Me & My: Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 75

A Speedmaster update has given Fretwell Print & Direct Mail a productivity boost thanks to a highly automated specification.

“Intellistart is phenomenal. It’s all hands-off, you just set up the pallets and the machine does the rest”

Performance, efficiency and throughput sound like more or less the same thing, but it’s not always true for printing presses, especially those with the latest automation advances. That’s why at the end of 2020 Fretwell Print & Direct Mail in Keighley swapped out its well-used five-year-old B2 Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 75 5+LX sheetfed litho press for the latest model, which has a slightly slower top speed but crucially has the latest automation features.

The company is now putting more jobs per day through the new press than the old one could manage. 

The replacement press is a Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 75 5-L 2020 generation, with the latest Push to Stop automation and Autoplate XL 3 plate changing. Its top speed is 16,500sph compared with 18,000sph for Fretwell’s outgoing press which didn’t have all the automation features.

Andy Gillett has been joint managing director of Fretwell with Gareth Pociecha since 2018 when they agreed a management buyout. The previous owners Des and Graham Fretwell and Peter Denton handed over the company and then retired. Graham and Peter are the sons of Peter Fretwell, who originally founded the company in the 1960s. 

The company serves print management companies, end-users and charities. Its work is a mixture of direct mail and commercial print, including catalogue and brochure work plus a recent expansion into luxury and commercial packaging. There are currently about 42 employees at the 1,160sqm site. 

The Covid-19 crisis has forced some change in emphasis, as some types of work fell off, but others actually grew. For instance, Gillett says, “Charities couldn’t hold fund-raising events, so they only had direct mail to use. Retail, hospitality, travel, are all struggling, but there has been a lot of direct mail for luxury cruises, river cruises, with smaller boats and fewer people.” There’s also been a growing demand for catalogues and similar promotional print that can be inserted in mail order packages, he says.

Pre-Covid the turnover was £6m. In the past 12 months it has been down to around £4.2m, though Gillett says that £1m of this is due to an accounting change, because Royal Mail changed its rules so deliveries don’t count as part of turnover. 

“We’re bouncing back,” he says. “We’re moving more into luxury packaging – swing tickets – and commercial packaging. We’ve revamped our sales force and we hope to get our £6m turnover back, which means more as we’ll replace the mail element. We’re doing better than some printers.” 

The printing equipment is all sheetfed. Fretwell installed its first Heidelberg, a Speedmaster SM, in 2002. In addition to the latest Speedmaster, there’s an older 74-4-PH four-unit model which can run as a 2/2 perfector. Both are linked to Heidelberg’s Prinect Axis Control colour measurement system as well as Bodoni PressSign5 colour management software, which can provide certificates of ISO colour compliance on each job. 

Fretwell got its first monochrome sheetfed Konica Minolta digital toner press 15 years ago and today has an AccurioPress 6136P model for personalisation over litho colour. Five years ago it added a digital colour Ricoh Pro C651EX toner press, replacing this in 2019 with a Heidelberg Versafire EX (based on the Ricoh Pro C7200). 

Mail enclosing is handled by a Buhrs BB300 fitted with a four-way Taurus 3 camera system. There’s also a set of general finishing equipment including a stitcher and three guillotines. 

Why swap presses?

Five years isn’t old for a Heidelberg, so what was Fretwell’s reason for the swapover? “The old press did 235 million impressions, so we had worked it fairly hard,” says Gillett. Just as importantly, Heidelberg was prepared to do a good deal on the replacement, he says. 

“This was Heidelberg’s demo machine from its Brentford showroom. We’d already seen it on a technology day when we bought our digital press. They came to us to find a home for it, as they were selling Brentford and needed to move it out. We spent two months negotiating a price and getting finance. We insisted on an installation at Christmas, to minimise productive downtime.”

Although Fretwell has run Heidelbergs for 20 years, it did look around at presses from other manufacturers. “We did consider a Komori, but we thought it wasn’t anywhere near as productive as the Heidelberg,” says Gillett. “We also considered UV inks, but the speed that the IR dries on uncoated stock means it wasn’t worth the extra cost.” 

What’s new?

The new press was built to the ‘Drupa 2020’ specification, intended for launch at the postponed show. The Heidelberg User Experience includes the latest Speedmaster Operating System and Push to Stop automation, first seen at Drupa 2016 are standard, where the press can load plates, set up, start, run up, complete the run and stop completely automatically unless the operator overrides it. The effect of the automation is a doubling in “overall equipment effectiveness” linked to “process and operator dependent losses”. This includes Intellistart 3 which defines all the steps required for a job change. The latest AutoPlate XL 3 fully automatic plate changing was added. There’s a cloud connection to Heidelberg’s remote monitoring service. The large Wallscreen XL over the press console displays Intellirun, an intelligent status report. 

