Solopress expands into B1 as part of mega-spend

by | Oct 31, 2022

Solopress has completed a near-£5m investment round with a strategic step up into B1 litho production to increase capacity, with the firm also on track for a record year.

Cooper (left) with Bendy and the XL 106
Cooper (left) with Bendy and the XL 106

The commercial print and web-to-print specialist has installed a £2.5m ten-colour Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 106 with coater in an additional unit – Site 4 – at its Southend-on-Sea base. 

The highly-specified 18,000sph model XL 106 was sourced from Germany by Exel Printing Machinery. 

Solopress has taken on the extra 930sqm unit to house its new B1 setup, which includes associated finishing equipment including two new high-speed Horizon iCE folders from IFS and two Polar 137 guillotines that have been relocated into the space.  

The firm has also completely refreshed its CTP setup with three new Magnus 800 platesetters from Kodak. It runs Sonora process-free plates. 

The new unit has space for another B1 press to be installed alongside the XL 106 in future. 

Managing director Simon Cooper said the firm, which is part of Germany-headquartered Onlineprinters Group, could have bought a brand new model but the lead times were too long. 

“With this press we saved a bit of money and got it quicker. It’s exactly what we wanted and it was available. I’m over the moon,” he said.

“We’re known as a B2 printer but this press takes us into the next sphere.”

The XL 106 has just gone into full production. It is 23 metres long and has an extended delivery. 

Exel sales director Ian Bendy said it had been fully cleaned and powder coated prior to installation, and described it as “as new”. 

“It’s unusual because although it’s a 2018 press it has the Drupa 2020 specification. I think I’m right in saying it’s the only used machine in the UK that has Prinect Press Center 3,” he explained.

The press is fitted with Autoplate XL 3, which changes a complete set of plates in under one minute. 

Cooper said the coating facility also gave the firm additional options. 

“60% of the work we produce goes in and out on the same day, and that means we want to be working on the next process straightaway. So we want to be able to seal everything. Coating could also be an interesting angle from an environmental point-of-view, to offer customers the option of a coated cover or a laminated one.”

Cooper said he expected the average run length on the XL 106 to be around 3,000.

Solopress has traded in one of its three Speedmaster XL 75 B2 presses as part of the deal, a move that also frees up some space for its digital printing setup. 

The firm’s capabilities now span small-format digital, B2 digital, high-speed inkjet web production, large-format digital, B2 and B1 litho with a wide range of finishing processes also handled in-house including spot UV, foiling and round cornering. It employs more than 200 staff.

Investment in new equipment during 2022 has totalled £4.8m, including the B1 expansion, a Motioncutter 23 laser cutter for kiss-cut label production installed at the start of the year, a new HP Indigo 100K B2 press, a Horizon Mark III StitchLiner, and further kit from Moll and Encore Machinery for making up folders and creasing covers and cards.

Cooper also said its HP PageWide T250 HD inkjet web with Hunkeler offline finishing kit was “a dream”.

“We batch flyers, leaflet and letterheads as one job. It’s fast, clean and easy.

“I’m very proud of the workflow we have developed. A customer can place an order on our website and the first time the job will be touched is when someone picks up the finished goods.”

He said that the firm offered customers a blended approach in how orders are placed, with around 30% of jobs placed via a human rather than via web-to-print, simply because some clients prefer it that way. 

Despite a slow start to 2022, and dips in activity cause by the Platinum Jubilee weekend and the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Cooper said that Solopress was on course for a record year, which would see the business exceed the £30.5m of sales it achieved in 2019 – and the fresh B1 capacity gives the firm the headroom to grow further. 

September was its strongest month yet, and daily sales are up 55% on last year.

By using data from its sophisticated MIS and workflow systems Cooper’s team has made “lots of little changes” to benefit overall performance and quality. 

“We use data to help us decide where to put our efforts in order to minimise issues, such as reprints, so we have happy customers that keep coming back,” he added. 

“We are very focused on profitability as we want to keep investing.”

Its Solopro offering for professional, high-volume buyers is up 30% on 2019, and Cooper said other printers were increasingly deciding to outsource their commodity work.

Cooper’s own role has recently expanded, and he now also heads up operations and procurement across the €275m (£234m) turnover Onlineprinters group of businesses.

“Our CEO is determined for us to work more closely as a group, to share knowledge and make collective decisions about things like capacity and future investments,” he said. 

Last month Solopress added a new integrated doordrop distribution tool to its product range. 

This text is reproduced with kind permission of Print Week, you can read the original article first published here