How is India Using Robots?

India’s largest flexible packaging company, Uflex, is setting up a robotic plant for producing gravure cylinders at its Noida location. The company, which is the largest fully integrated flexible packaging solution provider to a range of clients across industries both in India and overseas, enjoys a formidable market presence in more than 140 countries. Since its inception in 1983, Uflex has grown from strength to strength to evolve as a truly Indian multinational with consumers spread across the world. Uflex today has state-of-the-art packaging facilities at multiple locations in India and film manufacturing facilities in India, the UAE, Mexico, Egypt, Poland and the USA.

“The robotic plant in Noida for producing gravure cylinders will be ready by January 2016,” says PK Agarwal, joint president, Uflex – Cylinder Division. “The technology is from Think Laboratory in Japan. Our people have already received the training and got a demo as well. The whole cylinder-making process will now become a one-man operation. It will need just one man to put the steel rollers on the rack and the engraved and finished cylinders will come out automatically at a rate of 80 cylinders a day.” If the robotic plant in Noida is successful, Uflex may add another robotic plant in Jammu, according to Agarwal. Jammu is coming up as the next important production site, after Noida for Uflex, with eight gravure printing presses – all Ceruttis and Bobst Rotomecs – and a pair of wide-web CI flexo presses – one each from Bobst F&K and Comexi.

“In Jammu we are already producing 6,000 gravure cylinders annually and very soon we will increase it to about 8,000,” says Agarwal. “My focus is to do 70% packaging business and 30% special value addition business – both gravure and flexo combined. In flexo, we are looking at going towards digitally imaged sleeves and plates based on elastomers and in Jammu we are in the process of installing our new Lead direct laser for producing flexo plates both as flat forms to be mounted on the plate cylinder and also for elastomer sleeve plates. “The Xeikon digital flexo imager in our Noida plant is working round-the-clock and due to increased demand, we have ordered another Xeikon for Noida which is likely to be installed in the November 2015 timeframe.

Agarwal says, “One advantage of Lead laser direct imaging of elastomer plates is that the plates themselves are extremely robust.” He is interested in exploring niche markets and in providing gravure embossing rollers for several materials such as leather, paper (for greeting and invitation cards) and aluminium foil (for pharmaceutical packaging). “We will try embossing in some of our packaging products also – initially on paper-based packaging products and later, on laminates for pouches too,” says Agarwal

Best Practices from Flexible Packaging Printers

While Melbourne, Fla.-based Palmas Printing certainly isn’t new to package printing, it is fairly new to printing on flexible film – and Jim Love, Palmas’ VP, has no issue admitting it.

“We’re not a new company, but we’ve basically made a transition from being a label printer to a flexible packager and we’ve managed to do it without going out of business,” he says.

But Love also admits that Palmas was “a hair away” from closing shop. And to truly understand how Palmas got to where it is at now, you’d need to know the company’s backstory. George Schmidt & Co. is a printing, converting and finishing firm that has been in business since 1874. One of the markets the company has excelled in is tobacco packaging and printing. When many of its large cigar clients began opening shop in Puerto Rico in the 1970s, George Schmidt & Co. opened Palmas Printing as a subsidiary in Juncos, Puerto Rico to better serve these clients. Palmas Printing originally consisted of a single gravure press focused on printing rolled cigar bands. As the business grew, Palmas added capacity and eventually expanded into pressure-sensitive labels.

“When flavors came out for cigars, the traditional brands went into line extensions and became different flavored versions of well-known cigars,” Love says. “That kind of killed gravure because the cylinder changes and the setup times and the runs all went another direction and we needed a more cost-effective way to do shorter runs. We got into flexo at that point.”

Things were going good for Palmas Printing. Love says the company owned about 95 percent of the mass market in the cigar industry. And then things changed in the late 2000s following the company’s move from Puerto Rico to its current location in Melbourne, Fla. With the proliferation of flavors in the cigar industry, metalized wrappers soon started to displace bands. Palmas didn’t have the right equipment to print on the unsupported film material.

“We very quickly decided that we had to spend a whole lot of money to re-tool and take advantage of the relationships that we’ve had for so many years with these tobacco companies,” Love says. “If we didn’t get into flexible packaging, we weren’t going to have a business.

“We started spending all of our money on new equipment. Right after that happened, in 2010, pouches began to cannibalize wrappers. That continues today – now wrappers are a much smaller part of our business and pouches are our primary business – and it’s growing. That’s required more equipment. Now, instead of just printing a cigar band and a film wrapper, we’re doing the film printing and the laminating and the forming of the pouch, including a zipper closure.”

Today, Palmas Printing only does flexographic printing. It operates five flexo presses and is capable of printing in up to 10 colors and up to 17 inches in web widths (31 inches with partners). While Love admits that he loved the high-quality and repeatability of gravure printing, it became non-competitive from a cost standpoint when Palmas was forced to transition into printing shorter runs. Flexo’s fast set up time and inexpensive operating costs – especially when it comes to short print runs – were the basis behind Palmas’ decision to adopt the technology.

This story originally appeared in Flexible Packaging. Here’s the link.

US Converted Flexible Packaging to Hit $20.7 billion in 2019

Demand for converted flexible packaging in the US is projected to increase 3.3 percent annually to $20.7 billion in 2019.

Although advances will decelerate from the pace of the past decade, converted flexible packaging will remain a growth area in both food and nonfood applications due to the inherent cost and performance advantages of lightweight bags and pouches. Moreover, converted flexible packaging’s source reduction, space savings, and lower production and transportation costs will be increasingly advantageous in light of the growing importance among major retailers and packaged goods firms of supply chain sustainability as a competitive advantage.

All of these factors will drive further conversions from rigid to flexible formats. These and other trends are presented in Converted Flexible Packaging, a new study from The Freedonia Group, Inc., a Cleveland-based industry market research firm.

Pouches will experience above average gains, reflecting continued opportunities in both food and nonfood segments and for new conversions from rigid packaging. Analyst Esther Palevsky notes, “Growth will benefit from the increased prevalence of value-added features, such as spouts and fitments, as well as the development of newer stand-up pouch designs that can contain heavier weight contents.”

Bag demand will rise more slowly due to the maturity of a number of applications, competition from pouches, and, to some degree, rigid packaging such as clamshells and blister packaging. Overall advances will be helped by growth in food production, an expanding elderly population, and the importance of bags for bulk and other larger-sized packages in such markets as pet food, chemicals, building materials, and agricultural and horticultural products.