Griffin goes digital

Five years ago with the advent of the e-book readers into the mainstream and growing threats to demolish the parallel import restrictions (PIR) on books the future was looking decidedly shaky for Griffin Press, the venerable book printer based in Adelaide and owned by PMP.

Today the future is looking decidedly better, thanks to senior management within the group having the ability to read the market, understand the real needs of their customers, not be shackled by old approaches, and have the courage of their convictions to put their money where their mouth is and spend big on new technology to re-invent the business.

Griffin Press has just pushed the start button on its new multi-million dollar high speed inline end to end digital book printing line, in so doing becoming hailed as the most advanced book printing company in the world.

The new line takes a reel of paper at one end, then without stopping prints, binds and adds the covers, producing shelf ready books in whatever size is specified. Reel of paper in one end, finished book with covers out the other. A few years ago Harry Potter himself – whose books are printed at Griffin – would have described that as the stuff of magic, today though in Adelaide it is reality

The press is the HPT410 monochrome printer, with a Kolbus binding line on the back end. Covers are fed into the Kolbus and wrapped around the blocks. The HP T410 prints, the paper is fed straight into the Kolbus, which gathers, stitches, trims, adds the covers and delivers. Kolbus had to adapt the finishing line by around 10 per cent to integrate directly with the HP, but almost all its installations require some kind of application engineering, so there was nothing particularly new or difficult there.

Covers had been a stumbling block to end to end production, however Griffin has installed a whole new cover printing department, with an HP Indigo 10000 B2 and an HP indigo 7800 B3 press, along with Scodis Ultra Foil Pro embellishment, enabling the covers to be printed and finished on site, and then fed straight into the Kolbus.

Griffin is looking to produce some  45,000 books per day or 16 million books a year, on the digital end to end line. In the few weeks since the cover printing solution was installed Griffin has already become the world’s most prolific user of the B2 HP 10000.

Ben Jolly, general manager at Griffin says, “It is not every day that an investment of this scope and size takes place, but Griffin and PMP have now built a foundation with which to serve publishers. They want shorter runs, they want quick delivery, and they want to eliminate inventory, so they can free up working capital and eliminate waste. Griffin Press is now able to meet all these requirements.”

The installation of the digital production equipment has been handled by HP, Kolbus and Currie Group, who also represent Scodix in Australia. Describing the launch event as ‘a monumental day’ Rob Dunnett, CEO at Currie Group says, “Griffin is showing the world how to implement and integrate digital technology to produce outcomes the market is demanding.”

Peter George, CEO of Griffin’s parent PMP, says “The book printing market has changed rapidly, and so has the business model of publishers. They no longer want to hold inventory, they no longer want to wait, they want books according to demand. Griffin Press with this investment can meet that demand.”

George says that the new digital era will keep more book printing in Australia, as overseas printers will not be able to compete in time, and for much short run work it will not be cost effective to shop books here. The rationale is that as publishers will no longer need to keep inventory the appeal of having books printed in China and shipped over diminishes, especially when combined with the need for short run work. If the publisher can phone Griffin and request and extra 1000 copies by the end of the week why would they go to China. Peter George says, “Publishers want o redcuce time to market, and they want to reduce inventory levels. The old model of printing books offshore and storing them is rendered ineffective now they can be printed so quickly here.”

The new technology is also providing relief from the ongoing threat of Parrallel Import Restrictions, George says, “Five years ago the ending of the PIR would have been very difficult for us, but today that is not so much the case with the new technology.”

Like all in the domestic book industry George is scathing of PIR, he says, “The whole drive to get of PIR is being driven by a few idealogues in Canberra, neither printers nor publishers want it. I have been with PMP for 16 years now and in that time PIR must have raised its head at least 30 times. The whole issue is based on a misconception, the thought that PIR will reduce prices to the consumer is a nonsense.”

PMP is certainly confident that PIR will not impact on its Griffin business, it is committed to investing several million dollars a year for the next seven years with HP in alease deal for the presses. George says, “When we analysed the situation at Griffin we knew what was required. We then sent our COO John Nichols to scour the world, looking at book printers and how they were doing things. No-one in fact was doing what we wanted to do, but talking with HP it became clear that they could, in partnership with Kolbus come up with a solution, and in fact that is what they have done.”

Kai Buentemeyer, managing partner in Kolbus says, “Griffin Press is now the world’s most advanced book printing plant, no-one else has had the vision or the courage to go for such an installation from reel to book in one pass, which is clearly the way forward.”

