Active all the time

WHEN Jeff Gittus started Active Display Group in 1991 he could have barley dreamt that just over a quarter of a century later it would be positioned as one of the powerhouses of Australian display print, owned by the world’s biggest advertising agency group, and investing in the most advanced digital print production systems in the Asia Pacific region.

Active Display Group was established 27 years ago by Jeff Gittus, the eldest of four brothers, all of whom came to take key roles in the business, with David, Stuart and Glenn still involved.

From its inauspicious start the company grew through a focus on its customers and a keen understanding of how the market is developing, and it also made acquisitions along the way. The business grew and came to the attention of STW, the big advertising agency owned by John Singleton, who bought Active in order to ensure its own supply. STW though did not claim exclusivity over Active, enabling it to operate in the wider market. Then STW merged with WPP, the giant global advertising group, and which dominates the Australian agency market, and Active became its print provider. Again though Active operates in the wider market, in fact WPP accounts for around 20 per cent of its work, with the rest being direct for retail clients.

Stuart Gittus, general manager – Operations, says, “Moving from a family business to be part of a much bigger operation with WPP created major benefits, with the financial backing and the back office. It also gave us a customer, although WPP is only one among many.” Indeed Active produces most of its work for non-group customers, printing direct for many of the biggest brands in the country. Gittus says, “These brand owners need the very best quality, and they need the flexibility that we can provide. Whether longer run flatbed UV, or shorter run more boutique flatbed work, or roll to roll, or screen printing we can now give them exactly what they want, when they want it, and in fact exceed their expectations.

“It is a tremendous benefit to us and to our clients to have the backing of WPP. Especially as they are keen that we still run the business, as we have the expertise.” Now with Jeff having retired and David stepping into an executive chairman role the company needed someone to run the business, so last year appointed an outside executive Deane Hubball as CEO, to bring his skills and a fresh eye.

Active is known in the print industry for its high powered print set-up, but in fact the printing is only one part of the business, and is only in one of its five sites located around Melbourne. Gittus says, “We could be on one site but it would be huge. The moving costs, time and energy would be large. The current setup works really well, the staff are happy, so we are not contemplating a move at present.”

Active has around 100 staff in its main print site in Mulgrave, and some 450 throughout the group.

It operates from Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Hong Kong, as well as in China, and in a newly opened office in Singapore.

Active CEO Deanne Hubball and GM Stuart Gittus

 In the more recent years Active has been transitioning from analogue to digital printing, but maintains two large screen printing lines, which are used for long run work.

Gittus says, “We continue to see value in the screen printing set-up, it provides a winning service for clients who need longer runs, so we have no plans to exit screen. Our aim is to provide our clients with the optimum solutions to their requirements, and screen is still firmly in the frame.”

Active Display Group has been in the news recently thanks to its investment in the most advanced large format print system in the region, with two Inca Onset flatbed printers with autofeed and two ABB robots to unload and stack, meaning a full colour full sized bed can be printed and stacked in less than six seconds. According to supplier Fuijfilm it is the most advanced system in the Asia Pacific. One of the hallmarks of Active throughout its history has been its willingness to invest in the latest technology to ensure it is able to handle evolving market demands. It invested in one of the first HP Scitex flatbeds in the country, and the first Agfa Tiger, and now has the Inca Onset duo with robots.

Gittus says, “As part of WPP AUNZ, Active is able to provide clients with an end-to-end path to purchase solution, seamlessly delivering one streamlined integration of experts. Because we offer the region’s most comprehensive suite of services from design, production and distribution through to merchandising and warehousing; we needed to look at our present and future needs including, but not limited to, growing volumes and shorter print runs.

“We have always been early adopters of technology, and that technology always has to be built on three pillars of quality, flexibility and reliability. We want our customers to have the best possible print, on the most diverse media range, and to be printed at the same level every time.”

While Active has had screen printing lines for 20 years it made its first major move into high volume flatbed UV with the Agfa Tiger seven years ago, then three years later installed an HP Scitex 1100 FB. Both printers will be kept with the new Incas, although the Tiger will be used mainly for back-up.

The two new Incas with their robots have given Active a massive jump in capacity, and have meant that the company has been able to move from three shifts a day to two.

