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ESP Colour Hub Produces 90 Million Impressions per Year with Average Run Length of 4050 on Speedmaster XL 106

Kennesaw, Ga. – Drawn by the opportunity to meet the world’s most productive printer, more than 100 guests visited Heidelberg USA’s North American Print and Packaging Technology Center in Kennesaw, Ga. recently for a special evening event and open house.

Customers were keen to hear keynote remarks by Anthony Thirlby, Managing Director of ESP Colour Hub in Swindon, UK. Through an interactive presentation, Thirlby presented his guide to optimizing ROI and driving performance to the highest levels of quality and productivity. His results, he emphasized, stem from process integration, intelligent automation, and minute attention to detail. The following day, members of the Paperboard Packaging Council arrived for a guided technology overview of Heidelberg’s packaging portfolio, including a roundtable discussion focused on a reprise of Mr. Thirlby’s keynote remarks.


Anthony Thirlby hasn’t earned his reputation as “the most productive printer in the world” for nothing. In a riveting account, Thirlby chronicled ESP’s stunning six-year transformation. Once a $12.2 million commercial job shop burdened with labor-intensive clients and legacy processes, ESP today is a $26 million, technology-led manufacturer of high quality printed materials that produces a combined 165 million impressions per year on its Speedmaster XL 105 (75 million) and XL 106 (90 million) presses. By the time Thirlby finished his presentation, he had built a compelling case advocating for critical analysis of the print manufacturing process to minimize touch points that slow production and increase costs. Simultaneous with these improvements, the company also significantly increased revenue per head to $380,000.

The ambitious company has worked closely with Heidelberg over the years to bring its makeready times down to 2 minutes per job with no more than 0.4 percent waste, thanks in large part to fully automatic simultaneous plate changing (AutoPlate XL), automated wash-up solutions, and especially Prinect Inpress Control, which monitors color and register on the fly, saving valuable makeready time. Digital workflow equipped with MIS, Prinect Pressroom Manager and Prinect Postpress Manager ensures seamless integration and complete transparency. In real time, the workflow automatically presets the machinery and initiates process steps, then returns these key operating and production data via Prinect Analyze Point and the Prinect Cockpit user interface.

“Only Heidelberg offers the press output levels we require, along with the reporting tools needed to monitor them successfully,” Thirlby stated. “Inpress Control enables us to run a manufacturing process purely on data and numbers. It’s certainly not a craft business anymore! The same is true of the folders with automated presetting and data feedback to highlight the true cost of postpress, which has been an enigma for decades.”

Following his presentation, a lively Q&A session suggested Thirlby had aroused the curiosity of audience members, who peppered him with questions about the strategy and procedures that have made ESP Colour Hub the record-breaking engine of productivity it is today.

How Low Can You Go?

The company currently boasts outstanding production data such as 134 makereadies and 273,000 sheets per 24 hours on its Speedmaster XL 106 5-color alone. Consistently working to bring ESP’s makeready times down has made it easier for the company to deepen its footprint in the short-run sector and boost profit margins accordingly. (ESP’s average run length is 4,050.) Even with two highly productive NexPress digital engines, Thirlby’s breakeven cost point is a lowly 102 sheets against the XL 106.

“From the moment he began speaking, it was clear that Anthony’s story had captured the imagination of his audience,” said Andy Rae, Senior VP Equipment for Heidelberg USA. “The data Anthony presents are stunning. The lengths to which he has gone to restructure ESP’s business model have considerable relevance to any cost-conscious print provider, as he produces guaranteed quality at the lowest possible cost. No business can ignore that as a medium-term goal.”

ESP controls paper, format and delivery options, and does not permit customers to specify formats or speeds beyond its range. It also keeps to standard paper weights, formats, and maintains a constant running speed of 18,000 iph on both its Speedmaster presses, all while managing to cover 96 percent of the commercial requirements of the UK market.

More Math than Magic

Having switched to a standardized platform for all its printing, ESP has advanced to the point where everything that affects production can be counted, measured and recorded to ascertain where variables can be eliminated and improvements made. Insisting that what ESP has accomplished is within reach of any printer willing to get a handle on its costs, Thirlby urged his listeners to consider five key take-away points:

1. Understand your commercial positioning.
2. Embrace technology.
3. Understand, measure, and develop your postpress operations, transforming them from a “capacity headache” to a profit center configured for non-stop production.
4. Develop a plan for streamlining job transition on press, i.e., perform a SWOT analysis.
5. Minimize the number of touch points from order entry to delivery.

“The general feedback from customers was that this was far and away the most valuable interactive session they had attended in a very long time,” Rae said. “ESP Colour Hub’s successful collaboration with Heidelberg clearly leads the way toward establishing best practices for the U.S. print industry.”

Media contacts:

Andy Rae
Senior Vice President - Equipment
Heidelberg USA

Jean-Marie Hershey
Write Hand Communications for Heidelberg USA

Contact Heidelberg Canada

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