Soar Print is something of a legend in the New Zealand print industry. Established in 1920 as a letterpress business, Soar Print has transformed over the decades, riding the wave of the offset boom and now establishing itself – with the help of Canon Production Printing – as one of the country’s leading digital print innovators.
A history of innovation
Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, company founder Lt Colonel Fred Soar, and his father Harry who steered the company from the 60s through to the 80s, current Managing Director – also called Fred Soar – has been at the helm with his sisters Jenny Carter and Vicki Soar since 1990.
Today, the third-generation family business employs nearly 100 staff in Auckland and Hamilton, and caters for a diverse clientele, from banks and universities, to SMEs and even sole-traders, spanning the entire country.
With a product range that runs from posters and books, to large format work and an increasing amount of packaging and label printing, this requires a range of solutions including offset, wide-format, and digital cut-sheet toner and inkjet print – the latter with its flagship VarioPrint i300 presses from Canon Production Printing.
“Soar Print was been a predominantly offset business for many years, but about 14 years ago we invested in our first digital technologies,” Fred explains. “Today, offset still represents 55% of our business, but there’s no question that the digital side of the business is growing, year-on-year, supported by outstanding digital print solutions like the i300.”
Game Changer: Paper in, product out
The driver behind Soar Print’s decision to go with its first i300 was demand for short to medium book runs, ranging from educational texts to NCR books.
“When you’re doing runs of 2000 books or less, you need technology that allows you to compete,” Fred says. “We do a lot of work for educational institutions, a lot of course books, and we found that with the i300 we could deliver a ‘best of class’ product, in very short lead times.”
“With the i300, you put white paper in at one end, and you get the finished product, in collated sets, off the other end, ready for shrink-wrapping. It’s a single-pass process. That slashes lead times and gives us an enormous advantage.”
General Manager Graham Foote, who heads up the Hamilton operation, agrees, saying the machine has been an ‘absolute game-changer’. The difference, he explains, is this ‘paper in, product out’ process – something the company had in mind for some time before investing in the presses from Canon Production Printing.
“When we saw the i300, we knew we’d found that solution…and the rest is history,” he says, admitting that the Hamilton i300 is his ‘pride and joy’.
“This integrated ‘end to end’ production minimises handling, virtually eliminates errors and delivers significant productivity improvements and cost savings, so we can deliver more products, more quickly and, with a lower cost per sheet, deliver better value for money without compromising our own profitability,” Fred says.
Sustainability: Right size, low waste
“As a family business, sustainability for Soar is an intrinsic part of who we are,” Fred says. “Some ten years ago now we decided that we really wanted to lead the industry when it came to sustainability. At that time, the printing industry had a bit of a bad rap when it came to the environment, and we wanted to change that.”
“Investing in the i300 supports our sustainability goals. It means we can produce print with no waste, print on demand, and I guess just making sure we’re right-sizing the orders for our customers and not letting them get drawn in to the ‘lowest cost per unit’ trap.
Graham provides an example, noting that In the past Soar Print produce all its NCR work with offset, which required offline collation, insertion of covers and back boards, and trimming.
“All that required a lot of hands, and with every separate process there was the opportunity for spoilage,” he points out.
“The i300 prints, numbers, perforates, collates and bind books in a single pass, eliminating all those touchpoints. Not only is the time saving fantastic, but it massively reduces the potential for error and damage.
“Since using the i300 our waste has dropped considerably – we used to factor in about 100 overs per colour and a running waste of about 4%. Now, we print exactly the number of sheets that we have to have, without any spoilage.”
Better quality, lower cost
“Our customers can’t believe the quality we’re achieving on an inkjet press. They can’t believe the turnaround. And they can’t believe we get a finished product off the end. It’s really been well accepted by them,” he says.
“Another advantage of the i300 inkjet technology over toner is the lower cost per click – it means we can deliver the most cost-effective solution in this sub-2000 run category. That’s really important for our clients and for us.”
Colour calibration on the new machine is also a cinch, he says. “The colour consistency is almost my favourite part – I’ve been in printing since 1985, and it’s the first piece of equipment I’ve ever come across where, from the first sheet to the very last, the colour simply does not change. It stays absolutely constant, sheet after sheet, job after job.
“It makes repeats so easy – there’s no chasing colour; we don’t even need to check a previous print run any more. We are so confident that the colour on the job we produced a fortnight ago will be identical to what we produce today that we can just go ahead and print.”
“The i300 has put us into a whole new space where we can do up to 900K or even a million impressions a year, running all day, every day, and achieving our customers’ deadlines, with accurate colour, on time, every time. We’re very happy with the efficiencies we are getting out of the i300, and I can only see us producing more and more.”
Unsurprisingly, he says operators also enjoy the fact that there’s no operator cleaning and, in fact, very little operator intervention.
“You can see how easy to the machine is to use by looking at our press room – the operator rarely has to step inside,” he says with a laugh. “With the i300 we can simply queue up the jobs, and the machine virtually does the rest. That leaves the operator free to oversee another machine, run a job through a folder, or any one of a number of other things.
“That’s probably the greatest benefit the i300 has given us; the ability to reduce inputs while greatly increasing outputs. We barely have to put any time into it. It just prints, the jobs come out, and it gets done.”
Potential: Capacity to grow
Most jobs are short runs, with the range and variety of print products increasing all the time. When you’re dealing with such diversity, at those types of volumes, fast turnaround is a must. Here, Fred and Graham say the i300’s quick changeover is the key.
“We can load up to six separate stocks in the drawers, so we can swap between NCR, coated, uncoated or even synthetic stocks, quickly and easily, giving us the flexibility we need to meet a wide variety of customer needs without compromising on productivity,” Fred explains.
He sees the company continuing to diversify – labels and packaging are just two key areas in which he anticipates growth – but says the demand for books, and Soar’s commitment to producing a ‘best of class’ solution in the market, will remain a key focus.
“With run lengths for book work dropping all the time, the i300 gives us a huge advantage by allowing us to deliver a better, more cost-competitive product to the market, more quickly,” he says.
In Hamilton, too, these trends are apparent – and, again, Graham sees the i300 as an integral part of the future pathway.
“We predict our volumes will continue to grow; we think personalisation will increase, and that runs will continue to get shorter,” he says. “One thing I can’t see changing, however, is the need to produce print in the most efficient and sustainable way possible.”
“I can certainly see those ‘big’ production months becoming typical,” Fred agrees. “It’s great to know that, with the i300‘s, we have the capacity up our sleeves to grow both our volumes and the diversity of our product offering. We’ll continue our program of investment in leading technology like the VarioPrint i300, to make sure our customers have access to the solutions they need.”