Within Uniprint’s complex structure – with its three production facilities in Durban’s Sea Cow/Umgeni Road area – are departments focusing on the printing and converting of labels and folding cartons.
Because of the synergies of sheet-fed lithographic printing, the folding carton department forms part of Uniprint’s point-of-sale (PoS) business, headed by director, Yatish Mehta. A few kilometres away, reel-fed label production shares a plant with business forms production, with co-director Bharat Mehta overseeing both.
However, as the labelling and folding carton operations serve numerous customers in common, despite their dissimilar print technologies, the two tend to be grouped together under the general heading of packaging; and both are investing in the latest technology to keep pace with customers’ ever-changing demands. And this, specifically, is the focus of this article.
When talking labels at Uniprint, it isn’t a simple one-technology topic – it includes pressure-sensitive labels, shrink sleeves, wraparound film labels, digitally-printed labels, and, of course, that stalwart of the label industry, litho-printed wet-glue labels. In fact, the only technology that doesn’t feature on the list right now is in-mould labelling, but a move in that direction is under consideration.
This diversity gives credence to Uniprint’s claim to be a full service provider, offering customers a complete assortment of products, no matter what their needs.
‘We put enormous emphasis on technology acquisition in order to meet our customers’ complex needs,’ comments Bharat Mehta. ‘The label printing environment is developing so rapidly that we need to have the latest equipment in order to stay ahead of the game,’ he adds.
‘Critical for our survival is improving efficiencies and reducing waste and we’re putting tremendous R&D efforts into these two areas,’ Bharat continues.
‘We’re carefully controlling input costs and “thinking outside the box” when it comes to procurement. Equally, we’re investing in printing and converting equipment that offers low waste and short turnaround times to help meet our customers’ demands for shorter print runs,’ Bharat explains.
Countrywide sales to blue-chip customers
Although Durban-based, Uniprint’s customers are found in every province in the land.
In charge of label sales on a national basis is Tim Hancock, supervising busy sales teams located in Durban and Johannesburg. Essentially the Durban team handles the coastal provinces from the Western Cape to KwaZulu-Natal, while the Jo’burg team handles Gauteng and other inland provinces.
Uniprint is in the happy position of supplying labels to blue-chip brand owners, including manufacturers of top-end personal care and home care products, pharmaceuticals, automotive products and non-alcoholic beverages; and in all these market segments print quality is crucial in order to attract consumers at point of sale.
Tim particularly underscores Uniprint’s position at the technological cutting edge. ‘We’re undoubtedly among South Africa’s foremost suppliers of pressure-sensitive labels and we have the latest technology to produce reel-to-reel labels using a combination of silkscreen, UV flexo, offset litho printing, plus in-line foiling, varnishing and/or laminating,’ he remarks. ‘We also produce shrink sleeves and wraparound labels, both of which are fast growing markets. We have recently embarked on the production of peel and read or “butterfly” labels, and we’re seriously considering a move into in-mould labelling,’ he adds.
‘Apart from our leading-edge printing technology, we have the most up-to-date Prinergy workflow system, the latest computerised prepress equipment, and our award-winning filing system that preserves customers’ data, such as samples, discs, proofs and colour standards. For added security this filing system is even backed-up offsite,’ Tim explains.
Of particular importance for pharmaceutical manufacturers are Uniprint’s digital archives and finished goods storage system, offering stringent security procedures and comprehensive safe-guarding of intellectual property, patent and licensing information.
‘Other major strengths are our ISO 9001: 2008 accreditation and an in-house design studio to help customers with label design,’ Tim adds.
‘Thanks to our technical excellence, our willingness to act as custodians for our customers’ valuable data, and our ability to hold stock for just-in-time delivery, we have many blue-chip customers on our books – for instance Reckitt Benckiser, Tiger Brands, Unilever, Nestlé, Shell, and many others,’ Tim adds.
