Stafford-based Sapphire Curtains & Graphics has invested in an EFI VUTEk Q3r printer from CMYUK. This new UV LED dedicated roll-to-roll printer with a maximum print width of 3.5m is set to modernise the company’s production methods and optimise future growth.
Sapphire Curtains is a division of Don-Bur, a British manufacturing business that specialises in the design and production of commercial vehicle trailers and rigid bodywork. Today, along with sister division Sapphire Graphics, it supplies both the Don-Bur parent manufacturing facility and other commercial vehicle manufacturers with curtainsider livery, load restraint, after-market curtainsider repairs, and vehicle wraps.
Sapphire supplies a large proportion of the industry’s blue-chip operators from small independent hauliers through to the largest global parcel carriers.
The investment in the VUTEk Q3r is an exercise in production modernisation, enabling the company to meet market demand by significantly increasing throughput, improving efficiency, and eradicating production bottlenecks.
“Years ago, it was just plain curtains, but everyone wants livery on their curtainsiders and not just the back doors now. A good 90% of my production is livery on curtainsiders. Nothing plain really goes out the door now,” says Mark Wayman, General Manager, Sapphire Graphics.
Prior to the installation of the new printer, Sapphire Curtains & Graphics utilised traditional manual signwriting practices alongside digital solvent printing produced with Mimaki solvent technology purchased some years back. While quality was high, production was relatively slow.
“With the new VUTEk printer, we’ll be looking at printing 14 pairs of truck curtains per day, whereas with our old solvent machine, we’d be doing about two and we’d still need an additional 24 hours of de-gassing time,” says Mark.
The company’s manual signwriting process was also a time rich, labour-intensive process, taking place once curtains had been manufactured and completed with the required buckles, rollers, and reflective tape. The 4-strong sign-writing team would either stencil or sign write them by hand, a procedure that produced between 2 - 6 pairs of curtains per day depending on the complexity of the design.
A particular client that required an elaborate livery would take two signwriters between 1 ½ – 2 days to produce graphics for a single curtain pair. Mark estimates it would take the VUTEk Q3r a day to produce eight pairs of the same with no need for drying times as the UV inks dry instantly.
Outmoded production processes and inefficient workflows that created bottlenecks were daily headaches. “The month prior to the VUTEk Q3r being delivered, I calculated we had £60,000 worth of curtains sitting inside my signwriting department that we weren’t able to raise invoices for because they were unfinished.
“Now we UV print the graphic first, then manufacture the curtains and deliver them to the customer in a day rather than the 3-4 turnover cycle we had before,” he says.
The EFI VUTEk choice
The equipment purchasing decision was shortlisted between Durst and EFI, but the latter sealed the deal due to its ability to lay down a clear coat during printing.
“Having that clear coat to me was a must,” says Mark. “With our old solvent machine, we would have to wait 24 hours for the print to de-gas before running it through a clear coat machine, which would then take an hour and a half to coat each side and would need a further 24 hours to dry. Clear coating gives curtains a glossy protection from UK weather and road grime. It also helps to keep the curtains looking good, especially if fleets aren’t regularly washed.”
The VUTEk Q3r was designed to provide a complete print to finished graphic workflow all on a single platform. In addition to clear coating, it also offers superb white printing in single and multi-layer passes, allowing Sapphire to back print its curtainsiders. It also offers continual printing with minimal supervision and supports multiple handling solutions for large and heavy rolls.
“CMYUK seemed to have a much better understanding of our manufacturing needs. Our 3m and 3.2m material rolls weigh 650kg and I needed winders that would suit my material. I don’t want to be messing about with small rolls so I buy jumbo rolls. EFI wanted to help us by manufacturing winders that were new to their business as well as ours. They are perfect.” says Mark.
Employing cool LED curing, output from this printer dries instantly, supporting the widest range of substrates including lower cost and added-value speciality materials. It also increases uptime and productivity with instant on/off and less maintenance, while at the same time driving down operating costs with significantly less energy consumption (2.9 kW instead of 10 kW) and fewer consumable parts.
Operational efficiencies such as lower inks and clear coating costs, together with the ability to track the amount of material being printed, so operators can tell how much is left on a roll, all contribute to tighter and more controlled production.
The VUTEk Q3r is housed in its own room and looked after by a single operator. A suite of Mimaki equipment is situated in an adjoining area that includes a 3.2m printer for trucksiders and two models (2.5 and 1.5m) solely used for the printing of solid vinyl livery.
In the last 5 years the company has expanded into wrapping commercial vehicles. Going from flat solid trailer wraps, it now covers a variety of commercial vehicles including tractors, motorhomes, and cabs. A lot of vehicles are contract hired out, so they arrive at the division’s Stafford-based facilities bald white.
“Wraps are much cheaper for the end user, so rather than having them sprayed, companies will come to us for wrapping. We’ve got a contract for one customer at the moment that has bought several tractor units. They come to us on site, and we’ll use our new VUTEk UV printer to print full wraps. These are set to be multicoloured with leaves and butterflies,” he says.
Installed last March March, the meticulous planning that surrounded the Q3r investment decision is already returning results for transformative production performance and future growth.
Says Mark, “With the installation of the EFI VUTEk Q3r, we’ve improved production and aligned high quality with speed. It’s fantastic. It really is.”