Miamisburg, OH (USA), August 2015 – Rather than ‘collecting’ equipment and running machines together to fulfill production requirements, some companies prefer to upgrade equipment when needed, maintaining productivity and resource efficiencies. With the investment of an Esko integrated digital finishing solution, including software and a Kongsberg cutting table, Great Big Color Inc. has been able to keep up with its recent, fast flatbed digital printing system while sustaining production efficiencies and high quality.
Offering out-of-home graphics and POP displays for regional and national accounts
Great Big Color was founded in 1998, armed with an SBA loan and a large format inkjet machine. That one printer turned into a number of 5-meter presses, digital inkjet printers, a prepress department, flatbeds, routers, laminators, coaters, cutters, and welders. Great Big Color now located has a beautiful warehouse with 45,000 square feet of printing in the heart of Denver, Colorado. The company’s experience ranges from producing traditional out-of-home advertising to in-store point-of-purchase graphics. “We believe that Great Big Color speaks to both advertisers and merchandisers by producing the highest quality products at the most competitive prices, while providing unparalleled customer service. This business practice have kept our customers returning for years,” says Tina McLaughlin, Great Big Color President and Owner. “In addition to printing, we regularly kit and fulfill POP/POS campaigns for several national retailers and restaurant chains to thousands of locations. Our facility is also equipped to finish large sporting stadium graphics, wallscapes, and murals.”
Great Big Color has owned Kongsberg tables for a while. “We first purchased a Kongsberg table when we started creating POP materials,” explains McLaughlin.
However, Great Big Color had increased its printed throughput and needed to upgrade its cutting capabilities. “We had invested in a fast flatbed digital printer capable of working with 5x10-foot materials. It was a monster pushing out products. We really had no choice but to invest in a finishing table that could handle that output,” remembers McLaughlin. “The Kongsberg XP was a matter of a trifecta of speed, price and quality. The only other machine we evaluated was not only more expensive, but was not as fast. We also liked the size of the Kongsberg XP table.”
Great Big Color is also happy with the output quality—the way the table cuts. The company works with a variety of substrates, including foam and board products. “With retail projects we constantly receive requests to work with different materials. We offer a competitive edge designing new ideas and new ways of doing things. The Kongsberg XP is a big part of doing that,” says McLaughlin. The Kongsberg XP comes with a variety of cutting blades that complete a wide range of tasks.
However, with the Kongsberg XP, speed is still key. “When we were evaluating it, the Kongsberg XP was much faster than anything else we saw. We are big fans of operating fewer machines to do more, and to be more productive with the people we have,” comments McLaughlin. “We have been running the Kongsberg XP for about a year, and I would safely say that we are running about 20% more work than we did before.”
“The overall reliability of the machine and the accuracy and flexibility of head recognition is very helpful,” adds Jason Flynn, Art Department Manager. Changing tools is easy and very fast; changing a milling bit for instance is done in less than 20 seconds, including bit calibration. The system recognizes the required tool automatically, through electronic identifiers. The Kongsberg XP’s Automatic Tool Leveling feature calibrates the vertical operating level of all the Kongsberg tools. “We cut a lot of foam and can cut materials without any bleed. It’s so productive that it will cut 100 sheets and keep cutting. It is an extra-long table. We place a skid on one side to help us load boards, and an area that allows us to easily stack cut pieces on the other side.”
Adding prepress productivity with automated i-cut Suite preflighting and layout tools offers a complete, integrated digital finishing solution
Great Big Color has also invested in i-cut Suite to make their workflow more efficient. They are using automation tools as well as preflighting and a layout tool that helps them to create cutting instructions quickly.
“We used to assemble our cutting lines in Adobe® Illustrator®. It would take 15-30 minutes to import a file, create the cut lines, and add a bleed,” notes Flynn. “Now we do all that and set an i-cut file and create registration dots for the Kongsberg table in a couple of minutes. i-cut Suite has tremendously increased our ability to utilize less people in the process. The software can do the work much faster and requires fewer man-hours. The productivity out of our art department and preflighting is much greater. We figure we’re doing twice as much work with two people handling what four people used to do.”
“As a business owner, that’s an exciting topic,” adds McLaughlin. “The labor efficiencies are great, and we are able to set tighter process controls because we have the time to check for errors—along with improved machine accuracy.”
“We created a holiday project for a major retailer. There were four images and 100,000 pieces that had to be produced. They were little Christmas ornaments, printed on both sides, of snowmen and Christmas trees, with detailed cuttings on ¾” falcon board. There were little circles, with holes on top of each piece with very tight tolerances,” explains McLaughlin. “It was perfect digital project for our flatbed printer and the Kongsberg table because it could not be cut any other way. We were pretty amazed at how well it was completed. We were able to meet our tight time deadline, and waste—always an important determinant of profitability—was minimal.”
Automation Engine Connect: Completing the solution with the power of integrating with outside systems
"After successfully leveraging Esko Automation Engine and i-cut Suite to automate our prepress, we were introduced to Automation Engine Connect, which has allowed us to integrate with our business-to-business web applications as well as to connect to many of our clients' MIS systems," adds McLaughlin. "The power of Automation Engine Connect allows us to easily and quickly build in roads to our production flow. Before, we spent countless hours writing scripts to integrate with other systems.
"The overall biggest advantage to having Automation Engine as part of our production system is the ability to leverage data to drive production. This has resulted in an efficient system that gives us the confidence to accept tight turn projects and get them directly to press with little user intervention," comments McLaughlin. "By pulling order information directly from MIS systems, we can now focus on production efficiencies instead of fighting operator errors in order entry and prepress."
Along with the Kongsberg XP table, productivity has increased substantially. “The biggest thing the Kongsberg XP table offers us is the way it is built. It’s industrial—meant to be used day in and day out and maintain its reliability. We only need one cutting machine, but it’s a powerhouse workhouse,” says Tina. “Our philosophy is to buy the newest, most productive machine rather than installing many machines requiring a large footprint and a lot of operators. We go for speed, and the Kongsberg table works very well for us.”