"We are at the start of a venture into digital," explains technical director Warren Irving. "The demand is coming from a number of sources. On the one hand, you have people who produce programmes and they want to print 20-30 at a time, replacing stock as they sell it, generally through online channels. Then you have those customers that order 30,000 products, but there are 25 versions of those products, and some of those versions will only have run lengths of around 100-200."
Using PCP’s existing press line-up of heavy artillery for these jobs is a bit like cracking a nut with a sledgehammer, according to Irving. The company would gang the jobs and trim off the waste. It was wasteful and inflexible.
Hence, PCP needed some nimbler, lighter-weight fighters to add to its fight card. On the press side, it opted for a Xerox Color 1000, supplied by Fujifilm. It had the right price point and specifications for this first foray into digital printing, says Irving, and PCP could operate it through its existing XMF workflow.
Working out what finishing option to run alongside the press was arguably a more difficult decision, but Irving and PCP opted to trust Fujifilm in this area too; the company went for a Duplo System 5000 from Fujifilm, which acts as a reseller for the Duplo kit.
"We have a long-standing relationship with Fujifilm; we were one of the first users of XMF, so it was natural that they would be our partner in our move into digital. We knew we could trust them, and the benefit was that we could continue to use our existing workflow. It was just so much easier," says Irving.
The System 5000 is a collating and bookletmaking system designed for the digital market. It can collate and stitch magazines of up to 100pp, and has the option of a three-knife trimmer. Speed-wise, its maximum output is 5,000 A5 booklets per hour, and it boasts a 12-job memory and up to 60 collating bins.
PCP took delivery of the machine last year. The company had converted a former office into a specialist digital pressroom, relaying the floor and improving the air conditioning. Hence, when the System 5000 was delivered, it was just a matter of bolting it together and plugging it in.
Interestingly, it was not existing finishing or pressroom staff that were drafted in to use the new digital finishing machine. Instead, PCP opted to give that responsibility to the pre-press staff and Irving explains that this meant training was crucial.
"The people we have running the machine are not press minders or finishing operators; they’re from our pre-press department, so they don’t fully appreciate its capabilities."
Fortunately, training was very good and the system proved painless to navigate, according to Irving.
"We found the machine to be very easy to use. It’s straightforward and designed to be quick to set up, so we expected no issues," he reveals. "I would say Duplo’s ‘green button’ claim is largely true, but there are obviously parameters that you have to put in place, too. I would say our operator could run the machine after half a day’s training, and by the end of the day she was pretty comfortable.
"Then we had an extra day of training a couple of months later, after our operator had had time to get to grips with the day-to-day operation and uncover any issues – how to use certain stock sizes, for example, or certain types of stock."
Mark Stephenson, sales manager for digital solutions at Fujifilm, explains this split training process is a standard way of working for Fujifilm.
"Usually, what we do with most bits of kit is to conduct the initial days of training but leave a day aside to come back at a later date," he says. "When you are training on a bit of new kit, it is very difficult to understand what you are learning as you have no practical experience on the machine. We come back after a couple of weeks or a month to see what additional training work needs to be done."
It’s not just training that benefits from some machine time, according to Irving. He explains that knowledge of the machine is also crucial to ironing out the niggles that can come up with using a piece of new technology – where you once would have phoned an engineer, you learn to fix the issue yourself, he says.
"We have had some niggles but nothing major – things like a worn roller, or bits of wire that were left in the machine while stitching that you could not get access too," he explains.
"We have never had to wait for an engineer to fix those and telephone support is almost immediate. What you do find, though, is that the more you use the machine, and the more used to it you become, niggles crop up less frequently or you find you can iron them out yourself. It’s not operator error causing the problems, but learning how the machine works and its quirks and how to work around them does solve the issues. That is the same on all machines, not just the Duplo."
The service support for PCP’s machine is delivered by Duplo itself, but Stephenson says Fujifilm is involved in an observation capacity to ensure the install is going smoothly. He says that issues are generally just about getting used to the machine, as Irving suggests. "Everyone has their favourite stocks and every stock needs to be handled in a slightly different way," he says.
The good news for both Fujifilm and Duplo is that Irving and PCP are very happy with the purchase. Irving particularly likes the square-back option.
"It means we can cater for those customers that want stitch products that look perfect bound. We use the machine quite often for presentation material where a client will want, for example, three books that they use as selling material," he says.
As for speed and quality, for the job that PCP was looking for the System 5000 to perform and for the price point it was willing to pay, Irving says it is the perfect machine.
"Speed-wise, this machine is the right machine for us at this point. That said, as we have used the Xerox and the Duplo machine more, you inevitably want it to go faster the more work you are putting on it and the more you understand the digital market. As for quality, the machine does what we expected. It would be great if we could stitch thicker books or heavier covers, but that is not what this machine was designed to do."
Currently, 70% of the work that comes off the Xerox machine goes onto the System 5000 and the System 5000 itself is running at around 15% of capacity, according to Irving. There is plenty of room to grow into the machine, then. However, how well a fit the machine will continue to be for the business depends on how successful the digital market proves to be for PCP and what digital products are being requested, says Irving.
"How we progress depends on how the market for digital in this sector develops and the type of work it demands," he says. "If the business turns out to be up to 500 pages of stitched product, it is ideal. For our budget and point on the digital transition timeline, it was this machine in conjunction with the Xerox that was the best fit."
For now, then, the machine is perfect for PCP’s requirements and has been a successful tool for its first foray into digital. What the future holds for PCP remains to be seen, but it’s fair to say that both Duplo and Fuji have put their names forward to partner any future digital growth.