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First Mark Andy P9E press boosts Berkshire

Mark Andy’s UK and Ireland sales manager Paul MacDonald with Berkshire Labels’ managing director Paul Roscoe and the first P9E to be installed in Europe

UK-based label and shrink sleeve converter Berkshire Labels has installed the first 17in (430mm) Mark Andy Performance Series P9E at its manufacturing facility in Hungerford, some 100km west of London. The P9E is the latest model in Mark Andy’s range of Performance Series flexo presses and is designed for specialist film applications as well as traditional label converting. It joins a 17in Mark Andy P7 installed in 2017 and three other 13in Mark Andy presses at Hungerford.

Berkshire Labels’ managing director, Paul Roscoe, explained the latest investment program. ‘First of all, we decided that 430mm is the best fit for our work, and once we had fully loaded our P7 it was clear we had urgent need for a second press. The P9E moves the game on though, with its independent servo driven anilox roll, which is double the size, so moves at half the speed, and gives us more flexibility and higher production speeds across all substrates. It also means the ink is moving at half the speed and does not fly off even when we’re running at speeds up to 180m/min.’

Considered Mark Andy’s flexo flagship, the P9E is almost 30 percent faster than its P7 stablemate on the same job, according to Roscoe, making it a highly efficient production tool. Chosen initially for its ability to grow Berkshire’s shrink sleeve business, the new press is in fact handling a good mix of work. Currently the volume of paper and film-based substrates used at Hungerford is roughly equal, with film – including both shrink sleeves and roll-fed wraparound – growing faster. Although well equipped with digital print and converting technology, Berkshire Labels still estimates that flexo production accounts for 60 percent of its business.

Berkshire Labels’ P9E is a highly specified model, featuring eight UV flexo print stations, corona treatment and web cleaning, delam/relam, a crossover facility for peel/reseal, and the full ‘Filmic Pack’, which includes chilled impression drums and lightweight tension control. It also has Mark Andy’s QCDC quick change die station and web advance waste rewind. 

Since installation it has allowed Berkshire Labels to switch from 24/7 working on the P7 to double day shifts on both machines, with capacity to spare. ‘We saw the benefits of having two Performance Series presses immediately – in fact, a fleet of P9Es would be ideal for us and our customers,’ says Roscoe. ‘It gives us better control of scheduling and shift planning as well as making routine maintenance easier.’

Berkshire Labels has invested heavily in Esko pre-press software and recently installed the latest Cerm MIS platform to which all machines are linked. ‘We are pushing towards an Industry 4.0 workflow,’ notes Paul Roscoe. ‘The Cerm MIS is now linked to our Esko pre-press workstations and a key objective this year is to really get the Cerm system working to its full potential, aiming for a “one-click” workflow.’ Job planning is now handled through Cerm and live jobs are entered into the system using a barcode scanner at each press and finishing workstation.

A key aspect of Berkshire’s move towards automation and standardization is a GMG color management system, which allows operators to digitally measure Pantone colors. This standardization runs through all the plant’s print and proofing systems, with hard copy digital proofs run out on an Epson Pro 4900 benchtop press. 

Everything is produced to Esko’s full HD Flexo specification which allows Roscoe and his production team to choose between flexo and digital production purely on machine availability. He says that some customers specify which technique they require for their job, but most do not, and many could not tell the difference as far as quality is concerned. ‘Our aim was to match quality across digital and flexo and we have been successful in achieving that. It allows us to support our small start-up customers, like micro-breweries and artisan food producers, and grow with them as they become major players in the market – it’s win-win for both parties.’

Future development 
Still family owned and managed almost 40 years on, Berkshire Labels is undertaking an expansion program at Hungerford, having acquired adjacent buildings to its purpose-built facility that it occupied 20 years ago. The plan is to build the company up to a 20m GBP operation by separating the digital print and finishing operations across the new buildings, with one building housing the growing shrink sleeve label operation. 

