FMCG supports carton makers worldwide
For a business to maintain market leadership in any sector requires them to be both proactive and reactive,” says Hakan Pfeiffer, head of the Folding Carton Business Area at Bobst Group. “On the one hand, you have to be able to react quickly to change. That change can be something as overwhelming as the global economic downturn we have seen over the past year and a half, or can be as subtle as the shifts in consumer behaviour that slowly modify markets. By reacting positively to these changes we believe we help our customers cope with them, but it is only half the story. At the same time we have to take a proactive lead, driving through developments that will open up new opportunities for our customers, and help them to better exploit their existing markets.”
Pfeiffer says that, despite the downturn of the worldwide economy, the consumption of packaged goods globally appears to have remained fairly stable. However, he points out that there are important differences in activity levels between different sectors and different geographical areas. “Fast moving consumer goods have experienced growth, while industrial products have weakened, sometimes considerably. In terms of geographical markets, carton makers face major challenges wherever they are in the world, but Russia, Japan and the Americas seem to be suffering the greatest declines in activity.”
So what is Bobst Group doing in terms of proactive and reactive activities? “Well the brand owners, our customers’ customers, are continuing their quest for differentiation in an attempt to ensure they get their share of those sales available,” says Pfeiffer. “That often means they want to use new pack profiles, different materials, or more added-value on their packs, which results in a need for more versatile printing and converting equipment. At the same time, carton makers are under increasing price pressure, which means they need to be more productive. Our reaction to these drivers has been to deliver increasingly versatile and productive equipment.”
A different look and feel
“Something as simple as changing the material that a pack is made from can give brands the differentiation they need,” says Alan Thompson, director of sales and marketing for Bobst’s folder-gluer products. “But it often creates a real headache for carton makers. That’s why we are constantly striving to extend the range of materials you can fold and glue, as well as the performance of those materials, on the folder-gluer line, whether it is a new line or one that is already in production.” Thompson cites as an example the growing use of synthetic substrates, metallized boards, and boards with varnishes, all of which he says are notoriously difficult to fold and glue, whatever your equipment. “These materials mark easily and often need expensive hot-melt adhesives to glue them effectively. In the last year we at Bobst have launched a special feeder called Handyfeeder that ensures these delicate materials don’t get marked during the feeding process, and we have also launched our Plasmatreat system which means they can be glued much more effectively and at lower cost.”
Adding foil effects or holograms to packaging is another way brand owners use to differentiate their products. But, again, this change can create problems for the carton maker, especially if they do not have hot-foil stamping facilities in-house.
“That’s why we developed our Visionfoil hot-foil stamping press,” says Raphael Indermuehle, market director for Bobst’s flat-bed diecutters and foiling presses. “As well as being an incredibly accurate and productive foiling press, it can quickly and easily be converted into a diecutter with stripping. That means converters gain the versatility to foil products, but they also get a high quality diecutting capability when they are not foiling.”
The power of dynamic register
Bobst’s other flat-bed foiling press, the Expertfoil, features a unique Foil Register system which identifies the actual location of the print on the sheet, regardless of where the sheet edge lies, and brings it into concurrence with the foiling dies. “We had got to the point where foil to print register on our presses was more impacted by variations in the register accuracy of the upstream printing press than by anything on our machine,” says Indermuehle. “With the Foil Register system on the Expertfoil, any lack of accuracy in the register of the printing press no longer matters.”
The Foil Register system has been developed on similar principles to the dynamic register systems which are being cascaded down Bobst’s die-cutter product ranges in both the folding carton and corrugated product lines. “Our first dynamic register system, Power Register, was originally developed as a way to remove the limitations inherent in the physical lays used for conventional in-feed systems,” says Indermuehle. “Having to stop the sheet and then pull it to one side was stopping us developing faster diecutters.” The solution was a system that takes control of the incoming sheet and uses camera technology to identify the precise location and orientation of the print on it. As it already knows the precise location of the downstream diecutting, stripping, and blanking tools, the system can move the sheet into perfect registration with them before passing it on to the gripper bars. Power Register is so sophisticated that it can do all this in a third of a second. “Not only did Power Register mean we could develop much faster diecutters, we also discovered that it cut stops in production by something like 25 percent, which is really important when so much production these days is short run. The result is that a machine like our Expertcut is more productive than any of its competitors, even if it runs a job at the same speed.”
