Back then, the concept of local production of flexible dies was hailed as a breakthrough, not just by Antron and his team, but also by label printers, to whom it brought a number of advantages – not least, considerably shorter lead times, but also countering the variables involved with importing dies (such as rand/dollar fluctuations and ‘lost in transit’ scenarios).
Now, four years on, Barbara and Antron are in high spirits, reporting that the South African market has moved on apace since those early days, with flexible dies inexorably taking market share from traditional rotary dies, as the benefits become increasingly apparent. This trend in South Africa, they add, closely shadows the rest of the world, particularly as average run lengths become shorter.
On a recent visit to Cape Town – whose primary purpose was to oversee upgrades to bring the local plant into line with the US company’s advancements – Barbara remarks: ‘Since 2006, there has been enormous growth in sales of flexible dies in South Africa, and now it’s time to implement more aggressive manufacturing and marketing programmes to meet current market needs.’
To which Antron adds: ‘It’s very exciting – and very heartening – that our US partners are making additional investments in the South African operation, in order to implement the necessary upgrades.’
And now it’s coated, hardened dies
The flexible die business is growing by leaps and bounds; and thanks to an investment in 2008 in CNC machining facilities, the Cape Town operation was able to add 16-inch flexible dies to the 10-inch dies produced at its inception. This extra size brought almost blanket coverage of the needs of the narrow-web flexographic printing industry.
But today’s big news is local production of coated, hardened dies. ‘Under certain conditions, these dies can last up to five times longer than standard flexible dies,’ Barbara explains, ‘resulting in considerably longer print runs.’
These coated dies have previously been imported from the US, but part of the purpose of Barbara’s visit is to ensure that local manufacturing standards to match the US plant’s strict quality processes.
Antron and Grant recently visited the Apple Die facility in the US for an update on the latest flexible die-making technology, bringing home valuable knowledge for the benefit of customers in the local narrow-web industry – not least the proprietary technology for the coating process.
Another soon-to-be-implemented ambition is to get the South African plant to the same degree of automation as the American plant, and to replicate advanced services such as allowing customers to track their orders on-line, using the latest ERP program, bringing additional speed and efficiency to the local business.
And talking of speed, another point that Barbara emphasises is the ability to dispatch a flexible die within 24 hours (obviously subject to certain conditions).
‘There’s no doubt that superior service and uncompromising quality pay off,’ Antron maintains. ‘We’re committed to being an industry partner rather than merely a supplier and it’s our firm intention to concentrate on meeting customers’ demands and adding as much value as possible. We’re investing in internal processes and equipment – both hardware and software – in order to speed up manufacturing and customer service. We’re pretty excited about it all,’ he says with a contented smile.
But that’s by no means the end of the story. As Barbara happily hints, more of Apple Die’s new products will soon be introduced to the South African market. As always it’s going to be a case of ‘watch this space’.