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Opening the doors to the world of digital labels

Domino's Open House event

Domino Group MD Nigel Bond watches as longstanding member of staff Barry Few cuts the ribbon to officially open the new facilities at Bar Hill.

The UK manufacturer of inkjet technology officially opened its new demonstration, training and testing facilities in Bar Hill, near Cambridge. Find out how the company is performing with its new multi-colour press.

Welcoming visitors to the company’s newly extended and refurbished facility, Domino Group Managing Director, Nigel Bond said: “We have come a long way since our formation in 1978, and today employ 2200 people around the world.  In 2013 we generated a turnover of £335 million, making us one of the FTSE250 companies, with an annual return of 16%.”  The new 3500 square metre facility, which was refurbished at a cost of  €2.2 million, was formally opened by Barry Few, Domino’s Technical Training Manager for Digital Printing, and longstanding employee with 32 years of service.  It highlights a significant change in the company’s business from predominantly Coding & Marking, which currently accounts for 88% of sales, to Digital Printing, which, with the launch of the N610i range, is predicted to take a 25% share in the next few years.

Building on a firm foundation

It is easy to understand why Bond is so optimistic.  With distribution in 150 different countries, a healthy Bank balance that has allowed several acquisitions, including the Swiss based Graph-Tech in 2012, and sees 6% of annual turnover committed to R&D, Domino is flying high in a market that is growing fast.  “We have always been focussed on core strengths here, and this has created a wealth of technical skills and knowhow that we can pass on to our customers – consistency and long term commitment have brought us commercial reward and international acknowledgment in the shape of 5 Queen’s Award to Industry for International Trade and Technology, and being voted ‘UK PLC of the Year’ in 2010.”  Domino is clearly a leader in the industry, and for this reason it will be worth watching as it moves into new markets.

The company has spent much of the past 35 years building its business in variable data applications.  These include the food, beverage and healthcare sectors, in which it uses a variety of technology from ink jet to laser and thermal.  Specialisation in these fields has yielded an estimated 17% global share in Coding & Marking, with India and China leading the way in the emerging world, and the USA and Germany being key territories in the developed markets.  And it’s from this solid business base that Domino sees its future growth coming, with a switch to multi-colour digital printing in the commercial markets of Europe and North America.  Colour is new to Domino, and the N-series development, which was first shown in prototype form at Labelexpo 2009, where it used water based inks, has been developed and honed to become a spearhead in the company’s plan for growth.  And nowhere does that fit better than in the labels and packaging markets, which according to Nigel Bond: “fits our core competence and hits the sweet spot perfectly!”  With a declared intention to look beyond labels, and with further acquisitions increase sales and support levels in Europe, America, and Asia, Domino is ready to play!

Director of Digital Printing Philip Easton demonstrates Domino’s K600i technology to the visitors
Director of Digital Printing Philip Easton demonstrates Domino’s K600i technology to the visitors

Expanding the product range

Outlining the company’s portfolio, Philip Easton, Director of the Digital Printing Division, explained: “The strategies that have stood us in good stead to date, namely building customer relationships, innovation, and investment, make the move into digital labels an obvious step for Domino.  We know the label industry, and we know ink jet technology, and industry predictions for growth in this sector of the digital market offer us a major opportunity that fits our business model.”

 

The company has grown up with inline monochrome variable data applications, with the Domino K600i being acknowledged as the industry standard, and effectively an ‘add-on’ unit to existing lines.  The move into colour printing, while logical in terms of printing technology, did however pose problems that Domino were simply unaware of.  “When we started we had no knowledge or expertise in colour management and colour matching, because we’d never needed it.  Mono is mono,” he said profoundly.  But it did not take long from the early learning experiences at Labelexpo for Domino to move the game on and they now have a number of colour specialists and colour scientists to support this area of business growth.  By the Brussels expo in 2011 a new Kyocera head was in use and the switch was made from water based to UV inks on a press that was already capable of 50 m/min.  Last year, Brussels saw the N610i model for the first time, which currently offers five colours, including an opaque white and CMYK, but which by the end of 2014 will also have orange and violet capability.

“Seven colour capacity is being demanded by our larger customers who are looking to add value at the premium end of the label market with well known high street branded goods,” said Easton.  With 600dpi across a 333mm web, and the capability of speeds up to 75 m/min, the N610i is making significant inroads into the label markets traditionally served by flexo presses.  “With run lengths shortening, label converters are looking to differentiate themselves from their competitors, at the same time as improving productivity and reducing costs.  The N610i’s digital ink jet technology offers simple make ready and fast job changeovers, and with a short web path can significantly cut substrate waste,” he added.  The latest version has Esko Colour Management as standard, and can be fitted with a chilled roller (as an optional extra) to facilitate the handling of heat sensitive substrates, and a universal interface for inline finishing.  Since the Brussels launch in September 2013, Domino has made 23 sales of the ‘N’ series colour label presses.

The print unit of the N610i – this multi colour press is Domino’s first venture outside monochrome printing.
The print unit of the N610i – this multi colour press is Domino’s first venture outside monochrome printing.

 

To enhance performance consistency, the company has developed what it calls intelligent technology ‘i-Tech’ features for its presses.  This is a three part process: StitchLink – which delivers seamless print across multiple print heads over the full web width; CleanCap – a controlled cleaning and capping system that maintains consistent print nozzle performance delivering consistent print results; and ActiFlow – in which the Kyocera print head is modified to continuously recirculate the ink and expel any oxygen that might bubble and divert the ink jet flow.  Domino claims the net effect is 38% more drops than its nearest ink jet competitor.  With a running speed of up to 75 m/min, and the capability of handling 1000mm diameter rolls, which require less frequent changes, the N610i is rated as a serious competitor to flexo on run lengths up to 3000 metres.  And by standardising on roll diameters that flexo printers are accustomed to, there is no added inventory costs for the converter.

Showing off the technology

The new demonstration facility was used to show the range of Domino technology to the assembled guests, including; the K600i printing variable QR codes with LED curable UV inks at 120 m/min at 600 dpi; the BitJet+ printing variable data at more than 400 m/min onto newspaper stock, and using an ink management system to maintain viscosity at high speed; and the new N610i multi colour press.  Specified to resemble a narrow web flexo line it was fitted with a Teknek web cleaner, a Vetaphone corona treater, and an FMS web guide.  These were all mounted on a separate frame to the print station to avoid any possibility of vibration, and had a closeable cover to prevent dust or other foreign particles attaching themselves to the web.

Editor-at-large
Nick Coombes
e-mail coombes@gk-techmedia.com

Nick Coombes
Editor-at-large e-mail nick@flexo.de

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