Since 2017, Lebone Litho Printers has invested millions in capex and infrastructure to revamp its block of buildings in Joburg’s CBD and move beyond conventional printing technologies to digital capabilities for an end-to-end solution from data management to distribution of jobs in quicker turnaround times at a higher quality level.
‘Firstly, to remain competitive, we’ve invested in the commercial print division – which consists of the digital litho department (runs from one to 500), the litho department for 500 to 10 000 copies, the web department for longer runs from 10 000 to millions and the binding department – as well as the picking, packing and distribution division,’ explains CEO Keith Michael.
The company currently prints higher education books, various trade manuals, annual reports, brochures, magazines and 65-million workbooks for the Department of Basic Education and delivers these to around 24 000 schools twice a year. The workbook contract is delivered through its consortium-based collaboration with Novus Holdings and DSV Logistics.
Secondly, Lebone Litho Printers has fully integrated digital applications within its traditional printing business through its subsidiary, Lebone Media, which has written the software to track and trace every job through the various divisions (including accounting), created electronic archiving systems to convert paper-based storage facilities to electronic storage and developed e-marking and Pay Marker platforms to enable certified marking of exam papers from home and the government to track all the expenses related to these markers.
The latest step in the Johannesburg facility’s evolution is the launch of the Lebone Print Secure division, which builds on the group’s primary and high school exam printing capabilities (grade three, six, nine, 11 and 12) in the Free State and Northern Cape and its tertiary exam printing capabilities set up for the North-West University on its campus. It also takes advantage of the opportunities created by pockets of excellence within the commercial printing sector such as variable data and changing election products.
Our services range from managing customer-confidential data and secure printing on specialised security paper to picking/packing and secure logistics,’ Keith reveals.
He started planning the infrastructure, hardware and software technologies required for this division in 2020. The project has taken two years to complete from renovating the buildings, buying and commissioning the equipment and related software systems to employing and training the staff and implementing ISO 9001 certification standards.
‘To ensure that our offering was still apt, we had to keep tweaking our strategy because the technology, skill sets and market demands had changed since the start of the project, requiring a blend of conventional and digital printing capabilities and investments in other digital platforms,’ Keith reveals. ‘In South Africa, for example, during the last election, the IEC started rolling out digital components, resulting in certain customers using a digital voters’ roll. In the future, it’s possible that urban areas could use e-voting methods while rural areas continue to rely on printed voting materials. To accommodate both possibilities and provide a segmented approach in terms of our offerings to different sectors, I am currently negotiating with a Brazilian-based company to partner on e-voting technologies, which are becoming popular in developed nations because they enhance or speed up the voting process. This partnership will extend to producing the devices in South Africa as local manufacturing supports the creation of more jobs and a reduction in crime rates, which is what we are striving to achieve as a country.’
Hybrid printing capabilities
In terms of the capex invested in the Lebone Print Secure division, Keith has selected the continent’s first Fujifilm Jet Press 750S B2 sheet-fed digital inkjet press because he believes it will be a trailblazer and make significant inroads in the markets that the division is entering such as election ballots, voter rolls, exam papers and municipal bills.
The Jet Press 750S is complemented by a 12-colour and 10-colour Mϋller Martini Concepta continuous narrow web offset press (supplied by Fujifilm Unigraphica), a Hunkeler roll feeder (supplied by Thunderbolt Solutions) and a collator (supplied by Fujifilm Unigraphica).
The Concepta presses are fitted with continuous sprockets and inline die-cutting to punch holes into the paper as well as online cameras to monitor quality control. These presses have interchangeable cylinders for various applications plus a sheeter and stacker to accommodate batch delivery and printing from reel to reel or reel to sheet at an average speed of 20 000 sheets/hour.
The Hunkeler roll feeder also allows the Print Secure team to run from reel to sheet and add variable numbering to the sheets. Keith believes that these hybrid printing configurations and the capability to move variable numbers and other data from place to place on these conventional offset presses, as well as on the digital inkjet press, are the Print Secure division’s differentiators.
He adds that the investment in a collator supports the diversification on the presses when running continuous forms and election ballots as jobs can either be moved from reel to reel, to snap sets or continuous forms, which several of the company’s customers are still using.
In addition to hybrid capabilities, top-of-the-range specifications and a lifespan of at least eight years to maximise profitability, our choice of equipment is always influenced by the skills shortages in our operation, as well as those of the broader commercial and packaging print industry, and the OEM’s local market representative’s ability to support us with the necessary training and maintenance,’ Keith maintains.
Training and skills development
The Lebone Print Secure division has created 10 positions with the company, employing five new people and upskilling five existing machine assistants, who undergo a three-year practical apprenticeship on the production floor through its learnership programme to become machine operators. The team ranges in age from 22 to 48 and according to Keith, represents a good combination of enthusiasm and the ability to learn quickly plus machine minding skills and job experience.
He emphasises that Lebone Litho understands the importance of production staff having multiple skills that allow them to undertake a variety of tasks. This is necessary so as not to rely on only one operator to run a press per shift because the machine will stand idle if that person is off sick or on leave.
Keith is full of praise for each OEM and its local market representatives who undertook the installation and commissioning of the machinery and training of the operators and assistants. ‘These trainers have an excellent work ethic and understanding of printing production environments. They started our guys off on the simple things such as efficient time and waste management practices and debunked the myths about what each of the presses can and can’t do, as well as the correct ways of undertaking each type of job and press maintenance,’ he says. The training culminated in each operator and assistant being certified according to the OEM’s standards and procedures. One of the operators, Kevin Paulsen, also travelled to Belgium for two-weeks’ training on the Fujifilm Jet Press 750S prior to installation. The trainers returned for a 10-day follow-up training session after the team had been operating the equipment for two months.
In addition, Jason Govender and Crystal Jonker, who are part of the newly created software design department and were familiar with mechanical equipment but not the high-tech Jura software they were being introduced to, had to undertake a two-month theoretical and practical programme in Lebone Litho’s training centre. This three-part training focused on various security printing processes and what to look out for in counterfeits.
The trainees were assisted by translators to help overcome the language barrier challenge between them and the Jura Technology and Belgian trainers.
The Lebone Print Secure division consists of four renovated buildings and Keith used a time in motion study to optimise the workflow and the interlinking of the buildings – putting bridges into and over them, knocking down walls to open some areas and building in others – to create one facility where a forklift can move from the stores to dispatch within minutes. ‘It also had to be a clean, healthy and inviting working environment with all the necessary facilities to maximise the staff’s productivity levels,’ he remarks.
The most complicated aspect of the project was the additional 1 000kVa of electricity required to power the five machines. ‘It took four or five months to commission another substation and we installed power rectifiers and surge protectors throughout the facility to stabilise supply and reduce usage,’ Keith reports. ‘As a private business, we need to watch every cent and these rectifiers help to suppress the highest consumption phase, which businesses are measured and charged against, and change it over to different phases. This has brought down monthly electricity costs from around R700 000 to between R300 000 and R400 000. We’ve also reduced water usage by recycling water from the plant into JoJo Tanks to supply the presses for cooling down and for flushing toilets and by installing five rainwater collection tanks.’
PPM looks forward to reporting on Lebone Litho Printers’ next diversification initiative. The management team continuously strives for improvement and pushes the boundaries of excellence in niche sectors by researching world trends and conducting peer reviews with two American companies. The businesses collaborate on changes happening within the print sector and niche product opportunities outside of it.