Turning to the ‘softer’ issues, Tim points out that the group is serious about environmental matters, as well as health and safety issues. In purchasing new equipment, for instance, ‘green’ issues are seriously considered – of which a prime example is the recent investment in a new CyrelFAST platemaker featuring significant energy savings and solvent-free operation.
Also underlining Uniprint’s commitment to continuous improvement of ethical supply chain performance, the plant is Sedex registered (as required by customers such as Unilever and Nestlé).
‘We also have a highly-skilled and dedicated workforce that thoroughly understands the industry,’ he continues, ‘and we stay abreast of technology and market trends by attending industry exhibitions and conferences – such as Labelexpo and DecTec Africa.’
Superior label production
Label production falls into two distinct compartments, each headed by a dedicated production/technical manager. Looking after pressure-sensitive and digital label production is Lorne Andersen; while Liam Gibson gives his full attention to shrink sleeves and wraparound labels. And they’re proud to conduct a comprehensive tour of their well-equipped, lean manufacturing facilities.
Top-quality printing for pressure-sensitive labels is achieved through a combination of five Nilpeter presses (three MO 3300 offset presses and two FA 3300 combination presses); and four Mark Andy presses.
In terms of Lorne and Liam’s goal to be a lean producer of labels by reducing lead times, and their relentless drive to eliminate waste, the three Nilpeter presses have recently been modified to harmonise their cylinder sizes, resulting in one press for each width – 22, 23 and 24 inch. Additionally all now have hot foil units. These modifications are providing considerably enhanced production efficiency and lead time reductions.
A star on the production floor is a Comco ProGlide nine-colour press, which meets demand in the burgeoning wraparound label market, printing on a wide range of substrates, from 12µm unsupported film to cartonboard, at impressive speeds (up to 230m/min).
In fact, Uniprint has enjoyed considerable gains in sales of unsupported film products, with customers such as Coca-Cola going big into wraparound labelling, which, of course, demands excellent quality printing.
‘The print quality from the Comco is unsurpassed,’ asserts Liam. ‘Its automatic register is especially notable, thanks to servo control on all print stations; and it’s flexible enough to handle both short and long runs for wraparound labels, with fast turnaround times.’
All labelling sectors are enjoying growth in South Africa, but perhaps the most stellar growth is to be found in the use of shrink sleeves, a technology that Uniprint has embraced as major customers increasingly turn to this form of branding.
‘Globally the shrink sleeve market is growing at around 15% per annum and we had to raise our game to remain a leader in South Africa,’ comments Liam. This led to the installation of Karlville shrink sleeve forming technology – a Seam 300D seaming machine, an Inspect 300HS re-reeling and doctor machine, and a Cut 300 automatic servo-controlled cutting machine. With this advanced equipment, Uniprint can supply top-quality, UV flexo printed sleeves with full 360-degree graphics for top-to-toe decoration of containers.
There’s also a shrink tunnel that allows pre- and post-production testing, helping customers to ensure that the sleeve fits the container – providing yet another tick in the box that scores customer satisfaction.
Inspection not left to chance
As a leader in pharmaceutical label production, Uniprint continuously invests to meet the needs of this demanding sector.
Among Uniprint’s nine Rotoflex rewinders, the latest investment is a Rotoflex VSI 330 rewinder, fitted with the latest E&L 100% electronic web inspection, ensuring only approved labels reach the customer’s factory.
Supplied by SArepco, this Rotoflex VSI 330 is the latest generation machine, incorporating the many upgrades since Mark Andy took over ownership of Rotoflex. For instance, it features the latest eDrive technology for total web control and optimum output, as well as the new touch screen Genesis controller.
‘We’re very impressed by its easy operation, and the way in which the system meets the strict demands of our processes,’ comments Lorne. ‘Label integrity is critical and the Rotoflex offers exceptional performance, giving us a strong competitive advantage and giving our pharmaceutical customers peace of mind,’ he adds.
Another recent installation is a RotoControl slitter rewinder.
