Innovators At Work
We keep being told innovation is good for business, so how are print companies incorporating it into their business strategy? Here’s how three successful operations are doing it.
Technological innovation and environmental sustainability are two key issues that Blair Scales. general manager at the Ireland based signage and large format printing company Ballast signs, believes are a necessity to the ongoing success of his firm.
The company, located in the northwest of Ireland and which specialise in signage and large format printing has been in operation for the past 35 years. However, just over two years ago, Scales, a dynamic, forward thinking New Zealander took up the helm, and in that time has transformed the company’s offerings, opening it up to a new level of customer and standing it in good stead for future growth.
Central to the continuing transformation at the company is investment in innovative technology. Aware of the continued focus on environment sustainability and the need to meet customers growing expectations to deliver graphic arts projects more quickly, Blair increased the company’s fire power by investing in two HP digital large format printers in a space of three months.
In addition, the company has also invested in a new design hub housing the latest apple macs and PCs along with a new in house digital printer ideal for small runs of flyers, business cards , posters and the like. Since that time, the company – which also boasts its own creative design, in house fabrication and installation teams – has witnessed a two fold increase in print out put, due largely, says Blair, to the performance attributes of the dual installation.
“As a company, we were keen to move away from solvent based printing, by utilising equipment that is designed with the environment in mind,” Blair explains. “Not only that, but the customers we wanted to target were also taking more of an interest in the types of consumables used and the production methods employed to out put them.
“I had kept a close eye on HP’s first latex device, the HP Designjet L25500, and felt that this was a good, entry level solution for us to establish a more sustainable offering,” he says. “The L25500 uses, water-based inks to provide odourless prints at a level of print quality, way superior to what we could achieve previously.”
Three months on from this first purchase, the company installed an HP Scitex FB500, a UV flatbed/roll to roll device. This industrial workhouse provides Ballast with output enriching matt/gloss finishes at 64in (1.63m) wide. Blair’s team typically set the FB500 to run over night and, if required, are afforded the ability to dial into the printer’s Rip to check and manage the printing remotely.
“Basically, the FB500 has propelled our applications offering to new heights and opens up endless opportunities for us,” says Blair. “ We can now proactively go to customers and suggest new and alternative print projects which they hadn’t dreamed possible, by using virtually any rigid or flexible media.
“During a recent visit by a customer, we took a tile from our ceiling, ran it through the FB500 and printed their logo and branding, before re-staling it in the ceiling – all in the space of a few minutes,” explains Blair “Using such impromptu and quirky methods works wonders at captivating customers and hammering home the many number of objects we can print to.
“In terms of sped, we’re enjoying print times that we never thought achievable” he adds, “Printing a typical eight by four flexible media on our older equipment wold have taken us at least 90 minutes from start to finish. On the FB500 it takes less than four minutes, which means our capacity has been greatly enhanced and we’re able to take on more jobs than in the past.
“As well as workflow efficiencies, we’ve also witnessed financial savings, thanks to the fact that the ink droplets are fitted in millimetres, which has lowered our consumables cost,” he continues.
As expected, the new systems have generated a wide variety of work including giant Hexon wall wraps and interior refits for bars and nightclubs. A number of specialised jobs have also been carried out such as sandblasted glass effect floors; porcelain floor tiles that are first printed on and then glazed, furniture and nameplates for hotel rooms.
“As well as adding new dynamism to our capability, our HP machines have increased our capacity, which means we are able to take on a more diverse array of projects and to run jobs for more than one client at the same time. This will typically see us outputting point of purchase graphics onto cardboard, or undertake long run event work on the FB500, while the L25500 is across the room printing vinyl graphics for vehicle applications,” says Blair.
Among the customers to benefit from Ballast’s HP large format print offering is pharmacy chain McSweeney Group, which now regularly commission Blair and his team to outfit its string of nationwide retail stores.
“I believe in going after business, rather than waiting for a knock on my door,” says Blair. “Confident in the ability of our new digital printing kit, we were not afraid to approach McSweeney Group and give it a taste of what we could do for its retail pharmacies.”
This tactic clearly paid off and recently saw the customer commission Ballast to output and install a number of large sized window films for a promotional campaign by the company. “We were given the art work files on the Tuesday and were tasked with printing and installing the finished graphics to the entire chain of eighteen stores in the Republic and Northern Ireland during the Wednesday to Friday of the next week,” Blair adds. Ballast signs printed a total of over 40m of graphics onto HP self adhesive vinyl in five hours, which were then fitted by its dedicated installation team within the customer deadline.
Looking ahead, Blair is confident that the business is well positioned to maintain its position as one of Ireland’s foremost specialist large format graphics suppliers. The company has plans to expand its operation to more locations over the next 5 years, with a need to invest in further printing technology housed in its main location.
Says Blair “Everyone wants to be successful, but I want to be looked back on as being very innovative. Part of our brand is that we’re pretty understated in what we do. We pride ourselves on doing our bit to be an environmentally aware company and making our clients aware of our commitment to a greener environment.”