By incorporating three production lines in its new €30 million state-of-the-art premises in Mrieħel, Progress Press will be able to diversify and ensure greater business efficiency, managing director Adrian Hillman told The Times Business.

The imposing premises on Mrieħel’s arterial road, which will be opened by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi tomorrow, occupy a footprint of 10,000 square metres and house a new web-printing and mailroom installation alongside the sheet-fed printing equipment previously based at Valletta’s Strickland House.

Progress Press, which was established in 1922, now operates entirely at Mrieħel. The company, which is FSC certified, has grown from a team of 30 and a turnover of €2 million in 2004 to 100 full-timers and a turnover of more than €12 million. Progress Press is a member of the Allied group of companies, which includes Allied Newspapers and Media Maker.

Tomorrow’s event will celebrate the accomplishment of a feat – and the result of one of the largest private investments undertaken in Malta last year – which saw a major project largely completed in 12 months.

Mr Hillman explained how a board decision to source land to accommodate new premises for Progress Press was taken 30 months ago. The potential of seven sites was examined before the contract for the land at Mrieħel was signed in June 2009. The contract of works was signed a month later and the project began in September 2009. Exactly a year later, Progress Press began printing The Times at its new premises.

“Over the past six years, the company had grown rapidly and we were beginning to question the logic of remaining in Valletta,” Mr Hillman recalled. “Our shopfloor was spread over five floors and the situation affected our efficiency. It was not a sustainable position. Valletta is not the ideal place to grow a manufacturing concern. We decided that we needed to look for a site that would not only allow us to conduct our business, but also allow potential for growth at group level.”

The Mrieħel premises fit the board’s specifications as they were ideally located not only to provide ease of access and a central distribution hub but also to house office space in a fledgling business district.

Ample space to accommodate the sprawling two-storey press means the company is able to consolidate one of its core production lines – newspaper printing – and expand its offering so that newspapers can be printed, finished, stitched and cut in different formats with many permutations of colour at cost-efficient pricing.

Web printing on coated paper is a new production line which will enable Progress Press to enter the high volume market, particularly that of door-to-door material. Mr Hillman said the company had already won much of the local business in this segment. Progress Press’s capability of reaching volumes ranging between 20,000 and 300,000 “with ease” enables the company to bid for international business on high volumes in a competitive market.

Chief operations officer Noel Galea detailed the capabilities of Progress Press’s new set-up in Mrieħel.

“The new web-printing and mailroom installation is capable of handling jobs that have so far been available only overseas,” Mr Galea explained. “The Global Web Systems G-145 Printline is made up of eight printing towers, two of which are equipped with UV ink curing. The equipment is capable of printing 64 newspaper-sized pages simultaneously, at a rate of 40,000 an hour.

“As the machine can also print on glossy and matt paper, it can print publications such as the popular door-to-door magazines. Due to the large print runs involved – 160,000 copies per edition – it is not feasible to print the latter on conventional sheetfed equipment. This enables Progress Press to print a wider variety of products with increased pagination, at faster rates and shorter delivery times for customers.”

Mr Galea added that the new machine also provides for automatic registration of colours and has improved colour balance controls that lead to good quality copies faster, cutting down on set-up time and waste.

An integral part of the project is the new FERAG mailroom, which streamlines the folding, stitching and trimming of products, to final stacking and bundle-strapping. He explained this opens up further opportunities for large runs of publications, shortening the distance between the press and its clients.

Sales manager Alex Falzon specified that the press is capable of performing quarter and double-parallel folding in addition to the standard tabloid half-fold.

“This configuration is new and unique to the island and provides Progress Press with the competitive advantage of printing semi-commercial products like magazines and brochures at fast rates and favourable margins,” he said.

Mr Galea said the entire installation required intensive project management in the second half of 2010, involving Progress Press employees, building consultants, contractors, and equipment suppliers and agents to ensure timely implementation of the various project phases: installation, training and transfer of the newspaper printing process from the older equipment in Valletta onto the new installation at Mrieħel.

The sheetfed equipment, used for printing of magazines, brochures and books normally inserted in the newspaper, sold at book stores or exported, was transferred from Valletta to Mrieħel last March.

Apart from ancillary machines, 15 major units of equipment were transferred, including a computer-to-plate machine, three printing machines, four folders, three guillotines, a stitcher, and a book binder.

“The transfer created logistical challenges, both in terms of equipment haulage as well as production planning,” Mr Galea continued. “Layout and space restrictions in Valletta implied that structural changes had to be made to the building and walls were torn open to create passageways for the equipment’s exit. Additionally, specialised scaffolding was required at the rear of the building to facilitate safe lowering of the machines to street level onto the hauling trucks. To create minimum disruptions possible to production, the transfer was planned and executed in phases. This enabled part-production to proceed in Valletta while initial equipment was dis-assembled, hauled and re-assembled at Mrieħel.

“When the first transferred modules were operational in Mrieħel, a second module at Valletta was dis-assembled and transferred. This proceeded successively for a three-month period until all equipment and production was operating from Mrieħel towards end of March. All equipment underwent a specialised cleaning and maintenance programme before reassembly.”

Progress Press’ team of architects, led by Paul Camilleri, were detailed to reduce the building’s carbon footprint. The building maximises natural ventilation and natural lighting, and energy saving light switches have been installed.

Wider plans to enhance the premises’ green credentials will be implemented in the long term as planning permission for the construction of additional floors is pending.

The Mrieħel premises provide for extensive storage space for sheetfed paper and reels on two separate levels. Paper is moved to the production areas a day earlier so that it acclimatises to the environment before it is used in printing.

Mr Hillman said Progress Press’s new home will endow it with significant competitive advantage. Besides leveraging its team’s extensive experience, the company is in a unique position to offer a spectrum of quality services according to clients’ budgetary requirements at cost-efficient rates.

Progress Press’s international client portfolio includes the United Nations, the Open University, the World Health Organisation, the International Labour Organisation, major international non-governmental organisations and publishers.

The company’s long-term vision includes an increasing capacity for flexibility in all roles, particularly as the evolution of printing methods and the competitive market will necessitate new processes.

“Some people will question the future of printing,” Mr Hillman said. “Clearly there is a global threat to some areas of printing. But businesses have to be agile enough to shift products in different markets and there is nothing to stop us from identifying new areas.

“There is a lot of emotion surrounding newspapers and their shrinking circulation, which is true of larger parts of western world. But there has been massive growth in other parts of the world. It is a medium that has ‘plateaued’ and newspaper publishers are thinking of varied permutations to address different markets. Some parts of the world do not have internet access. People forget that and newspapers are still better suited to those markets.”

Mr Hillman pointed out that despite the growth in e-books, publishers would be wary of confining books to the online market when the music industry, which had mirrored that practice, was in a downward spiral.

Asked about the longer-term vision for the site, Mr Hillman said Allied Group saw significant investment potential in the Mrieħel premises.

“The building was designed to be aesthetically pleasing and our architects have done a remarkable job,” he said. “The site should be of interest to people who want to be part of the area. The plans are impressive and we will be looking at third parties who would like to join us in the future development of that premises,” Mr Hillman said.

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