Asked about the secret to his success, a prosperous German label producer pinpointed specialisation. ‘Find a niche market and develop it to the utmost,’ he disclosed. John Driscoll and John Thompson came to the same conclusion when they decided to branch out on their own 11 years ago.

Starting with an 8-colour letterpress machine, they printed food and drinks labels, direct-marketing products and any other jobs they could lay their hands on. At the same time, they were creating new products, notably for direct marketing, often in co-operation with clients, and investing in the necessary machinery to realise the creations. ‘It’s a brave approach but there is little competition when the new products are marketed due to the high cost of the investment,’ notes Mr Thompson.

Notable investments were another 12-unit letterpress machine, new and larger premises on the present site at Park Royal in the western suburbs of London and, more lately, an Edale combination press. Meanwhile the company, Consul Printing and Packaging Ltd, has expanded to employ 21 people and record a turnover of E2.6 million. It is, today, a foremost specialist producer of peel-and-reveal, dry-peel, scratch-off, label cards and direct mail labels and is an approved supplier to well known companies such as Coca-Cola Schweppes, Reader’s Digest, Sainsbury’s, Boots Plc and Grattan’s PLC, to name just a few.

A notable example of Consul’s multi-layered intelligent labels for bespoke interactive solutions is a prize coupon for a supermarket direct-mail product promotion with a seal which, when peeled off, revels the customer’s name and number. The latter are printed by ink-jet, or any suitable engine, from variable data equipment capable of printing on a variety of substrates at high speed but fine quality.

Another of the company’s best selling specialities is the Dry-Peel card, a system for attaching loyalty or membership cards to mailers by a label dispenser, clearly and efficiently, at high speed, without the use of glue.

The system employs a double-sided film that enables the card to be removed easily and cleanly without damaging either the card or the carrier. It allows for better presentation of the card as, unlike using large blobs of glue, the card adheres flat to the carrier and can be printed on both sides.

‘To produce products like these, we need flexible presses,’ explains Mr Thompson. ‘We were impressed by what we heard about Edale’s machines at Schreiner in Germany and found that the people at Edale knew what they were talking about. We looked at the press on offer to check its adaptability for our requirements such as to add laminators, turner bars, etc, and to move components as required in our production. In fact the open architecture of the E-330 lends itself admirably to the production of our complex labels. It allows us to create even more innovative products for our clients, more quickly than ever before, and has increased our output capacity by 40 per cent.’

Built to Consul’s specification, the 9-colour E-330 combination in-line press is configured with two reel stands, seven flexo and two Stork silk-screen printing units supplied under contract by the Dutch manufacturer. For finishing, the machine incorporates one mid-station die unit for cutting special products and two main die units at the end of the press. In addition, the finishing section includes quick-set rotary shear-slitting, a rewind unit and a delivery table for sheeted work which incorporates a batching system.

Why flexo and silk-screen?

‘When we acquired the second letterpress machine some four years ago, we weren’t convinced of flexo’s quality,’ relates Mr Thompson. ‘Now, with the great improvements in plates, anilox rollers and inks, we are. Furthermore, after discussion with marketing agencies to specify the colours for jobs, in flexo we can print spot colours which match the client’s specifications closer than Pantone ones.’

Silk-screen, on the other hand, enables Consul to take on certain types of security products where scratch-off facilities are all important. The characteristic durability and opacity of silk-screen printing provide opportunities for new types of work, in particular when a white undercoat is required for overprinting.

A flexo printed white tends to come out grey and is not sufficiently opaque, often having to be printed twice to achieve the required density. Silk-screen inks are more opaque, even when thinly applied, and the coarseness of the screen can be varied to obtain the necessary depth of ink. Although silk-screen is acknowledged to be the best process for printing large areas of solids, tests at Consul have proved that it can also be used to reproduce very fine print on film with high resolution and the desired opacity. The ability to use other types of inks, such as thermo-reactive and tactile, is also of interest to Consul.

Like all printing stations on the other presses, those on the E-330 are furnished with UV curing, the dryershaving been supplied by Vti. The UV inks are purchased from well known suppliers and the people at Consul work together with the manufacturers’ laboratory technicians to obtain the desired features.

The minimum production run averages 10 000 labels although only 4000 may be printed during test runs. ‘Jobs go on and off the presses,’ related Mr Thompson. ‘Quite a few are repeats. Using the same plates, and recording the anilox screen and inks, we easily achieve the same results. That’s a big advantage of flexo. Coupled to that, the E-330 runs faster than the other presses and its substantially shorter make-ready times enable us to save on materials. Furthermore, we can add features such as variable data, scratch-off, etc, all in one pass on the machine. Hence, remarkably, we make more money on short-run jobs.’

At the top end of the scale, jobs such as dry-peel cards run to three million or more, and are on press for up to 2½ weeks at a time. The printers work in double day shifts in which the 24-hour day is divided into two shifts. Twelve-hour shifts are worked during busy times and the weekends are held open for emergencies.

The company recently started to print jobs destined for a number of other European countries which require the text plates to be changed for the different languages. ‘This business is growing,’ reveals Mr Thompson, ‘and we shall be establishing a web site to publicise our products on a larger scale. The flexi-cards, dry-peel labels, etc, will be itemised in detail individually on each of the 20 pages.’

Already commissioned, a Jenem Focus 2000 management system provides total customer recall. It already handles quotations, orders as well as complete job histories and shop-floor data collection will be added shortly. ‘The Focus 2000 also includes a contact management database for our marketing strategies, enabling us to recall details of discussions with customers and send out mail shots. It makes us totally 2000 compliant,’ concludes Mr Thompson.

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