The Bluetree Group, the UK’s largest online print provider, has introduced KODAK SONORA X Process Free Plates for the entire fleet of Heidelberg Speedmaster presses. This step, which further increases the Bluetree Group’s quick turnaround capabilities, will map an average of 40,000 plates per month in a process-free production environment, reducing costs, accelerating prepress and strengthening Bluetree’s commitment to sustainable manufacturing.
At the same time, the Bluetree Group installed an automated punching / bending and transport system for Nela plates in order to optimize the path of the process-free SONORA X plates from the company’s three platesetters to the printing machines. Together, the investment results in the simpler and more efficient workflow that Paul Bennington, Litho Team Leader at Bluetree Group, considers “critical when our business is about getting customers work done as quickly as possible. For a typical job, we receive an order at 6 p.m., manufacture and print plates by 9 a.m. and ship them by 11 a.m. The faster we get plates from the CTP to the press, the better. “
Founded in 1989, Bluetree Group can also claim to be the UK’s fastest growing printer with annual sales of over £ 40 million. From a 150,000-square-foot facility in South Yorkshire, the company operates two online print brands: instantprint.co.uk – for small businesses – and Route1Print.co.uk, which serves retail customers. In April 2020, the company responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by adding a new division – Bluetree Medical – when it became the UK’s first manufacturer of Type IIR surgical face masks.
Whole range of colors
According to the website instantprint.co.uk, the product range covers the entire spectrum of commercial printing and includes over 170 products. It is printed both digitally and lithographically. The Bluetree Group is relatively new to the latter (their first press arrived in 2013), but today Litho contributes 50-60% of sales and 70-80% of volume per tonnage. Lewis Rogal, Head of Organizational Development, assumes that these proportions will remain roughly the same for the foreseeable future: “People say how much digital printing has changed – and of course also – but Litho has evolved just as much. Our investment in the process-free SONORA X plates and the Nela system is a typical example. “
The best production process for each order is first determined by an algorithm, which Rogal explains: “A layer of human logic. Together they determine the standard route through the plant. Then we have a production control team that runs the prepress, but also controls the loading of the printing machines in the factory, with the aim of keeping the finish lines running. When the work is constantly moving through the various printing processes, we know we are optimizing the output. “
After imaging, the SONORA X plates supply the Bluetree Group’s Speedmasters battery: two Speedmaster 106 perfectors in eight colors, both with LE UV curing, and an XL 75 in ten colors. According to data from the Bluetree Group over the past two years, the presses use an average of 110 sets of plates per 12-hour shift, with a peak of 180 sets. Each Speedmaster 106 achieves 30-35 readiness preparations per 12-hour shift, and the XL 75 manages 40-50.
With such volumes, the decision to not only change the plate supplier, but also to switch completely to process-free technology was “massive,” says Lewis Rogal. “We were won over by a number of factors – not just the cost savings that come with the simpler, optimized workflow, but also the sustainability benefits. We have ISO 14001 and recently won a KODAK SONORA Plate Green Leaf Award. So sustainable production is important, but we’ve had regular processor issues – washing out the bathroom or, as it felt like, changing the mop roll every week. There were times when Paul got the records, something was wrong, but we couldn’t tell if it was the CTP or the processor. It was really frustrating. “
Bennington picks up the story: “We had tried process-free plates before but had problems with scratching. However, judging by the way Kodak positioned the SONORA X, scratching did not appear to be an issue, which was found to be the case when trying out a set. First of all, we rebuilt one of the CTP lines and one of the Speedmaster 106s. “
When asked how smooth the transition went, Bennington praised Kodak record specialists Gary Horne and Andy McGregor for “knowing the game and speaking my language.” We expected there would be a few issues, but we worked on it together. As soon as we were satisfied, we established a standard procedure for all operators. There was a slight change in the culture going from wet to dry plates, but it was minimal. It helps that the Bluetree Group is not afraid to change. “
“Around 80% of our runs are below 5,000,” he continues, “and the vast majority of those are in the 250 to 500 range, so changing jobs quickly is critical. There is the very rare 10,000-meter run, and we have occasionally run 50,000-meter runs on board with no problems. Cutting out the processing helps a lot, as does the Nela line which shows the panels in the same order as the run list. Operators don’t have to rummage through the plate sections to find the ones they need for the next job – they just pick them up and place them in the press. “
He adds that the performance of the SONORA X plates on the press has exceeded that of their wet predecessors. “We get a good copy within 50 sheets – and within 15 for some work. We were also able to eliminate alcohol, which was kind of forced upon us at the beginning of the lockdown due to the lack of IPA. Not only do we get to good copying faster; This has further improved our environmental friendliness. “
When asked whether the operators ever want to resort to wet plates again, Bennington promptly replies: “No. What we did was a bold move, but that’s the Bluetree Way. Always open to new products and processes, we will take a look at the latest improvement in KODAK SONORA Technology, SONORA XTRA Process Free Plates. “
Kodak continues to lead the market with innovations in process free plate technology with the industry’s closest plate, the SONORA XTRA, which offers higher image contrast, improved handling, and faster imaging speeds. SONORA plate Technology is the most widely used and trusted process free plate technology in the world, used by over 5,000 printers of all sizes worldwide. For more information on KODAK SONORA Process Free Plates, visit: www.kodak.com/go/sonora