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David Gittus of Active Display Group talks of recent changes at the Group
By Peter Kohn

Three-dimensional point-of-purchase (POP) displays have a beguiling sense of heightened reality - they create an illusion of something more than the sum total of their parts.

Nowadays they might include integrated LED electronics or an audio component, depending on the creatives' flair at the agency and, of course, the budget for the campaign.

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 David Gittus – “We know we're trailblazing in terms of resolution

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 Active Display Group’s Mulgrave, Victoria facility.

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 David Gittus with ‘Wall-E’, the robot, an exemplar of what’s achievable in POP displays nowadays

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 The Luescher JSDX computer-to-screen line at Mulgrave. Active Display Group is the first company to use computer-to-screen printing technology outside Europe. (above and below)

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In the foyer of Active Display Group's Mulgrave facility in Melbourne, Wide Format Online spied a robot named 'Wall-E', the robot portrayed in the newly-released animated Pixar film, Wall-E.

Wall-E shows what can be achieved by the clever synthesis of fluted board imprinted with high-impact photography and design, laminated and folded into compelling shapes, forms and structures, plus a dash of multimedia and strategically wired LEDs. In all, it took six print runs and dye lines to bring 'Wall-E' into being. A lightweight robot, maybe, but prepare to be impressed!

Essentially the indoor visual-display industry is about creating the maximum 'wow factor' for a minimal outlay in costs, to match the rapid turnarounds that serve shorter and shorter campaign cycles.

For an end-to-end print solutions provider such as Active Display Group, that means the ability to produce stunning visuals that can stand close-range viewing.

It also means a logistics-savvy production flow that trims the waste off such key phases as prepress, printing, cutting and finishing, assembly and delivery - and even the after-project chores of collection and disposal.

Active Display Group has broadened its acumen in the POP market at both ends of the production spectrum since its recent acquisition of creative agency Tap Productions and taking a 50 per cent stake in AFI Branding Solutions, a longtime supplier.

"We got to know AFI through the Commonwealth Games, the World Swimming Championships and the Australia Pacific Economic Forum, where they did a lot of the flag work and we did a lot of the signage," says Active Display Group's managing director David Gittus.

"For us, it adds to the product range we can provide. We're of a size where we're servicing a big player in each segment - retailing, telcos, hardware and paint -- so we needed to broaden our offering.

"Fabrics and banners, which brings us into the major-events industry, was a good way to go, particularly as they seem to be handled by a small group of project managers. The new structure has also expanded our sales force."

Tap Productions, a boutique ad agency that handles design, procurement and project management for key events like the Australian Open, will continue to run as a standalone outfit under the Active Display Group umbrella but retaining its own brand, says Gittus.

Active Display Group is a family-owned company run by David Gittus, who came to the printing industry from a plant accounting background, and brother Jeff (chairman and founder of the business). Active Display Group employs around 280 staff.

The company began about 22 years ago, running single-colour screen printing, before acquiring screen printer APG, a 40-year-old company which had been doing multi-colour screen printing.

Their print facility now operates from Mulgrave, one of three Active Display Group sites in Melbourne. Mulgrave houses screen, digital and offset printing, and supporting administrative roles. Active Display Group also acquired a prepress and offset component when it bought commercial printer Four Colour Digital in 2004.

At its Keysborough site, Active Display Group manufactures and finishes its displays (in timber, plastic and metal). This site also serves as the head office and sales HQ.

A logistics centre for pallet storage, packing and collating is located at Chelsea Heights, which also handles some guillotining and finishing previously done at the print facility in Mulgrave - in order to cut down on transfer costs.

To emphasise the total-solutions package that Active Display Group offers, Gittus lists some of the technologies at the Keysborough manufacturing centre - cabinet making, vacuum-forming machines, acrylic benders, signwriting and spray booths. 

"Cabinet making is a natural enemy of screenprinting, which requires a super-clean environment," says Gittus, explaining the separation of activities between the three-dimensional construction work at Keysborough and the printing at Mulgrave.

Gittus detailed the company's investment in technology. Active Display Group now runs screen, digital and offset technologies for its POP projects, but Gittus says screen and digital are by far the biggest.

