The first of a new generation of dual stack presses from Edale, the Alpha Multi, has been acquired by Kingfisher Labels.

Edale has installed its first Alpha Multi press at Kingfisher Labels, an established label converter based in Yate, North Bristol, UK.

Kingfisher is a family business, Martin Jackson, MD, his wife, Jackie, son, Karl ,production Director, and Andy Watts, sales Director. Established in 1996, Kingfisher’s first machine was a 3-color Mark Andy 830, followed by two more in a five year period. ‘When we moved to our current plant and looked to expand, we could not really accommodate a modular press like an Edale Beta or Mark Andy 2200, so the 4-color Alpha was ideal for us,’ said Martin Jackson. ‘At that time we needed to improve our print quality and capability with increased web width in a compact design. We therefore purchased our original Alpha approximately ten years ago and have continually updated the press with new plate roll shafts, motorized unwind and rewind to keep in line with the other two more recently purchased Alphas.’

In the meantime, Edale considered what to do with the Alpha press. Edale’s UK sales director, Adrian Morton recalls,‘The Alpha is an award winning press and had not come to the end of its cycle by any means. After selling 150 of the Alpha worldwide, we felt there was a market for this compact flexo press – and the idea was to increase color potential whilst still remaining compact. We decided to work on the two stack concept and asked Kingfisher for their input from a very early stage.’

The Alpha Multi is effectively two Alphas – a 4-color and a 5-color – ganged together with a switchable web path. Each stack has its own infeed and web guides and the whole press takes up no more than 5sq m of floor space.

This arrangement means one stack can be in production while the second is made ready, or the same web can be run through both stacks, allowing up to nine colours to be printed in a single pass. Customers with an Alpha can upgrade to the Multi in the field.

‘We can use the Multi as a standard 4-color press and we can set up the back stack while the front stack is running,’ commented Martin Jackson. ‘At the same time, it’s easy to web up from one stack to the other for the extra colours. We can change jobs quickly and there is very little waste. In five colour mode we have no more than 8 – 10m of web in the machine and 23m when we run 9-colors. ’

A significant input from Kingfisher’s side was the turn bar on the press, which allows the company to print both sides of the web in full colour and with the addition of varnish and cold foil where necessary.

Other aspects of the Multi are identical to the Alpha. IR and UV curing are available, as well as cold foiling. A quick release plate roll mechanism allows accurate registration to be achieved quickly, and a three nip tension control system aids registration stability. Quick release lightweight ceramic anilox and doctor blades help speed up make-ready. All tooling is fully interchangeable with Kingfisher’s existing Edale machines.

Martin Jackson said the new press has already opened doors with existing customers. ‘Jobs that previously would have to have been passed through a press multiple times or where we would send out for foiling, we can now do in one pass.’

The fast changeover of the Multi press is particularly important with the growth of shorter runs and of multi-sorts within the same order. One recent job involved 30 sorts, which is not untypical.

Commenting on the quality achievable from the Alphas and Multi, Jackson noted that when the company started out, a 400lpi anilox was ‘pushing the boat out. Today we are using 1200lpi anilox.’

The future looks bright for Kingfisher – an opinion shared by the company’s UK sales director, Andy Watts, who has a wide range of experience in the labels industry with larger print companies, and was happy to commit to a smaller, more agile business like Kingfisher. ‘We can make a significant impact with our ability to respond faster and are more flexibly to customers’ changing demands,’ said Watts.

Fighting for margin

Looking at the wider business sector today, Martin Jackson said ‘One of the biggest problems faced by Kingfisher Labels over the last two years has been the vicious downward spiral of selling prices within the marketplace when laminators and paper manufacturers are increasing their selling prices 2-3 times per year.

‘At some point label companies in the UK have got to grasp the nettle and increase their prices, no matter how difficult. It is no use having a considerable number of label makers who only appear to want to cut each other’s’ throats, enter administration and then start up again! We find this practice disgraceful, when we have committed a considerable amount to capital expenditure in our business where we value loyalty to our staff, customers and suppliers.’

Jackson also points the finger at sales agents; ‘In our industry we do not help ourselves. All too often companies are afraid to employ good sales people, and are content to let merchants sit between them and the end user. Ultimately this leads to a lack of loyalty which then drives the prices downwards. The merchant’s cut is often more than the manufacturer’s, subsequently reducing the opportunity of capital investment which in many areas is badly needed.’

This is all part of a bigger trend, where large organisations outsource services and commodities, not realising there could be two or three intermediaries between the label manufacturer and end user. ‘The end user would see considerable savings by dealing with the manufacturer; it then allows manufacturers like Kingfisher to fight its corner on price,’ says Jackson.  ‘It’s a pity our suppliers – laminators, paper makers and film manufacturers – don’t support us more in getting the message over about prices. It’s quite surprising that in the economic recession we have faced over the last two years, we have had to suffer as many as six price increases with no end in sight. Despite these problems in the last 12 months and the difficult economic climate in which we operate, Kingfisher has pressed ahead with the Alpha-Multi, also investing in additional equipment and constantly looking at ways of improving productivity and innovation.’

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