Griffin Press is one of the oldest companies in South Australia, and in fact in the whole country, it began life as Adland in 1858 printing the Advertiser Newspaper. These days of course it is part of PMP, the biggest print and distribution group in Australia, with its core activity pleasure books, which it can produce now in runs of anything from one to one million, and in the words of Peter George ‘Book printers around the world will be taking note of what we have achieved here”.

In the cover production suite the two HP Indigos have been working hard since installation, in fact according to Rob Dunnett, CEO of supplier Currie Group, they are performing at the highest levels, he says, “The Griffin HP Indigo 10000 B2 is already the most productive in the world.” Generally Griffin produces four up covers on the Indigo 10000 and two up on the Indigo 7800. Embellishment is on the Scodix Ultra Pro Foil in the same room, with embossing and foiling. The covers are also laminated here, before being taken to the Kolbus.

The digital printing set-up at Griffin means the company can also now produce pre-sales mock-ups form its covers production suite, covers that will be exactly how the actual covers will look

Ben Jolly says, “There has been a significant change in market demand, with publishers wanting a change in inventory policy and showing less appetite for risk. Digital printing enable us to more than meet those changed market demands, changes that are happening at an increasing rate. We now have everything in house, and with the inline bindery we are not waiting, and importantly neither our are customers.”

Leon Andrewartha, executive general manager at Griffin says, “The new investment here gives us an agility and flexibility that is unparalleled in book printing.”

For HP the investment by Griffin is vindication of its strategy. It is ploughing hundreds of millions of dollars into developing new technology, with the different platforms designed to meet the demands that its market trends strategists perceive. On demand and digital book printing, with reel to book technology is a key application for the company. HP is now one of the biggest players in commercial print, it had the biggest stand at drupa taking out the whole of a hall, with some 53 different presses on display for a range of applications.

Steve Donegal, regional manager at HP  says, “At HP we are seeking partners who can optimise the opportunities that new technology brings, and Griffin is without doubt doing that.

Partnerships like HP and Griffin are changing the future, we are providing the business models that are not based on the past but on what the world looks like now and how it is moving. There are clear drivers in this, economic forces, the instant society, smart business practices. We are delivering end to end capability, producing product in the shortest amount of time with the fewest people.”

Donegal predicts that the future may include some kind of marriage between printed books and the ubiquitous smartphone, where the phone scans the page and some kind of augmented reality is realised.

He also says, “the new technology at Griffin not only enables Griffin to offer publishers enormous benefits in short run printing, elimination of inventory and risk, and time to market, it also opens up new markets for them. Books now are never out of print, if a publisher wants a single copy of a book that was printed half a century ago provided they have the files it can be produced.”

All of us are living through history and change. Peter George says that the entry of Amazon into the book market ‘changed everything’ and led to local publishers demanding rapid print and short runs. He says, “Printed books are clearly here to stay. Kindle has plateaued. The book market has changed though, and so has Griffin with this new production system. Our aim is to provide publishers with the means to meet the demands of consumers, and there is no doubt this new technology will enable the company to do just that.”

For PMP the Griffin business is one of its more clear cut foundations for the future. PMP’s high volume heatset women’s magazine market is struggling, with the smartphone and tablet making major inroads into women’s gossip magazines – who wants to wait a week or a month for the latest news when you can get it by the hour on a tablet. While the catalogue volumes in Australia are not declining, in fact if anything they will continue to grow, it is a ferociously competitive arena in which to operate.

The Gordon & Gotch distribution deal has just been bolstered by taking over Bauer’s distribution, but it too will struggle to grow. Griffin Press by contrast has now positioned itself meet the needs of a market that is not declining, and in fact with plenty of opportunity for growth in winning back all that overseas work.

PMP has just cleared its debt, so the company can be judged in good shape. The Grifffin deal with HP involves a seven year lease which covers the cost of the equipment and the consumables and all servicing, a deal that is clearly beneficial to both parties.

When the launch was coming to a close, the state treasurer back off to Parliament and the ABC news crew packing up there was an air of satisfaction around the Salisbury plant. It has been a considered investment, giving Griffin a significant edge, certainly against overseas competition, it will enable the publishing customers to run their businesses free of risk and with better cash flow, and has secured the future of one of the oldest businesses in the state. Australian manufacturing may be up against it, and they know that nowhere more than in SA, but with insight, analysis, acumen and courage Griffin has shown that the future can be embraced.

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