point, but has got to the ‘first in first out’ use of the substrates used. A barcode is generated when the reel is returned to stock and the information relayed to the MIS to show what is available to those booking in a job. In turn this information goes to the shop floor to match with the production details of a job.

As runs can vary considerably, tracking materials will improve efficiency significantly: 6,000 metres for one job; 17,000 metres for the next; 8,000 metres for the third. And others for cans of highly specialist paint may only be a few dozen samples, but across a number of colours and applications for the paint.

These are run lengths that are within the scope of flexo printing. But flexo fails in terms of turnaround times because of the platemaking and make ready processes involved. The paint customer receives a delivery twice a week, five working days after placing an order, not feasible for flexo let alone at the micro run lengths required. It is a just in time service that an increasing number of customers are catching on to as the benefits of just in time ordering in terms of reducing money tied up in stock become clear.

Having notched a number of firsts, the company had pioneering in its blood. “In 2014, Albert and I began looking at inkjet technology. Two years earlier it had not really been there, but thanks to better heads inkjet was faster and delivered better quality. we narrowed the choice down to two suppliers and went with Screen,” says Ebeltoft. “Albert had previously used Screen proofing presses and had an existing relationship, so we ended up with the first Screen TruepressJet L350UV in the world and 15 months later we bought the second.”

The third arrived with the factory expansion this year along with a Digicon 3 finishing line. This is another long standing relationship. AB Graphics is only a few miles from Hull at Bridlington and it has supplied inspection equipment and latterly finishing lines. The first Digicon was too fast for the Indigo Springfield had at the time, so ran offline. By the time the faster WS6000 series 3 Indigo engine came along, the Digicon could be integrated. When that was achieved in 2010, it was another world first for the business.

“This innovation has always given us an edge over the competition and I think we will continue to move in that direction,” says Ebeltoft. A next step might be nanography. Springfield was impressed seeing the concept ay Drupa 2012 when a label press was part of the portfolio. This did not return for the 2016 show, but development work in Israel continues and Springfield keeps watching.

At Drupa it looked closely at the Indigo 8000, but decided that inkjet was the preferred solution. If there was little space to install the relatively compact Screen machine, the twin engined Indigo press would certainly have been too large.

Digital carton production, however, is coming, if only as a short run niche business. There is now a website aimed at bethrothed couple who can order a set of boxes for any wedding favours, embellished with details of their names and the occasion. The first couple to make use of this was an in-house job, when a printer married one of Springfield’s CSR team.

Carton printing is an offshoot of MockIt, the company youngest division. As brands take to different forms of packaging, MockIt is positioned to work with them. There are samples showing how cartons transition to pouches, or how carton sleeves can become flow wraps. “Springfield is a solutions provider to supply any packaging solution that the customer might want,” says Ebeltoft.

He holds up an aerosol canister that looks as if it has been printed directly with artwork covering the whole can. However this is a label, with compliance and usage information revealed by peeling open the label. It can be resealed to retain the integrity of the designer’s vision.

Flow wraps are becoming popular to judge by the number of samples that the company is producing. “At one time chocolate would be packaged in a carton, now it is likely to be a wrap,” he explains. Other samples show the impact of Color-Logic metallic colours over foiled materials or with soft touch laminates.

The cartons are produced on a Ricoh Pro C7100 which has been moved into an area of the factory set aside for the short run cartons alongside that for MockIt and two HP Indigos. MockII has Mimaki and Roland DG inkjet printers, a Kongsberg cutting table, laminator and guillotine. A new quality assurance lab and area for customer presentations completes the development on the ground floor.

It has breathed new life into a building that had been in a sorry state, used to give young offenders new skills in the building trade, when Springfield took over. The connection with youth continues. The company has a strong training ethos taking on apprentices and allowing them to acquire new skills rather than confine them to one area of the business. Some press operators have been taken on in finishing and have moved to the printing machines as they have wanted. The idea is to create a workforce that is not limited to a single set of skills but people that can move as required.

The Print Works project has put the company in a position where it can continue to invest in label production, and it will, or can grow its other divisions to broaden the packaging offering. What is not in doubt is that Springfield will continue to innovate to keep ahead of the needs of its customers.

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