Fast approaching its 50th anniversary, Adelco continues to expand its product lines and introduce new equipment that is in tune with the modern decorator’s needs. We spoke to Luke Smith, sales director, about its Thermotron folding and packing lines and how these machines are helping to further automate print shops’ production processes

Founded in 1972, Adelco has been manufacturing and supplying screen printing equipment for nearly 50 years. Probably best known for its textile dryers, which are used by garment decorators across Britain and beyond, the company also has a long heritage in supplying screen printing presses – carousels and ovals – and was the first distributor of Kornit DTG printers in the UK. A more recent expansion of Adelco’s product line-up took place two years ago when the company introduced a new range of folding and bagging equipment. The move was a natural next step that is in line with current market trends, points out Adelco’s sales director, Luke Smith. “As people’s businesses are growing, they want to automate their production fully and make it as efficient as possible. You can automate from web to print and now it’s coming through to bagging, folding, labelling and dispatch.”

Speed and consistency

While Adelco manufactures its own dryers and screen printing presses, it chose to partner with Thermotron – a Greek company that also dates back to the ‘70s and is based in Thessaloniki in northern Greece, with a state-of-the- art factory in nearby Chalkidiki – for its folding and bagging equipment.

The reason was simple, according to Luke: Thermotron has established a specialism in the garment industry, with market-leading innovations that have taken it into more than 30 countries around the world.

The Thermotron FX23 automatic folding machine is aimed at smaller shops

Adelco’s Thermotron offering is aimed at decorators of all sizes. For smaller companies, the entry-level FX23 is a stand-alone automatic folding machine that needs just one operator and is also capable of stacking and gathering up the folded garments and packing them in bags. “This is suited to smaller shops and is mostly for ease and consistency,” Luke explains. For higher-volume garment printers and manufacturers, there is the STP1000 automatic folding machine that can be linked up through a modular system with Thermotron’s PV40 bagging machine, KL60 sealing machine and NT50 stacking machine – in whatever configuration is required.

While the FX23 can fold and package up to 2,500 pieces in an eight-hour session, the STP1000 can manage up to 5,500 pieces in the same time. “The advantages of having a machine like that is that you have the speed, at 680 pieces per hour, and consistency but still with a single operator,” Luke says. “The fact that they are modular is another one of its advantages. You can almost create it however you want it and add bits as and when you are in a position to be able to do it and turn on certain parts of the machine.” Adelco expects demand for folding and bagging machines to keep on growing, Luke adds. “By fully automating your production, it is faster, more consistent and there is less room for human error. I think it’s going to continue to be more and more popular.”

Chinese production

Adelco continues to thrive by keeping abreast of trends in the garment printing market.

Originally set up to make stencilled screens and ancillary products, it was founded by Luke’s grandfather, Alan Smith and two partners, Des and Laurie (the Adelco name is derived from the first letters of the now ex- partners’ forenames).

The Thermotron STP1000 folding machine can be combined with the PV40 bagging machine and KL60 sealing machine

Alan’s sons, Mark and Leigh, subsequently joined the business about 30 years ago. In turn, the third generation of Smiths arrived a decade ago when Leigh’s sons, Luke and Daniel, came on board, eventually working their way up to become sales director and engineering director respectively.

With its headquarters in Bordon in north Hampshire, the business now employs over 100 people with 90 of them working in China where Adelco moved its production around 16 years ago, establishing a factory in Kunshan to the west of Shanghai. With Leigh and Daniel spending much of their time in China, this is very much a core part of the business rather than a third- party arrangement. “We manufacture all our products in China. Everything is done in-house. Almost everything is 100% vertical. It is very important for us to keep it in-house as we are always looking to keep control of quality. It’s really the only way to do it,” Luke explains. Since opening, the factory has undergone expansion in 2011 and again in 2014, doubling its capacity. “China is growing really fast,” Luke adds. “It is the best place for us to manufacture in the world.”

He continues: “I like to think we are very innovative because of what we have at our fingertips in China. We have designers over there and can turn things around unbelievably fast.” Recent innovations have included the Dual Dryer, launched in 2017, which combines the benefits of two dryers within the footprint of a single unit. “We came up with the idea and designed it, providing a smaller-footprint dryer that has two individual belts and two individual burners. We are the only company in the world to produce a dual dryer.”

Digital future

Sales in the UK have been diversifying over the past 10 years, Luke points out. “In the UK, we were primarily known as dryer manufacturers, but we have been branching into screen print as well. In that way, you could say we have done it a bit back to front but it made sense for us. We started with ovals and then, more recently, we have started producing our own carousels.” Carousels are the most popular Adelco presses in the UK, but ovals remain in demand overseas, especially in Asia Pacific because garment printers use more special colours and discharges, Luke reports. 

Adelco launched the innovative Dual Dryer in 2017

In spite of broadening its screen printing machinery offering, Luke is adamant that “the future is digital”. As well as distributing Kornit’s digital printers, Adelco has also launched the AD Hybrid Digital – a high-speed digital station designed as an add- on for its automatic screen printing presses. It means that digital print, spot-colour, glitter and other special effects can all be carried out on one machine. However, Luke concedes that the appeal of this add-on will not exist forever. “We recognise the fact that this has a window of opportunity because the cost per print is coming down with fully digital machines. We are seeing it closing the gap on screen printing.” Nevertheless, he says there is still a place for screen printing in the market. “With conventional print, it’s currently the only way to do special colours, glitter metallics… You can’t do that with full digital yet. The market will continue to change: it’s slowly going digital. It is leaning more towards ecommerce rather than bricks-and-mortar stores, and that is changing how you handle the order from web to print to dispatch.”

Sustainability is high on the agenda at Adelco, where its designers are looking at ways to meet demand for more eco-friendly processes – from supplying environmentally friendly inks to reducing water wastage. “Where people weren’t that bothered about it before, more and more people are becoming aware of it,” Luke says. “The big retail outlets are insistent on greener suppliers and going greener, and that’s coming down the line. For us, the angle we take is that we have to produce eco-friendly machines based on how efficiently they can run.” In terms of alternative fuel, there are no options for powering dryers other than electricity or gas at present. For Adelco, about 90% of the dryers sold in the UK run on gas because this works out cheaper. However, Luke notes that electric dryers do give companies the option of turning to environmentally friendly energy sources, such as solar-powered electricity. “This is more expensive but you can get various grants to run on greener energy,” he points out.

Massive focus

Sustainability is also on the agenda at Thermotron, especially as its machines are currently designed to bag garments into polyethylene bags. “It is something that Thermotron is working on,” Luke says. He notes how the amount of plastic being used is a “massive focus” for garment companies and retailers. However, Thermotron does offer a means to for at least reducing plastic packaging already, with its modular system allowing decorators to put more than one garment in a bag. “We have customers who are folding garments and then they go to stacking where they can be bagged afterwards with multiple garments so they can save on plastic,” Luke explains.

With a worldwide distribution network, Adelco can now claim to serve customers across six continents. Luke says the company plans further innovation for 2020 and beyond, with in-house manufacturing forecast to continue expanding. Along with partners such as Thermotron, it is poised to capitalise on current and emerging market trends. “Within the UK, we plan to align ourselves with the most innovative manufacturers to provide the best customer service, print costs and speeds,” Luke concludes.