The latest variant of the system, Power Register II, has been adapted to read the print from above or below, and so is particularly useful for the growing market in litho-laminated packaging. In practice, when a litho printed sheet is applied using a laminating machine to the corrugated liner, they rarely end up in perfect alignment. This, Indermuehle says, makes it impossible to get consistent register using physical lays. “Because Power Register recognises the location of the print on the sheet and does not have to use the sheet edge, it can bring the sheet into perfect alignment with the diecutting tools every time.” Power Register II now also reads a variety of materials, be they metallized, transparent, or black or white print, thanks to a new generation of highly sensitive cameras developed by Bobst Registron, which have solved the difficulties presented by reflection and transparency on these materials. This new version also has an autolearning feature where the operator simply brings one sheet into the Power Register and the system automatically sets its camera detection functions. “It makes the system even easier to use,” says Indermuehle.
With carton makers continually looking towards streamlining their operations, one area of ongoing interest has been the removal of the need to hand separate blanks for folding and gluing after they have been diecut and stripped. Most large volume operations in the developed world already do this, but mid-to-small operations there, and most operations in developing markets have not yet followed their lead. “One of the concerns which has held some carton makers back from using blank separating has been the high perceived cost of the tooling,” says Indermuehle. “We saw this as a challenge, and worked with a partner to develop a way that our customers could make their blanking tools more cost effectively, and so improve their margins.” The result was the development of a system called Angle Lock which can be used to build very precise and very rigid blanking tools, but uses a high proportion of standard parts. “Because 80% of the parts can be reused it means that it is profitable for our customers to blank much shorter runs than before. If the job never repeats then the tool is just broken down and used for a different one,” says Indermuehle.
This drive to help carton makers improve their margins on jobs is a key part of the Bobst development process says Alan Thompson, and often involves seeking out completely new ways of doing things. “For example crashlock cartons are a staple part of the work mix for many carton makers, but a lot of folder-gluer operators view them as tricky because they can be slow to set, slow to run, and labour intensive to pack. This year we launched our Speedwave module which is a completely new concept in folding and gluing crashlocks. It does away with the mechanical hooks and folding guides that slow the process down and can run crashlocks at 70,000 boxes an hour.”
This in itself created a problem for Bobst. “Packing crashlock cartons has traditionally been very labour intensive, especially as they don’t give themselves over readily to automatic packing,” says Thompson. “But if you have much faster crashlock production you need automatic packing because the end of line staff simply can’t keep up if they are packing manually. That’s why at the same time as we launched Speedwave we launched a new autopacker called Locpack that can handle high speed crashlock packing.”
While probably best known for its die-cutters and folder-gluers, Bobst Group’s and its constituent companies also have considerable prowess in printing, ranging from flexo presses for post-press corrugated and flexible packaging, to gravure lines for flexibles and carton board. Their gravure carton board presses, under the Bobst Lemanic banner, are web-fed lines for general carton, liquid packaging, and in particular tobacco products. “While our lines are often complete solutions with inline embossing and diecutting, we have responded to our customers’ desire for versatility by producing a sheeter unit,” says Benedikt Schwartz, marketing and sales director for Bobst web-fed solutions. “It means that users can start from reels, apply up to 12 colours using our high quality gravure print units, including UV & EB inks and with back printing as an option, and then have the web sheeted and delivered into a pile ready for other processes. It introduces a huge amount of versatility into the short to medium run market and is ideal for producers making say one to 1.5 billion flip top cigarette cartons a year.”
Hakan Pfeiffer points out that while all these developments are helping Bobst Group’s customers react to the marketplace; most have come about because of proactive initiatives by the company’s research and development teams. “We can never be sure where an R&D program will lead. If you take the Power Register for example, the original brief was nothing to do with register accuracy, but was simply to find a way to allow diecutters to feed consistently at higher speeds. However, an important consequence of the development has been our ability to completely eradicate the register problems associated with diecutting litho-laminated board.”
While the vast majority of Bobst Group’s R&D is in-house, the company utilizes a wide range of partners and academic institutions to ensure it gets the greatest range of inputs possible. “Ideas such as Power Register, Speedwave or Plasmatreat might never have made it into production if we did not go looking for ideas, information, solutions and alliances,” says Pfeiffer.
BOBST GROUP (FOLDING CARTON):
T: +44 (0) 1527 519700