With an Agfa and an HP Scitex the industry is wondering what promoted to the move to Inca for the latest Active investment. Gittus says, “The primary reason is the three way partnership that ash developed between Active, Inca and Fujifilm. We have been working together since 2015 when I went to Inca in the UK as part of a global group of display printers invited to provide input to Inca on its new developments. It was not just a PR exercise, Inca showed it was seriously interested and has created systems that meet the needs we expressed at the time for quality, productivity and flexibility. When John Mills (the Inca CEO) arrived he was determined to listen to his customers and to the market, an in fact in the first eight months of his tenure he visited around 200 printers worldwide. The Inca Onsets that we have just installed are a direct result of the communication between Inca and the market.”

Display graphics in demand to create retail experience

Gittus says, “The investment is large, but the market has always driven the technology. The Inca Onset X3 will be used for longer run work while the Onset X1 will be used for very short runs and for bespoke jobs. The X3 is a real workhorse. The two complement each other.”

Gittus sees digital printing as key to underpinning the future of retail bricks and mortar shopping, he says, “Retail is increasingly aware it has to deliver an experience. Consumers can buy stuff online from the comfort of their home, and often for a lower price. But retail is able to offer personal advice, sensory stimulation, the ability to upsell and a pleasurable time. Display graphics are an integral part of the shopping experience, both for the retailer and the shopper, and done properly should lead to higher sales.”

The rise of digital LED signage is not something that has impacted on Active, Gittus says, “There are major issues with digital, it is expensive, inflexible and does not have the pop of print, so for us we believe that print will always be at the core of the retail world, provided of course print providers like ourselves are giving the market what they need.”

Active’s Onset X3 is capable of printing commercial-quality up to 900sqm per hr and features printhead technology from Fujifilm Dimatix. Both of Active’s Onset devices use the latest Fujifilm Dimatix R-class printheads which fire a standard 14pl ink droplet at billions of times per second.

Fujifilm says the printers will also be running the new Inca tear-drop feature which allows droplet tuning from 11pl – 17pl, giving Active the capacity to further improve image quality and eliminate the need for additional light ink channels, dramatically reducing the ink usage per square metre.

The second machine, the Onset X1 is designed to be future-proof, like all Onset X series, due to Inca’s scalable architecture. Fujifilm says an Inca Onset-X today is designed to grow with businesses with in-field upgrades such as additional printheads and higher speeds, it has the capacity to double its printheads for double output when required. The X1 will be used to produce short run and speciality work for Active.

Both of Active’s X series devices will be running robotic automation, allowing the company to maximise productivity by stacking higher stacks of printed sheets – something that was not previously possible with scissor-lift systems. This is of major benefit in terms of machine uptime, as other technologies increase the downtime due to pauses for stack changes. Added to this is the flexibility of being able to place proof-sheets for the operator to check during production, without interfering with the palletised job.

The two new Inca Onsets will print onto virtually any media up to 50mm thick and can print a white.

Inca Onset X1 for bespoke jobs and short run work

Active has two other Fujifilm supplied grand format printers at Mulgrave; a Uvistar 2 and a Uvistar Pro8 – both five metre wide roll-to-roll machines. It also has two other flatbed print systems, both of which will remain.

Gittus says, “The new Incas will be printing a wide range of media including synthetic paper, art paper, screen board, fluted plastic and fluted cardboard for both Australian and global leading retailers and brands.

“They produce beautiful print. They have put us ahead of the field, reaction from our customers and the market has been terrific, this is the next level.”

Fujifilm says the printers will also be running the new Inca tear-drop feature which allows droplet tuning from 11pl – 17pl, giving Active the capacity to further improve image quality and eliminate the need for additional light ink channels, dramatically reducing the ink usage per square metre.

Gittus says, “Fujifilm has been pro-active and lateral working with us to provide a solution to suit all our needs. Also, the technical information has been invaluable. It has been a pleasure working with Fujifilm and Inca.”

In fact Gittus has been deeply involved with Inca for the past three years, he was one of select band of printers invited to Cambridge in 2015 so that Inca could get their input into the new print solutions it was designing.

Active CEO Deane Hubball says, “Stuart has been immersed in the whole process. This is without doubt the most considered technology investment Active has ever made. We now have print solutions that will print quality, print it quickly, and create value for our clients.”

Gittus says, “It has been a great three way partnership between Active, Fujifilm and Inca. The brand owners we work with need the very best quality, and they need the flexibility that we can provide. Whether longer run on the Onset X3 or shorter run more boutique work on the Onset X1 we can now give them exactly what they want, and in fact exceed their expectations. Creating the platform to do this with the Inca Onsets supplied by Fujifilm has been a terrific journey, and one that I have been proud to be on.”

Active Display Group is one of the standard bearers of Australian display solutions, there is no doubt with the latest major investment that the company is determined to maintain its position in the vanguard of the nation’s display print market.

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