Digital decorator for Tinmasters as demand rises for short print runs

British metal decorator Tinmasters is to install a Fujifilm digital printer at its Swansea plant in South Wales as demand grows for short-run and personalised orders.

The decorator of fancy and food cans for brands ranging from paint maker Farrow & Ball, infant formula manufacturer SMA and luxury department store Harrod’s will install an Acuity B1 UV Inkjet printer in September.

Tinmasters chief executive Richard O’Neill said the company was in need of a high-quality machine that could quickly print runs of up to 500 sheets.

“In the past decade we’ve seen runs get shorter and shorter and the machine we bought some time ago is not economical for very short runs – we’re taking as few as 100 in some cases,” O’Neill told The Canmaker. “We did some test runs and introduced some of our customers to the printer and we were all very impressed.”

In May, Tinmasters completed the transfer of equipment from its original site at Caldicot to the former Afon Tinplate facility at Swansea acquired in 2018, including a high-speed Koenig & Bauer MetalStar 3 litho press. Announcing the move in January, Tinmasters said that the restructure would reduce costs, remove duplication and maximise returns on future investment while also providing capacity to expand in future.

The Fujifilm B1 is a fully-automated sheet-fed pallet-to-pallet system with the capability to print onto tinplate or aluminium at definition comparable with those of litho decorators. It has a resolution of 960dpi and processes up to 200 sheets per hour. About a dozen have been sold and Fujifilm leases a number of them from its offices around the world.

Ink maker Fujifilm designed the B1 to complement the highly-regarded printers it builds for paper and other media use and represents the Broadstairs, Kent-based company’s first foray into metal decoration.

Business director for industrial applications Kevin Jenner told The Canmaker last year, soon after the B1’s launch, that Fujifilm had also identified a growing need for a flexible printer that has the quality of a litho decorator but none of the high costs and long changeover times associated with short runs.

O’Neill commented: “We’d bought a Koenig & Bauer MetalStar some time ago and that is the probably the best you can get in short-run litho printing but we found we increasingly needed something that can produce even fewer sheets economically.”

Metal decorators are increasingly being asked to print cans for small-batch runs as food and beverage markets fragment, personalisation and customisation grows in popularity and brands launch more promotional ranges of their goods.

O’Neill said Tinmasters decided to take the plunge and invest a “significant chunk of capex” into the printer after being impressed with the B1’s registration accuracy, speed and versatility.

“We weren’t expecting the B1 to be quite so good,” O’Neill said. “In terms of what we thought digital printers could achieve, our expectations were not high. But we were very impressed.”

While Tinmasters had yet to book any orders for its equipment, O’Neill said that a number of customers had also been as surprised by the quality of some test prints.

“I think there will be interest from companies that want runs of fewer than 500 sheets and companies looking for one-offs – the costs of one-offs are far lower on a digital machine than a litho decorator in terms of time and money.”

Jenner said the digital printing and metal packaging markets were only just discovering each other.

“I think the transition from analogue to digital in metal decoration is a couple of decades behind the graphics industry, where we’ve been developing and refining our inkjet technologies for 20 years,” he said. “It’s quite a homogenous market, with all of the major players producing very similar applications with similar kit so it represents a unique opportunity

“At Fujifilm, we know a thing or two about transitioning from analogue technologies. We’ve done it ourselves in our own business and we’ve worked with countless printers in the graphics sector who have moved, in whole or in part, away from litho and screen technologies to embrace the potential of digital.”