‘This is our first RotoControl machine,’ comments Liam. ‘The production team is pleased with the results from its advanced S-Drive servo technology capability to run unsupported film material.’
And further news is Uniprint’s purchase of an Omega rewinder from AB Graphics in the UK, locally represented by CSM.
Due for installation in early August, this 430mm-wide servo-driven inspection, slitter rewinder features electronic web guide, a closed loop tension control and HIM machine control – full diagnostic human interface.
Equipped for both pressure sensitive and unsupported filmic materials, this will the first servo-driven inspection rewinder from AB Graphics to be sold into the South African market.
Award winning print
Three years ago, Uniprint embraced the digital era with the installation of an HP Indigo ws4500 press. And in 2009, competing with printers from around the globe, Uniprint turned up trumps in the HP Indigo Digital Labels & Packaging Awards, which recognise excellent digital printing.
Uniprint’s winning label was for Shell Brake & Clutch Fluid.
Explains Lorne: ‘With Pantone spot and process colours merging, gear marks in the vignette areas emerged. Reducing or eliminating those marks while holding exact register on a polyethylene top-sheet proved impossible for our flexo printing press, so we decided to print the label on our digital press instead. The result was excellent and Shell was extremely impressed with the smooth high-quality print achieved.’
The company is also no stranger to the winner’s podium at the biennial Gold Pack Awards where the Uniprint team has taken numerous accolades over the years.
There’s great emphasis on lean manufacturing – filtering down from Bharat Mehta throughout the label printing business, this topic is on everybody’s lips. It’s quite evident that the company as a whole is intent on finding ways to improve sustainability, and there’s a major drive to reduce waste – in both time and materials.
One area where downtime has been drastically reduced is ink mixing. This happy situation has been brought about by the installation of an in-plant ink dispenser, supplied by UK-based Vale-Tech.
This fully-computerised, digital system, designed specifically for label printers, brings significant benefits, including fast, precise, batch-to-batch colour consistency and enhanced press up-time. But equally important are reduced stock levels of finished inks, full reuse of press returns, and an overall reduction in ink consumption.
As an interesting aside, and boding well for the future of Uniprint in particular and the packaging industry as a whole, is the news that Lorne Andersen is embarking on a doctorate. His thesis will be on lean manufacturing within the packaging industry.
Lorne explains that production management will always fall short unless there’s a way to monitor and track material consumption and job production through all stages of the workflow. And this includes smaller pieces of equipment, not just the presses.
For this reason, Uniprint is on the point of implementing a new live production monitoring system to expand efficiency and to provide customer with better feedback.
As part of Uniprint’s ongoing commitment to its Prism management information system, the new module, called iQ VTM+, tracks consumption of raw materials and work-in-progress pallets/skids; it can also generate pallet/skid tickets to identify materials used for subsequent production processes.
iQ VTM+ includes a direct machine count to track stops, starts, speeds, waste, good product, and so on. Typical uses are on guillotines and folders, to complete the entire production workflow visibility.
Twenty-first century prepress
Streamlining prepress is an ongoing imperative at Uniprint, not least when it comes to the ever-advancing discipline of flexographic label printing.
A few years ago, Uniprint made the move to computer-to-plate technology in order to improve print quality and to achieve more predictable results.
At that time, the system chosen was a Creo Thermoflex platesetter with Prinergy Powerpack digital workflow and Synapse Link interface, all supplied by Antalis.
Now a recent addition is a Cyrel FAST platesetter, which is causing great excitement in the camp!
Asheen Sharatkumar, in charge of repro for the label printing operation, is delighted with the new system, particularly the speed of producing plates. ‘Energy savings are phenomenal,’ he enthuses, ‘and now a flexo plate can be produced in less than an hour, compared to the previous 24 hours. This is a godsend to the flexo industry.’
