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John Hancock

Brendan Perring speaks to John Hancock, sales manager of D and K Europe, about his journey through the print industry and how the company is thriving

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John Hancock has identified a trend towards more print houses bringing lamination in-house to control turnaround times and costs

Putting the seal on success

D and K Europe is one of the leading suppliers for lamination and encapsulating equipment in the UK, what is the history of the company?

D and K Custom Machine Design was founded in a suburb of Chicago in the USA in 1979 by the man who is still our chief executive officer to this day. Initially it designed and built the first automated cutters for the encapsulation process, but shortly afterwards it started to produce the first truly affordable single-sided thermal laminator for both printers and print finishers alike.

D and K Custom Machine Design was founded in a suburb of Chicago in the USA in 1979 by the man who is still our CEO to this day

Five years later D and K International was formed for the manufacture of films for lamination and encapsulation, and today this division is perhaps best known for its market leading Super Stick films developed for digitally produced print.

It was in 1987 that D and K Europe was set up to service the UK and Europe, successfully selling and servicing the USA built laminators. But as European requirements developed along a different path to that of the USA, we started to build a range in Europe that was more suitable for this market. That facility started production in 2003, where most of the laminators we sell outside of the USA are now built.

Although not widely known, D and K USA is also a major manufacturer and supplier via distribution of films and equipment for the picture framing trade.

What are some of the most important advances in your technology sector, and how have they improved your products?

Over the almost 40 years that D and K have been building laminators, there have been significant improvements in technology which have had an impact in the area of print finishing, not least the improvements that computerisation has brought to the industry. We only have to look at the development of the mobile phone to see what can now be achieved in terms of computing power and communication capabilities in such a small package.  D and K USA has extensive extrusion and adhesive coating facilities, which have benefited considerably from such developments in controls. These facilities may be utilised not only for our own range of films, but also for the custom coating of products outside of print finishing such as holographic films for the security market and specialist products for the medical industry.

The Polaris (1,050 x 1,050mm) is one of the big daddies of the D and K Europe range

Today, overall film gauge and resin coat weights can be controlled to a far greater extent, meaning that our customers benefit from films that are easier and faster to run, give less waste, and improve overall productivity.
Touchscreen and programmable logic controllers (PLCs) have also added much to today’s laminators, enabling D and K to carry out remote programming of our laminators anywhere in the world. But moreover they make it easier for operators of other equipment from both the traditional print finishing and digital spectrum to rapidly get to grips with the process of lamination, once the sole province of specialist trade houses.

How did you find your way into the print industry and what is your career history?

By mistake really, although my father had been involved in print production with one of the high street banks, it certainly was not a question of following in his footsteps; it was more by coincidence that I found myself in sales with Heidelberg. After leaving school I applied for an accounts role with Heidelberg, which actually turned out to be in sales administration. I was there for 20 years, eventually becoming manager of that department and then moving into territory sales in the North East of England. Following that I spent a short time with Ryobi and then Litho Supplies before joining D and K. Interestingly, I turned down an offer from D and K earlier in my career because I did not want to move away from the North East, but thankfully I was asked for a second time and I have now been here for more than 20 years. 

Wide-format print laminating is a growing area of your portfolio, how are you seeing this sector develop within the commercial print industry?

Currently wide-format print lamination accounts for a much smaller proportion of our business than does our fully automated narrow-format range. However, by narrow-format we include laminators that we build at landscape B1 with a maximum format of 1,050 x 1,050mm (41.3 x 41.3´), so the boundaries between narrow and wide-format are becoming somewhat blurred. In this respect, I can see lamination at 1,000mm or above becoming a growth area for us. We produced a bespoke encapsulation line a short while ago for the protection of walking maps, but more commercial printers have added wide-format print to their capabilities. A recent PIRA report indicated that the growth of packaging print, specifically short-run digitally produced packaging print, is also forecast to grow annually in excess of 11 percent over the next five years. I am sure wide-format will have an increasing role in this and in consequence so too will the lamination of these products and manufacturers such as ourselves may need to address what has traditionally been a hand-fed process.

What is your opinion on the key challenges your customers are grappling with, and how can D and K help them? 

The challenges faced by printers have not really changed that much over the years, they revolve around production, costs, and margins coupled to getting one over on their competition to try and ensure that the work comes to them in an increasingly competitive market.

The Neptune PB B3 laminator is a highly-successful system for D and K Europe and has helped many UK printers bring lamination in-house

Bringing lamination in-house is certainly one way that the printer can have more control over the overall print production process, and compared to sending work out, allows them to potentially reduce lead times and costs, and improve the margins that are continually being squeezed.

Bringing lamination in-house is certainly one way that the printer can have more control over the overall print production process

As run lengths have become shorter, so too have the make-ready times on our laminators with feeders becoming more accurate and requiring little operator intervention when changing stock weights and sheet sizes. The growth and quality improvements in digital print has also led printers to look at more ways to get the most out of their print and finishing equipment, and one area that is becoming more and more popular is the ability to apply a digital foil. Combining foiling with lamination—both via a laminator and tehn overprinting via a digital print engine—a range of eye-catching effects for short-run promotional and packaging print can be achieved. A short-term development for D and K will be to offer low cost equipment purely for foiling; meaning those with a laminator who are unwilling or unable to add a foiling modification can add this to their portfolio at minimum cost.

Key Stats

  • Year company founded: 1979 in the USA
  • Number of staff: 19 (UK-based)
  • Year D and K Europe formed: 1987
  • Speed of Polaris laminator: 60m/minute

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