The next major machinery investment is likely to be in digital again, says Roscoe. ‘We have a high level of investment which sees us alternate from flexo to digital each year to ensure we remain right on top with both technologies.’

Currently Berkshire runs a battery of five ABG Digicon finishing machines, the latest of which is one of the highest specified Digicon 3s in production.

In common with other successful label converters, Paul Roscoe very much puts people, as much as technology, at the center of the company he wants to build. ‘We like to engage with all our employees and invest heavily in training and personal development. We have some of the most skilled and talented people in the industry working here and this says as much about how they feel towards the company as the investment we have made in training them. It all helps us to build and cement long-term relationships with our customers, who are fundamental to our future growth.’

There are currently five apprentices working at Berkshire Labels, and Roscoe is keen to encourage multi-skilling and movement between departments. Examples include a press operator who started as a cleaner, and who now produces, with calm efficiency, sheets of stickers on a specially adapted Mark Andy 2200. In another case, a digital press operator started out working on customer accounts. 

Paul Roscoe is a great advocate of going into schools to encourage students to consider print as a career. ‘I pushed hard for our local schools to have career days, but in school hours and not in the evenings or weekends when nobody wants to come!’

Currently employing 90 staff and generating an annual sales figure of 12m GBP, Berkshire Labels is well set for sustained growth. In particular it’s proud of its environmental credentials. ‘We have developed a number of green alternatives to traditional labels and sleeves, and these are well-received by those customers who choose them,’ says Roscoe. ‘There is a small premium to pay at present, but this will disappear as demand and volume increases, and not all customers use price per unit as their main criterion.’ Berkshire Labels is BRC/IOP and ISO accredited and also FSC and PEFC registered. 

Brand engagement 
Much of Berkshire Labels’ success has come about by engaging proactively with brand owners and design agencies, which has particularly driven new business with start-ups and ‘challenger’ brands in the soft drinks, toiletries, craft brewery and spirits space. 

‘Beer, wine and spirits has become a big area of growth for us, and particularly for shrink sleeves printed either flexo or digital with high end embellishments,’ says Roscoe. ‘And for customers who are more used to buying shrink sleeves from bigger converters our key benefit – as well as the high quality we can achieve – is shorter lead times. Often they are expecting 3-4 weeks, but we are often delivering the job in just 4-5 days after receipt of artwork.’ 

Berkshire’s growing expertise in shrink sleeve labels was recently recognized with a win in the 2019 AWA International Sleeve Label Awards. 

Digital is a key area where Berkshire is happy to share its creative ideas with designers. The company acquired its first digital press ten years ago and now has a battery of three HP Indigo 6800 presses along with sophisticated finishing capabilities. A recent project involved utilizing and adapting HP’s Mosaic software for the launch of the Dulwich Gin brand. January saw the company hit a record six million printed digital impressions, up from the company’s previous high of five million in a month. ‘This was an important milestone that we celebrated and was down to the successful efforts of having a motivated, dedicated and results driven team,’ Roscoe adds proudly. 

The digital presses are now complemented with one of ABG’s most highly specified Digicon 3 converting machines, configured with two flexo heads, two Bigfoot flatbed hot foil/embossing units (each applying 50 tonnes of pressure), semi-rotary screen, auto slitting and automated die-loading plus full reverse print and peel and read configuration. Some interesting brand launches have already been accomplished with these capabilities. One application was achieved with one of the company’s designer contacts Will Parr, of Will Parr Studios, who was working on a brief for a new Organic Wine Brand, based in The Netherlands. The stunning labels used both Mosaic and complex decoration including raised screen tactile finishes and foil/embossing. The final job involved RIPping 80,000 unique images and serial numbers. 

It is this combination of creativity, attention to staff development and a willingness to invest in cutting edge technology which looks likely to propel Berkshire Labels to its ambitious growth targets in 2020 and beyond.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Thomas is strategic director of Labels & Labeling.

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