A Komori Lithrone six-colour A1 press and a Kodak CTP system handle the offset components of display campaigns. For digital printing of its fleet graphics and outdoor signage, Active Display Group has an HP-Scitex V-Jet 3x2 m UV flatbed, a NUR Fresco and a Mutoh Toucan.

A bank of HP 5500 printers run high-resolution work. These superwide-format projects, mainly for the fashion industry, are sourced from gigapixel image files, converted to 3x2 m 1-bit TIFF files, blown up 300 dpi at 100 per cent, printed digitally and mounted to foamboard and gloss laminated. They offer remarkable sharpness, even when viewed at close range.

Two HP 10000 ecosolvent printers print semi-permanent outdoor signage, for up to two years' lifecycle.

Active Display Group recently bought some new kit -- including the first computer-to-screen setter installed outside Europe, a Swiss-made Luescher JetScreen JSDX, supplied by DIC Australia and supported by Ferag.

It also added a Prinergy workflow from Kodak, and a SIAS five-colour UV screen press, to add to its SIAS four-colour, and three two-colour machines. The new SIAS press is the largest fully automatic screen printing press in the Asia-Pacific region and enables seamless, cost-effective additions of fifth colours, inline varnishing or spot PMS colour to match branding standards.

"There has been a movement back from digital to screen in this industry. From our point of view, we've found that with the combination of the Luescher CTS and the five-colour press, we can now offer a screen print at 65-85 line-screen that can't be picked from a digital print, virtually a dotless screen print. Our Prinergy prepress workflow allows us to run fifth, sixth and seventh colours, to accurately match brand colours. It also lets us run mixed screen rulings and stochastic Staccato screening.

"We know we're trailblazing in terms of resolution because when the Luescher engineers were here to set it up, we pushed hard to get the resolution up. Typically, in Australia, we run 40-45 line-screen, you can't get much more than 65 lpi out of film, but we've run 85 on the new system," says Gittus, although he emphasises that the golden rule is 'fit for purpose', and the aim is to end up with a job that will behave on the press.

"We've been playing games with customers - putting a digital and a screen print side by side and challenging them to tell us which is which. Six out of seven get it wrong because they expect the better quality from the digital print nowadays - but it's the screen image that has the impact.

"That's something we hadn't expected from the screen printing equipment, as we'd bought it primarily for our screen customers, but we're now getting digital customers who order, say, 80-100 digital impressions of an image, because they want the quality, saying they're just as happy with screen prints.

"Deciding whether to print screen or digital is now purely a quantity issue, whereas it used to be a quality issue as well. And even on quantity, that's a changing argument, now that film has been taken out of the equation - no imagesetters, no projection cameras.

"We have inline screen making and washing now, so we've reduced the overheads to keep it competitive. That's cut down where digital was creeping into the screen domain. Screen is fighting back in a big way."

The filmless workflow, which began at Active Display Group in June, has revolutionised screen printing at the company. Under the old process, four quarter images were transferred to film, developed and blown up 400 per cent to positives, developed, and exposed to a UV lamp to transfer the image to the screen. A high-pressure wash would then hose out the uncured portions to form the stencil.

Now that Active Display Group is filmless, a coated screen is placed in a 12-screen magazine, a 1-bit TIFF file is sent to the Luescher, which loads the screen, laser-etches the image, passes it to the automatic washer, dries it and stores it. Gittus invites me to a demo and, honestly, it is a thing of manufacturing beauty (although, he confesses, the production area needed a major revamp in order to house the sizeable 25-metre line!)

Gittus makes the point that Active Display Group's printed work is environmentally sustainable - using fully recycled and recyclable X-board and a closed-loop screen washing system that saves megalitres of water each year.

Active Display Group also performs self-adhesive vehicle wraps and recently branded 800 vehicles in the REPCO fleet.

"LCD, digital merchandising, touch screens - these are all developing as part of the display industry now and are being integrated with the printed elements," he said. "The future will be exciting indeed."

Active Display Group
www.activedisplay.com.au

 

 

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