Having launched its first folder-gluer in 1942, Bobst has a long history of innovation and spends a high percentage of its turnover on R&D. ‘We often say, with justification, that innovation is in our DNA,’ Jacques remarks. ‘We’re always looking beyond our industry to find solutions to problems faced by our customers. For example, our Accucheck unit that checks every single carton for print and surface defects is based on high-speed video scanning technology that’s a far cry from folding and gluing a piece of board. However, it’s the product of 20 years’ experience in print inspection gained from the Registron quality inspection systems developed for our Champlain presses.’
Accucheck adds 100% quality checking to folder-gluer lines such as Bobst’s Expertfold models, the latest version is designed to meet the particular needs of pharmaceutical packaging manufacturers, who need high outputs and unimpeachable quality to satisfy their drug company customers.
According to Jacques, the Bobst approach to innovation not only leads to totally new machines such as the Expertfold 50 but also results in improvements to existing products. ‘You can see this in the recently-launched Accubraille GT module. It’s the latest generation of our Accubraille rotary Braille embossing unit that broke new ground in 2007. This has been highly successful unit but the GT module now brings extra functionality.’
Still in service
This desire to innovate stems from the inception of the company almost 130 years ago when the young Joseph Bobst moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, to find work as a typographer. Realising that the local graphic arts industry had no local suppliers, he opened a shop where printers could purchase materials and machinery. He went on to secure the agency for Schmidt Frères, a leading name in printing inks, and Koenig & Bauer, today’s KBA. The success of his maintenance and repair workshop led Joseph Bobst and his son Henri to develop machines for the growing print industry. This led to the production of the Auto-Variable in 1918 (for inline printing and die-cutting straight-line boxes) followed by the Bobst AP 900 in 1940 – the world’s first automatic die-cutter and ancestor of all modern Autoplaten die-cutters. Two years later, Bobst launched its first folder-gluer; and, amazingly, these PCR 382 lines from the 1940s are still in service around the world.
While most early folder-gluers were for processing straight-line cartons, increasing demand for more sophisticated packaging led to Bobst’s first crash-lock bottom system in 1963. Today, such cartons are a key part of the packaging portfolio of many box makers. While crash-lock technology has been refined over the years it was almost 50 years before the arrival of a completely new technology for manufacturing these boxes, Bobst’s Speed module of 2008.
The 1960s saw the development of Bobst machines offering longer folding sections and four- and six-corner box making respectively.
1972 saw the launch of the Domino, which Jacques Reymond describes as a ‘step change’ in folder-gluer design. ‘Along with a more effective crash-lock system, Domino featured twin track belts, providing two points of contact with the carton and the ability to place gaps in conveyors, add special folding devices, and introduce upper and lower conveyors,’ he explains. ‘It allowed box makers the flexibility to fold and glue styles they couldn’t handle before.’
Still much loved in the industry, the Domino range was later augmented by the Media folder-gluer, a smaller version to meet entry-level requirements.
The 1970s also saw the first Bobst folder-gluer specifically designed for corrugated box making, the O-Mega 160. Then a range of large-format Domino units served the corrugated market until the arrival of Starfold and corrugated versions of Visionfold, Expertfold and Masterfold.
It was the Domino platform that saw the launch of the first modular folder-gluer – the Domino II. With features such as an electronic four-corner unit, Domino II massively reduced make-ready times. ‘Users could cut the time needed to make-ready a crash-lock, and save hours changing from a four-corner box to a six-corner,’ says Jacques. Domino II became the launch pad for a number of further innovations including, in 1993, Accufeed.
Originally designed to help blank feeding on corrugated folder-gluers, Accufeed cut the time needed to set the feeding of boxes in half while integrating a blank aligner that ensured consistent alignment of blanks for high-quality folding. Accufeed has become standard equipment on most Bobst folder-gluers, including today’s Expertfold 50. ‘This way of delivering precise feeding, and setting quickly, first became standard on the Alpina, introduced at Ipex in 1998,’ recalls Jacques.
All along the Alpina line came innovations designed to give the machine the highest productivity then available, such as wider folding belts and larger bearings for higher speed running, an electronically set four-corner device that gave more control and faster make-ready, a ‘flipper’ ejector system for removing non-conforming blanks without manual intervention or slowing the line, a nick-breaker system for bottle carriers that could run at 30 000 boxes/hour and the Gyrobox that allowed the turning of boxes in-line for the creation of complex cartons in a single pass.
‘You could say that Alpina was the starting point for all of today’s folder-gluers,’ explains Jacques. ‘The technology was ground-breaking and, although we have refined most systems in the intervening years, you can still see most of them in today’s range.’
Typical of this evolution is the CUBE control system. ‘Alpina was one of the earliest machines to utilise this control and interface system, developed for the Media II of 1995. CUBE is now in its third generation with colour touchscreens, USB backup, on-board digital manuals and links to the Internet for remote monitoring. It has become the heart of all our machines.’
Many thousands of Bobst folder-gluers are working around the clock all over the world – at mainstream folding carton plants to print finishers and specialist plastics firms.
‘Most installations are where you’d expect to see them,’ says Jacques, ‘but some are a bit unusual.’ As an example, he cites a folder-gluer line in the UK located on the balcony of what was once a theatre but was being used as a carton factory. However the most unusual installation has to be a PCR 880 in Latvia. The folder-gluer, originally built by Bobst in 1963, has moved around a bit, but is now installed on the second floor of what was once a family home now being used as part of a print company’s premises.
Not every Bobst innovation is built into the line itself. Many are peripherals that can be added to maximise productivity, improve quality, or simply make life easier for operators.
‘As folder-gluers became faster in the 1980s, we realised that operators were struggling to get blanks in and folded and glued cartons out,’ Jacques recalls. ‘That’s why we developed peripherals such as Coropack, Easyfeeder, Batch Inverter, Handypack, Cartonpack and Logipack. Keeping pace with a machine running at many hundreds of metres per minute when you have to pick blanks from a pallet, invert them and then feed them isn’t easy. The same applies at the delivery end where every hour a hundred thousand cartonboard boxes could be coming at the packers, or they could be expected to bundle and strap thousands of large corrugated cases.
Other innovations find their way into Bobst production lines as ‘special devices’. Each year Bobst develops hundreds of bespoke add-ons, designed to help users handle particular jobs that may take a long time to set using universal equipment, or may not even be possible.
Bobst has always been quick to respond to changes in the business landscape, such as the introduction of EU legislation requiring pharmaceutical packaging to carry information in Braille. This legislation could have been problematic for pharma packaging makers because most were using die-cutters to emboss pack, which can be slow, expensive and hamper downstream processes. ‘We looked back at a principle that we had developed almost a hundred years earlier to help an institute for the blind in our home city of Lausanne,’ Jacques explains. ‘That system was a rotary embossing press for getting Braille on to sheets of paper and we used the basic principle to create Accubraille, a fast, cost-effective and responsive way of embossing Braille on to cartons using a folder-gluer.’
Since its introduction in 2007, Bobst has installed almost 200 Accubraille units and the technology is now in its second generation (the Accubraille GT) that has a smaller footprint, can emboss Braille on all four panels, has dot height adjustment and can even emboss across the running direction.
So what of the latest Bobst folder-gluer lines – Masterfold, Expertfold, Visionfold and Ambition? ‘Each addresses a different market from those that need the very highest productivity to those that need a small, versatile machine that can help them break into carton making or serve a specific niche,’ Jacques replies. Summing up he says that Bobst’s R&D teams are continuing to innovate as they always have. ‘We won’t be changing that any time soon!’