Folding cartons add to packaging mix
Although folding carton production officially forms part of Uniprint’s PoS division, with both operations being served by an impressive bank of Komori sheet-fed offset litho presses, there are many customers in common with the label division, and a fair degree of cross selling of labels and cartons.
Uniprint entered the folding carton market in 2003, when it acquired some assets from Davbar, including specialised foiling and embossing equipment. This purchase spurred Uniprint to enter the short- to medium-run value-added market, primarily servicing the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.
At the same time, Davbar’s managing director, Gavin Clark, joined Uniprint where he’s been ever since, heading up the company’s folding carton division as business development manager.
‘When we created the folding carton division eight years ago, we started from nothing, and this division has proved to be the fastest growing area within Uniprint’s PoS business, admittedly off a low base,’ Gavin comments.
Thanks to Gavin’s many years’ experience in meeting pharmaceutical packaging requirements (as stipulated by the Medicines Control Council), Uniprint has gained an enviable reputation among customers in this sector.
‘We’re also highly successful with sales of blister pack cards, with Eveready being a prime customer for battery packs,’ Gavin adds.
But now there’s an added focus – specifically on the food market – with the installation of a Bobst Ambition folder gluer (supplied by Beswick Machinery).
As Gavin points out, Durban is home to many small- to medium-size food manufacturers, especially producers of frozen convenience foods, and he anticipates this as a lucrative market for Uniprint’s folding carton business.
‘As well as investing in the new Ambition folder gluer, we’re also creating a positive air-flow dust-free environment suitable for the production of food packaging,’ Gavin explains.
The Ambition folder gluer recently installed at Uniprint has brought significant efficiency improvements thanks to its 300m/min running speed and fast, easy set-up.
Because Uniprint is noted for high-quality print, including printing with special varnishes and printing on to foil, the Ambition’s feeder unit is optimised to handle light and delicate materials. The machine is also equipped with a crash lock device to allow a fast change from straight line to crash lock cartons. Additionally, it’s equipped with a Baumer hhs code reader to ensure that cartons aren’t mixed during production.
When purchasing this machine, Uniprint also specified both hot and cold glue application systems from Baumer hhs, to allow gluing of standard cartonboard as well as poly-coated or laminated cartons at maximum machine speed.
The Ambition can handle cartonboard from 200g/m2 up to 1 000g/m2 as well as E-flute corrugated.
Blue skies and beyond
And this report wouldn’t be complete without a glimpse into the future.
A recent and much-valued recruit to the Uniprint team is Alan Robinson, who retired from Unilever at the end of last year. Thanks to a 28-year career with the multinational, he brings Uniprint the benefit of his extensive packaging experience from the other side of the fence!
He’s delighted to be working for a company of Uniprint’s calibre. ‘This company has some of the best capabilities that I’ve seen among converters,’ he declares. And, given his background, he’s in a good position to make such a comment!
Alan’s job is multifunctional, but essentially he’s providing technical liaison with customers. ‘By working closely with our customers I’m helping them to extract the maximum advantage from our technical capabilities in order to optimise their designs,’ he explains. But he’s also looking to the future and taking a hand in the company R&D efforts.
‘I’m keeping an eye on many areas – for instance looking for ways to improve utilisation of Uniprint’s installed capacity; keeping the company in the forefront in technology terms; helping customers to enhance their products’ on-shelf presence in cost-effective ways; and coming up with new ideas,’ Alan explains.
As part of this process, he visits customers, assists with new product development, and helps to guide new product trials.
Materials are another focus and Alan is keeping tabs on new material developments, the all-important material/machinery interface, and the environmental effects of materials (of which a prime example is linerless labels).
‘It’s all about liaising and co-ordinating; it’s all about technology; and it’s all about helping to improve response time to customers,’ Alan concludes.
Which brings us back to Bharat Mehta’s comments on the company’s R&D efforts in the fields of increasing efficiency and reducing waste.
‘We believe we’re ideally positioned in the market, in terms of technology and people,’ says Bharat. ‘We’re poised to take off!’