How did the installation go?

Heidelberg UK arranged a part exchange for the old press, which was taken out so the new one could immediately go into the same spot. “The new press has the same footprint, so all the power and water supplies could transfer over,” says Gillett. White Horse Machinery, a used printing equipment specialist, took out the old Speedmaster in two days. “There was great coordination between White Horse and Heidelberg. The old press was sold to Eastern Europe, we heard. Heidelberg put in overtime on the new press and it was printing within five days, by New Year’s Day. The demonstrations and training were first class, excellent. We can’t moan about it at all!”

How has it been in practice?

There were only a few automation tweaks for the operators to learn. “They’ve adapted very well and can get through a lot more work in a shift,” says Gilet. “It’s a progression from the previous press, just more productive.”

The difference in throughput was noticeable immediately, says Gillett. The old press’ maximum speed of 18,000sph wasn’t really needed. “We never hit it with our 5,000 sheet run lengths. How fast we run it is less important than makeready time, so the new one is better for that.” 

The 2020 Drupa revamps were considerable, too. “The biggest thing, which I was a bit sceptical about at first, is how much difference the auto plate change would make,” says Gillett. “It’s been worth every penny. Where we might have done six single-sided short-run jobs per hour, we can now do 10. Auto plate changing halves the job change time down to three, three-and-a-half minutes including running up. Before it was six to nine minutes per section. We’re now getting into colour in 65-75 sheets, which again is half what it was, and saves on paper.

“The press displays its status on an 80in Wallscreen – what it is running and a countdown to when it will finish, so you know when to get the plates ready and pre-loaded for the next job. 

“Intellistart is phenomenal. It’s all hands-off, you just set up the pallets and the machine does the rest. Heidelberg monitors everything and can alert us before we know there’s a issue. For instance, it may send a message that a sensor is about to fail, so it’s already ordered a replacement and it’s on its way before we know it. There are fewer stops, less downtime, etc.”

The press was supplied running Heidelberg Saphira Classic Speed 400 inks, but Fretwell soon switched back to the Saphira Bio Extreme inks, which it prefers. 

After getting used to the press for six months, Fretwell switched over to processless plates for the first time in July. It’s using Kodak Sonora XP plates, imaged by its existing Heidelberg Suprasetter A75 Generation 3 platesetter. “I wish we’d done this two years ago,” says Gillett. Once on press the fountain solution dissolves the coating which is then removed by the action of the blanket and paper as the press runs up. “It takes 10 to 12 sheets to remove the coating, and together with the other press improvements the 65th sheet is sellable,” says Gillett.

So, would he do it all again? “Yes, we would buy it again. We’ve had Speedmasters all along – SM, CD, XL. All performed well and had a good resale value. We’ve used Heidelberg for 20-odd years and some of their people have been there all along. The depth of knowledge of their engineers is great – they know every nut and bolt, or sensor and circuit board.” 


Fretwell configuration

Speed 16,500sph max, 15,000sph on board up to 800microns

Units Five plus coater

Controls Speedmaster OS, Push To Stop automation with Intellistart, automatic colour control with Inpress Control

Auto plate change Autoplate Pro 3 (four plates in two minutes) – there is also an option called Autoplate XL for 1.5-minute changes

Max sheet size 605x750mm (F format)

Plate size 660x745mm (F format)

Footprint 13x4m for five units plus coater with Preset Plus Feeder and Delivery and two delivery extension modules

Price From around £1.5m

Contact Heidelberg UK 020 8490 3500


Fretwell Print & Direct Mail is a long-established sheetfed litho and digital printer based in Keighley, Yorkshire. It employs 45 people and until the pandemic was turning over about £6m. It’s expanded sales staff and changed its product emphasis with the aim of regaining that. Direct mail forms a large part of the business. It currently has two Heidelberg Speedmaster presses, including the latest 2020 spec model which was Heidelberg UK’s former demonstrator. There are also mail enclosure and finishing kit. 

Why it was bought…

Fretwell wanted to improve productivity for its mix of work and replace an older press.

How it has performed…

Although nominally slower, the new press has been more productive thanks to faster makereadies. “It’s made us more competitive in the marketplace, so there’s more chance of profit on jobs,” says joint MD Andy Gillett. “There are faster plate changes, which matters for 96-page catalogue work that we could not compete in before. It’s more productive than a B1 press without APC.”